Biodiversity by other (all?) means: a theatre for post-natural futures
Location 212
Date and Start Time 03 September, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 1


  • Clemens Driessen (Wageningen University) email
  • Claire Waterton (Lancaster University) email
  • Tahani Nadim (Humboldt University Berlin ) email
  • Esther Turnhout (Wageningen University) email

Mail All Convenors

Chair Tahani Nadim
Discussant Noortje Marres (University of Warwick)

Short Abstract

This session seeks to convene a wide range of approaches to and interventions in the sciences, technologies and practices of biodiversity conservation. Including (but not limited to) forms of citizen science, public labs, DIY/biohacks, community/guerilla gardening, design, performance and ecoart.

Long Abstract

In recent years, numerous 'other means' of engaging with biodiversity have emerged: from citizen science, public labs and do-it-yourself/biohacks, to community or guerilla gardening and eco-art. Here, 'other means' signal not only an extension of disciplines and arenas which traditionally engage biodiversity but also a multiplication of the object "biodiversity" itself. From the micro to the macro, from mediating a single local ecological relation to holistic dreams of rebooting Gaia, biodiversity is increasingly sought in less likely spaces, where urban metabolism, industrial ecology, and novel ecosystems could be found (or made) to intertwine. How has biodiversity become material (in both senses of the word) for different forms of (political) intervention and contestation? How to practice multispecies participatory knowledge production, animal architectures and the interspecies internet?

This session convenes a range of approaches to and interventions in the sciences, technologies and practices of biodiversity conservation. Besides traditional paper contributions we invited also presentations 'by other means': theatrical performances, product launches, exhibits, design workshops, experimentations with genres of policy analysis and scientific reporting, literary and poetic contributions or critiques, etc. In concert with lively experimentation, this session wants to debate possible forms of political accountability and epistemic closure, critically exploring the implicit or explicit promises of 'participatory citizen science' or 'art saving the world'. We would thus like to collectively specify and discuss claims associated with these 'other means' as leading to more democratic epistemologies, more directly connecting publics, evoking new forms of environmental aesthetics and moralizing new environmental subjects.

This track is closed to new paper proposals.


Ode to the Sea Butterfly

Author: Judit Hersko (California State University San Marcos)  email

Short Abstract

This performance lecture communicates climate change science and examines biodiversity conservation through the story of a fictitious, female explorer whose intimate relationship with two planktonic snails suggests alternative approaches to studying and relating to the nonhuman world.

Long Abstract

This performance lecture is based on my collaboration with scientists and my experience in Antarctica as a recipient of the National Science Foundation Antarctic Artists and Writers Grant. Combining text and image it communicates climate change science and examines biodiversity conservation through the story of a fictitious, unknown, female explorer, Anna Schwartz, who travels to Antarctica with the 1939 Byrd Antarctic expedition. I insert Anna's character into real events thereby reflecting on the absence of women from the history of exploration and science until the late 1960s. This layered narrative, that addresses the history of Cartesian science as well as current climate change data in the context of present economic and political realities, explores a feminist aesthetic of loss in the era of the anthropocene. It also suggests alternative, feminist approaches to studying and relating to the nonhuman world.

Anna Schwartz is a photographer and a naturalist obsessed with the microscopic and transparent planktonic snail the Limacina helicina and its predator the Clione antarctica. Her intimate relationship with these tiny creatures is in contrast to the heroic notions of exploration of her day, while ironically, her focus on the minute and invisible layers of the Antarctic landscape is more relevant to current research in polar science. These planktonic snails, studied by my collaborator, biological oceanographer Dr. Victoria Fabry, function as canaries in the coalmine when it comes to ocean acidification - one of the most insidious aspects of anthropogenic climate change that is rapidly altering the ecology of the oceans.

Fungal infestation in social media: A visual analysis

Author: Minna Santaoja (University of Tampere)  email

Short Abstract

In my presentation I will discuss tentative analysis of the visual content (photos uploaded by users) of the Facebook group of the Finnish mycological society. My question is what kind of human-fungus relationships can be identified in the social media content.

Long Abstract

Mushrooms are a numerous and still largely unknown part of biodiversity. Citizen science plays an integral role in the efforts of knowing the fungal diversity. Amateur naturalist societies have a long history alongside institutionalized science. Social and mobile media have brought new affordances also for the nature enthusiasts. In comparison to the membership of the traditional mycological societies, the number of subscribers to the Facebook group is manifold. Social media groups are the latest development along the path of mediated amateur naturalist interaction. From the 1500 users of a previous discussion forum focusing on funghi, the membership of the devoted Facebook group has grown over 15 000. Social media is gaining in importance in facilitating human-nature relationships. It has eased especially the sharing of visual images and provides lots of material for different kinds of research. A research project tapping into social media content in studying the dispersion of species has just been launched in Finland. I am interested in what else is there. What can we read from the images uploaded by the users, besides identifying the species? What sorts of human-nature interaction does the FB group show?

Artists as catalysts for biodiversity conservation: The art-academia culture clash

Author: Paivi Abernethy  email

Short Abstract

Both sustainability scientists and Art Ecology artists see themselves as catalysts for social change. What happens when they try to work together? I explore the promising potential of and challenges that arise in collaborations, e.g. when artists act as proactive agents in biodiversity conservation.

Long Abstract

Artists practicing Art Ecology see themselves as catalysts, almost like a Trojan horse, for social change towards sustainability. They try to create safe spaces for diverse stakeholders to engage in interactive art performances and discussions around contested topics, aiming to develop a shared understanding and bridge people for common causes. Researchers for sustainability transformation aim for similar goals. Yet when social artists proactively reach out to the academic establishment for collaboration, they appear to break some boundaries of implicit 'socially acceptable' roles assigned to artists and, unintentionally, end up challenging academic power dynamics and worldviews.

This paper is a self-reflective discussion piece illustrating the potential of, drivers for, and barriers to integrated art-science interface within biodiversity conservation. The reflections refer to a specific case study in Northern Germany, in the very early stages of research partnership development. Drawing from STS and feminist perspectives, I explore the blurring boundaries between academia and publics, clashing epistemologies, and changing power dynamics. Who is on the driver's seat in these collaborations? How do artists and academics perceive one another's worldviews? What is the role of academia in normative transformational research?

The aim of the manuscript is to critically explore the promising potential of collaborative research between artists and academics for sustainability transformation, and academic challenges when confronted with alternative epistemologies, such as artists acting as proactive agents in biodiversity conservation. This paper contributes to the discussion on power relations and diverse worldviews that hopefully will lead to more democratic epistemologies and just cross-sectoral interaction.

Biodiversity by United Nations: the making and unmaking of biodiversity at IPBES

Author: Esther Turnhout (Wageningen University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper discusses how biodiversity is made and unmade in the Intergovernmental Panel for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services ( IPBES). The analysis suggests that IPBES may yet become a place where narrow definitions are resisted and multiple biodiversities can flourish.

Long Abstract

Biodiversity has proven to be an elusive concept that is made and remade in different places, human nature engagements, and knowledge making practices. One of these is the United Nations Intergovernmental panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), which has as its mission "to strengthen the science-policy interface for biodiversity and ecosystem services for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, long-term human well-being and sustainable development". IPBES' mission is symptomatic of the strong scientistic and technocratic tendencies that characterize many current global environmental knowledge initiatives. The risks of such a global scientific gaze dominating environmental governance processes have been discussed extensively in STS as well as in political science. It has also been argued that meaningful and legitimate environmental knowledge requires multiplicity, openness and inclusiveness. As I will show in this paper, IPBES has turned out to be a place where narrow technical definitions of biodiversity are not only promoted, but also actively resisted. Drawing on an analysis of the ways in which biodiversity is made, unmade and remade in IPBES by scientific experts, ngos, indigenous representatives and member states, I will suggest that, although a global UN expert body seems an unlikely candiate for such an endeavour, IPBES may yet be able to allow multiple biodiversities to be represented and flourish.

SatNav for wolves: designing animal operated devices to rethink wildlife management

Author: Clemens Driessen (Wageningen University)  email

Short Abstract

Building on existing devices and systems to track, monitor, optimize, control and confine wildlife, the product line launched here provides more user friendly tools for wild animals to navigate Anthropocenic landscapes and help them negotiate forms of living with others, including humans.

Long Abstract

This presentation launches a range of technological devices that aim to further the self-management of wildlife. Wild animals have come under increasingly stringent biopolitical control, with the use of technologies from barbed wire to wireless movement trackers, and from GPS controlled shock collars to DNA monitoring. These technologies have produced animal spaces that restrict migration and movement, scripting 'fortress' style conservation by zoning areas and excluding humans and wildlife from each other's spaces, entrenching a land-sparing rather than land-sharing model of conservation.

The Captivator3000(cc) product line aims instead to interface our rapidly changing natural world to the organisms that daily have to deal with changing habitats shaped by humans and their technologies. It includes a SatNav system for wolves to navigate traffic and locate potential mates, a wifi-detector to make humans vacate areas where bears intend to wander, and a decision support system to help trees deal with climate change.

Captivator3000(cc) will allow wild individuals and collectives to subvert physical and digital infrastructures which thus far have been exclusively oriented towards human control of space. These experimental designs facilitate processes of mutual adaptation and learning, mediating more-than-human communal living.

The ultimate aim of this series of design interventions is to provide a set of adaptable platforms actively co-shaped by wild users, thus to promote a hacker culture to take root in hybrid ecological communities. Thereby investigating the biopolitics that may emerge with these new technologies that equip wildlife with new forms of mediated and enhanced wildness.

This track is closed to new paper proposals.