Animals and the(ir) Environment

Thursday Jun 06 8:30 am to 10:00 am
ANGU 293

Session Code: ANS1
Session Format: Regular
Session Language: English
Research Cluster Affiliation: Animals in Society
Session Categories: Regular Session

This session explores the interconnectivity of the environment—both “natural” and built—and its human and other-than-human inhabitants. Space and place are difficult to evade, we are all enveloped in our environments ad infinitum. Central to this topic are questions of how, why, where, when, and with whom we inhabit and engage with the elements around us. Environmental thought is frequently at odds with individual actors, as anthropocentric aims usurp that which is other-than-human. Presentations in this session address ideas of space and place, accessibility, “sustainability” and anthropogenic impact, and notions of inclusive and non-speciesist environmental and social justice. Tags: Human Animal Studies

Organizers: Sarah May Lindsay, McMaster University, Rochelle Stevenson, Thompson Rivers University, Paola DiPaolo, Athabasca University; Chair: Rochelle Stevenson, Thompson Rivers University


Gary Pierre Catano, Memorial University

The Multispecies Work of Wilderness

This talk considers how humans workers, myotis lucifugus_, the little brown bat, and pseudogymnoascus destructans_, the fungus responsible for white nose syndrome are brought together through the more-than-human labour process of park-making. My research asks: how do national park workers do their jobs, and how do those jobs bring them into contact, and facilitate relationships with non-human nature? In 2017, I conducted twenty-two weeks of qualitative fieldwork at Lava Beds National Monument, collecting data through participant observation, and twenty-eight in-depth interviews with resident U.S. National Park Service (NPS) rangers, interns, scientists, and resource managers. Synthesizing perspectives from actor-network theory, institutional ethnography, and the sociology of work, I demonstrate that at Lava Beds, human workers and non-human actors are implicated together in forms of increasingly precarious scientific, administrative, and manual labour – what I call the work of wilderness.  I argue that, through embodied, as well as technologically and textually mediated encounters with the environment, natural resource managers translate non-human nature: plants, animals, geology, and climate, into institutionally valuable textual objects – namely, natural and cultural resources. Focusing on acoustic bat monitoring and white nose syndrome mitigation projects at Lava Beds, I follow NPS scientists as they reach out with their bodies and technologically bolstered sensoria to track, identify, and comprehend a diverse community of federally protected bats. I follow their work into the office, where these intimate and affecting experiences are quantified, and transformed into scientific and administrative texts. My findings show that seasonal, temporary, and contractual labour relationships disrupt the work of wilderness, arresting flows of scientific information, and interrupting the transmission of institutional knowledge. National parks are continually reproduced through, and emerge out of ongoing multispecies engagements. However, precarious work translates into precarious ecosystems, exposing workers, national parks and their resident non-humans to unprecedented uncertenty, anxiety, and risk.   

Rebecca Yoshizawa, Kwantlen Polytechnic University

"Trilobite Time": Towards a Sociology of Paleontology in the Anthropocene

Where transitions between prior epochs were marked by non-anthropogenic causes such as volcanic activity and asteroid strikes, the Anthropocene marks time in which human activity has become the dominant cause of geological and climate changes. The concept is highly controversial relating to debates about climate and environmental destruction. Paleontology is the study of life before the current epoch, known through fossils, and as such, paleontologists contribute much to social, political, and economic debates about environmental and climate changes and extinction. This paper explores the roles that paleontologists play in such debates. Specifically, this paper considers paleontological expertise in an extinct class of organisms called trilobites, which lived from the Cambrian (521mya) to the Permian (252mya). Trilobites are index fossils: they are typically abundant in the stratigraphic (rock layer) record, diversified through time, and highly adapted to specific environments. Where one finds an index species, one can instantly know much about earthly conditions that produced proximal layers of rock. In other words, the “trilobite biostratigraphic scale” is a way to tell time with fossils. But these fossils do not just tell ancient time; it has been shown that trilobites collected today are contaminated with anthropogenic compounds such as plastics and flame retardants, and the processes associated with the anthropocene like mining, urbanization, and climate change have been exposing new fossil beds. As such, trilobites materially connect the present to the past. I argue that trilobites are “world-makers” in facilitating our knowledgeable understanding of geologic time and thus the anthropocene.

Tyler Bateman, University of Toronto

The transposable nature of nature: Incorporating "the structure of nature" into social structure

One prominent definition of social structure, gaining increasing prevalence and adherence in the last 30 years, is structure as "nodes and relations" (e.g., Porpora 1989; Maryanski and Turner 1991; Martin 2011). A prominent example of this definition of structure, of course, is the prominence of social network analyses in sociology and related fields. Building on the work of William Sewell (1992), this paper demonstrates that environmental structure is a deep schema that can expand and suggest fundamental revisions to the "nodes and relations" definition of structure, a change that demonstrates how animals, and other organisms in nature, may form a non-speciesist sociological pedagogy. The paper draws on 3 years of participant observation research at an urban nature centre in Toronto, Ontario, to demonstrate how three cultural processes involved in urban natural history education—perception, classification, and ascertaining relation—create a perceived understanding of the structure of nature. This structure includes classified "nodes" in nature, such as predators, and perceived relations, such as predation. The structure of nature can alter how we understand general social structure because the nodes and relations in nature can be related to the nodes and relations of traditional understandings of social structure. The relation of the structure of nature to social structure can, for example, help us understand how our carbon emissions relate to processes of nature: one may consider making a trip by car instead of by bicycle, think of the emissions from the car, understand the relation of those emissions to climate change and populations of prey animals (through participation in natural history education programs), and thus understand how their decisions relate to the activities of urban predators. With sociology students, the presentation of this expanded theoretical understanding of social structure can help provide a basic understanding of social relations that clearly embeds their activities into a non-speciesist framework, contributing to the larger shift in sociological pedagogy this section seeks to highlight.