Drafts of all of the below papers have been completed and are awaiting publication. Please get in touch if you’d like to see any of them.
(For Noel Castree, Mike Hulme and James Proctor (eds). The Companion to Environmental Studies. Routledge: London and New York, 2018).
The environmental humanities is an emerging interdisciplinary field of enquiry that draws together diverse histories of thought and action to better understand and address our current environmental challenges, while also enriching traditional humanities approaches through a serious engagement with the more-than-human world. Grounded in a rich notion of human lives—embedded in complex systems of meaning, value and understanding—the environmental humanities insists that the environment must be understood as inescapably “cultural,” and as such that contemporary environmental challenges are inseparable from complex questions of ethics, inequality, participation and the politics of knowledge production.
Evolution: Lessons from Some Cooperative Ravens
With Viciane Despret
(For Lynn Turner, Ron Broglio and Undine Sellbach (eds.) The Edinburgh Companion to Animal Studies, University of Edinburgh: Edinburgh, 2018)
Corvids cooperate. Whatever else they might do in the world – squabbling at carcasses or ‘stealing’ other birds’ eggs – they also posses rich social lives that include a broad range of cooperative interactions, from working together to mob predators and rear their young, to sharing food. This chapter focuses on some cooperative ravens (Corvus corax) and the scientists that study them to explore and challenge the simplistic notion that evolution teaches us that life, at some fundamental level, is inherently selfish and competitive. These ravens remind us that this simply isn’t the case. Or, more accurately, that it is only the case if we accept some very peculiar understandings of ‘selfishness’ that paper over the complexity of our living world. And yet stories about selfishness persist, in different ways, in both the scientific and the popular literatures. In this context, this chapter explores how these framings emerge and the rhetorical power that they possess. Ultimately, what emerges from taking these ravens seriously is a more hopeful account of evolution that opens up space for new kinds of animal studies scholarship that practice an appreciation for the many diverse ways that organism get on with each other to shape our living world.
(For Lori Gruen (ed.) Critical Terms in Animal Studies. University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 2018)
Feeding the Flock: Wild Cockatoos and Their Facebook Friends
Eben Kirksey, Paul Munro, Thom van Dooren, John Martin and others…
(For a journal.)
Wildlife is persisting in urban areas of Australia even though white settler colonialism has resulted in the large-scale destruction of forested landscapes. While many bird species are in decline, the Sulphur-crested Cockatoo has found emergent opportunities for flourishing within the built environment. Cockatoos are actively generating relationally constituted spaces, drawing humans into urban ecosystems that are “more-than- human” places, abundant and lively multispecies communities. Beginning in 2011, yellow tags attached to the wings of cockatoos, along with a smart-phone app and a Facebook page, have enabled scientists to collect data about these birds’ movements. These tracking technologies were quickly co-opted by an emergent public for their own purposes, including speculating about the personalities, relationships, intentions, and desires of individual birds. Interspecies friendships formed between humans and birds—involving shared understandings, emotional resonances, ongoing social exchanges, and utilitarian arrangements. We used the wingtags and the associated digital infrastructure as an opportunity to experiment with new modes of collaborative research and teaching in multispecies ethnography. Bringing together a flock of academics and students, we explored emergent social spaces involving people and birds. While many participants who fed the birds worried that they would become tame, we found multispecies flocks were fleeting associations where wild and unruly behaviours redoubled as people offered up food. We found that wildness emerged in intimate encounters with other species, encounters that were often characterized by shared but unequal vulnerabilities. Some cockatoos have been killed, after conflicts over property damage led authorities to identify them as nuisance animals. Against the backdrop of asymmetrical risks, we studied flocks of birds as models of, and models for, fleeting forms of association and collaboration. In these spaces, feelings of interspecies attraction quickly alternated with agitated and uncomfortable experiences. Amid animated encounters, people explored the ethics of inclusivity and conviviality.
Thinking with Crows: (Re)doing Philosophy in the Field
(For Brett Buchanan, Matt Chrulew, and Michelle Bastian (eds.) “Field Philosophy” special issue of Parallax, 2018.)