This is a list of the abstracts sorted alphabetically by author. To download the list as PDF, click here.
School of Social Sciences; University of Queensland
The Enigma Of A Watershed In Resource Contestation
Subterranean waters in the mineral rich and water poor Antofagasta region, northern Chile, are subject to much economic, political and social scrutiny from resource extracting corporations, mostly indigenous residents, and state functionaries. However, subterranean water bodies in the Atacama Desert are inscrutable and hydrogeologists admit that much is unknown about their behaviour, volumes or where one watershed may be said to begin and another end. In this driest of deserts, water appears surprisingly abundant where underground flows “breathe” from respiraderos, surface at springs, and form fresh ponds on the salt flats (as well as when it is pumped at thousands of litres per second by mining companies); but finite and scarce where the capacity of a watershed is modelled, measured or tapped by human scientific activity. Researchers of environmental impact from mining companies and functionaries of the state seek to demonstrate measureable scarcity in scientific efforts to mitigate extremes of industrial extraction. Atacamanian residents=A1=A6 cosmological and cultural practices seek to ensure that plentiful water flows along underground paths in order for it to arrive at the surface in its proper place and consistent with their experience through time. Such mitigating practices seem to either imagine the water body as forceful or fragile, abundant or scarce, but both warn of catastrophic endings, which may be both caused by and potentially alleviated through purposeful human action. This paper will seek to draw on apparently oppositional knowledge and value of resources in order to ask; how do powerfully enigmatic watersheds mediate resource contestation?
Department of Anthropology; University of Sydney
Associations Amongst Aboriginal People, Landscapes, Species And Ancestral Beings:
Examples from contemporary Warlpiri songs and rituals
Aboriginal people from various regions across Australia have long been described as having a relationship with places, species and ancestral beings which is regarded as consubstantial. This has implications for the ways in in which people and these non-human components relate through both space and time. Classic anthropological accounts describe these associations as based in a totemic religion and emphasise a ‘shared life force’ which is acknowledged through symbolic associations (Tylor 1929, Munn 1970). More recently there has been a rise in descriptions of the ‘sentience’ of the landscape for Aboriginal people (Biddle 2007, Rose 1996, Poirier 2005) and further to these theories developed around an ‘ontology of relatedness’ (Glaskin 2012). These various viewpoints ascribe agency to the non-human components of the world in differing ways. In this paper, I will draw out some examples from Warlpiri songs and associated rituals, which were held in 2006 and 2007, as a way to further understand the associations amongst Warlpiri persons and the non-human aspects of their world.
Key words: Warlpiri, Indigenous Australia, agency, symbolism
Biddle, J. 2007. Breasts, Bodies, Canvas: Central Desert Art as Experience. Sydney:
Glaskin, K. 2012. Anatomies of Relatedness: Considering Personhood in Aboriginal
Australia. American Anthropologist 114 (2): 297-308.
Munn, N. 1970. The transformation of subjects into objects in Walbiri and
Pitjantjajara myth. In Australian Anthropology (ed.) R. Berndt, pp. 141-163.
Perth: University of Western Australia Press.
Poirier, S. 2005. A World of Relationships: Itineraries, Dreams and Events in the
Australian Western Desert. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Rose, D. 1996. Nourishing Terrains: Australian Aboriginal Views of Landscape and
Wilderness. Canberra: Australian Heritage Commission.
Tylor, E. 1929. Primitive Culture, 2 vols. Fifth Edition. London: John Murray.
Social Sciences and Health Research Unit School of Psychology and Psychiatry; Monash University
Who, What And How?
Examining how youth party drug use is co-‐produced by a diverse range of actors
In most research literature on illicit drug use the person, or user, is presented as the primary, if not sole, actor in drug use. When non-‐human elements are invoked they are generally portrayed as passive and external to the act of drug use. The possibility that non-‐humans play an active and mediating role in the conduct of drug use is rarely raised. A different picture emerges when we expand our view to include agencies beyond the human. In this presentation I will discuss my current research, a multi-‐method qualitative study into the interplay between party drug use among 18-‐24 year olds in Melbourne, and the settings in which it takes place, such as licensed venues and music events. While it has been established that certain settings exhibit higher rates of youth party drug use than others, examining how and why these settings shape use presents significant challenges when only human actors are considered. This task is facilitated when we take the alternate stance that settings consist of networks of agentic and mediating elements, both human and non-‐human. I will discuss how using the concepts of Bruno Latour has enabled me to register how young people’s actions are mediated, such that they cannot be seen as sole actors in the event of party drug use. This work has relevance beyond drug studies as an example of research exploring the ways in which human action is co-produced by a convergence of numerous actors beyond the distinctly human.
Department of Anthropology; University of Sydney
Nature As History:
Moscovici and the Aboriginalists
Since the Pre-Socratics, the Western cultural history of ideas about the human-nature relationship shows a recurring pattern of fluctuation: between those doctrines that see no radical difference between human, animal and vegetal life, and those that do. This paper considers one recent milestone in this journey, Serge Moscovici’s Essai sur l’histoire humaine de la nature (1968), which places human culture and technology squarely into the evolving domain of nature. I will suggest that Moscovici’s analysis of ‘work’ in particular offers a critical perspective on the basic orientations that now structure my own field of empirical inquiry – Australian Aboriginal anthropology. I want to ask to what extent inquiries into the lived indigenous cosmologies (danced, sung, painted, dreamt, prayed, played, filmed, land-managed) are caught up in the ideals and anxieties of our time: ecological crisis, creationism, nostalgic futurism, hyper-individualism, object fetishism, everlasting progress and prosperity, and immortality.
Luis Fernando Angosto Ferrández
Department of Spanish and Latin American Studies / Department of Anthropology
University of Sydney
Cosmopolitics, Neoliberalism And Capitalist Earth-Beings:
Some reflections before we go (even further away) beyond ‘modern politics’
Over the past few years we have witnessed the emergence and consolidation of a new variety of theoretical developments that question the validity of the paradigms that sustain ‘modern politics’ – a form of politics that is in turn pinpointed, once again, as responsible for many of the maladies that we currently face worldwide. Among the new developments there are those that celebrate the appearance and advocate the acceptance of ‘earth-beings’ and other types of ‘non-human’ actors in the realm of the political; these new beings would be the bases for ‘pluriversal politics’ (Marisol de la Cadena), supported by the idea that the world does not only consist of one ‘socionatural formation’ – which would be one of the assumptions that sustained ‘modern politics’.
In this presentation I will argue that these new theoretical developments are built upon an original flaw and also entail several dangers. The flaw results from the fact that ‘modern politics’ is presented as a realm in which only ‘man’ could be subject and actor, when it is not the case: I will contend that, for one, ‘the market’ has been an earth-being inhabiting the political territory of modernity along with human subjects. The dangers derive from the communicational incommensurabilities that result from the acceptance of earth-beings as political actors; since the language of earth-beings tends to be known only by a chosen few, many human actors can be deprived of a fair treatment in the realm of politics.
My arguments will be supported by an analysis of human reactions to the current capitalist crisis in Spain and other parts of Europe.
School of Archaeology and Anthropology; Australian National University
Encountering Animals Through A Cross-Cultural Lens
There are many accounts within the extensive anthropological literature on Aboriginal Australia about how different clans and kinship groups are symbolically connected with animals, particularly in relation to totems, dreaming and ceremony. Until recently, however, there has been little in-depth exploration into Aboriginal Australian attitudes and perceptions toward animals, not just in passing as metaphors for relationships with kin, but as beings-in-the-world. My current research is based on animals that are encountered by humans in many parts of the world such as, crocodiles, honeybees, and stingrays, but my focus is within a place-based and cross-cultural perspective, on the Aboriginal homelands of the Yolngu in Northeast Arnhem Land. To Yolngu who have these significant animal species as totems, they are thought of as kin and closely tied to a connection to country. Within my presentation I will include some video material from my current multimedia research project. Through the use of etho-ethnographic filmmaking, I explore how Yolngu elders pass on knowledge about animals to younger generations by walking through country, through storytelling, and in ceremony.
Centre for Human Rights Education, Curtin University
We Are Human.
Detained refugees struggle for recognition as human
This paper wrestles with the cry from detained refugees ‘We are human not animals’, often called out or painted on banners during protests against their detention. Asylum seekers and refugees arriving in Australia by boat have been vilified over the past 15 years and accused of being ‘monstrous’, ‘not like us’, ‘criminals’ and ‘barbarians’ by politicians, radio shock jocks and in popular discourse. These dehumanizing discourses support punitive policies and a hardline response to protests.
Drawing on interviews with former detainees who participated in hunger strikes, lip-sewing, breakouts and riots, this paper explores Hannah Arendt’s contention that conscience, speech and action are ‘essential characteristics of the human condition’. The actions of refugees were both a response to the dehumanising (silencing and curtailment of agency) effects of detention and political exclusion, and an assertion that while a human being might be politically stripped of these ‘essential characteristics of the human condition’, these characteristics are inherent in the human condition and agency remains ever with the agent. Refugees used their ‘bare humanity’ to reclaim human status and a place in the public world.
School of Anthropology and Archaeology
Australian National University
Post-Geertzian Anthropology As A Vocation:
Ruling illusions and making the difference
I propose to muse upon some of Geertz’s (early and late) writings on anthropology and its liberal commitments, especially his disagreement with Richard Rorty over the use (and abuse) of diversity and difference, with some of the more radical post-Geertzian shifts in ideas about the relation between empirical analysis and the value orientations of the discipline. The piece takes as an orienting theme the aporetic tension between a Nietzschean interest in finding ways to face the truth, to learn to “sacrifice desirability to truth, every truth, even a plain, bitter, ugly, foul, unchristian, immoral truth” (The genealogy of morals), and a Blake-like insistence that lies are often no worse than the morally reprehensible use of the truth. I suggest that anthropology’s perpetual tendency to institute false dichotomies, like that between nature and culture, is generated by the ontotheological worries the aforementioned tension can induce. The title’s allusion to Weber’s view of these matters reflects my belief that his empirical Nietzscheanism still represents our best orientation to the “unbrotherliness” of inquiry.
School of Social Science, University of Queensland
Cosmological Metamorphosis And The Individual’s Universe:
ayahuasca healing in the Amazon and Australia
The use of the psychoactive brew ayahuasca began in the context of indigenous Amazonia where it has been involved in practices of healing, warfare, politics, and hunting for at least a few hundred years, perhaps much longer. In radical contrast to Western cosmologies, the categorisation of cultural spheres such as healing, politics, and hunting are not always so distinct in indigenous Amazonian life where, for instance, illness and malaise and anti-social behaviour may be understood as being the result of attacks from preying or hungry spirits. These notions of attack are inseparable to the characterisation of indigenous Amazonian ontology as being a ‘highly transformational cosmos’ (Riviere 1994, Praet 2009) in which humans are at serious risk of becoming various non-human persons, such as jaguar-persons, anaconda-persons or mountain-persons, through a process of cosmological metamorphosis. Amazonian shamans develop this ability of metamorphosis—including those among ayahuasca traditions—to negotiate with various beings of the cosmos in order to restore health, release game animals, arbitrate local politics and various other activities. Over the last decade the practice of ayahuasca shamanism has emerged and been reinvented in the context of Australian spirituality and alternative healing networks in various novel ways. Notions of health in the Australian context do not typically resonate with the relational cosmos as described in indigenous Amazonia but appear to exist in a kind of individualist cosmos where illness and malaise are understood as being the result of alienation or disconnection of the person from the cosmos in general.
Victoria University and Curtin University
Alcohol: Ethnography Of An Actant
Fraser et al. (2009 ‘Living Drugs’, Science as Culture 18(2)) suggest that drugs live through us as much as we live through them, challenging ethnographers studying substance use to account for a new kind of agency in their field. Science and Technology Studies (STS) has uncovered the work that subjects and objects each do in crafting one another, collapsing distinctions between them (Law 2004, After Method: Mess in Social Science, Routledge, New York). In this ‘flat’ ontology, notions of agency are unhitched from human subjects and instead emerge from assemblages of the human and non-human.
While it is a common practice, heavy sessional drinking has not been the subject of an STS informed study in Australia. This paper will present material from participant observation and interviews with young adults in Broadmeadows, a disadvantaged suburb of Melbourne. It will consider alcohol’s agency in this community: as a gatekeeper of spaces and public service settings; as a facilitator and palliative of pain; and as an interloper on transport systems. The paper will detail material and symbolic systems that mediate alcohol: retail, money, welfare and employment; black markets and other drug use practices; cultures of masculinity; social group formation and solidarity; and public health interventions. Finally, the paper will reflect on the role of STS-informed ethnographic research in developing public health and social service policy and practice.
Australian National University
Images And Power:
Race and the civil imagination in Indonesia
In this paper I reflect on the ways in which photography and film are caught up in the exercise of power, particularly as concerns the representation of subjects and the interpretation of images of people otherwise excluded from the political imagination. I base my analysis on the notion of the “civil contract” of photography, drawing on Ariella Azoulay’s theoretical framework developed through a study of the representation of Palestinians in photography. I offer a rigorous analysis of the case study of a series of films made by urban filmmakers about indigenous peoples in Mentawai (Indonesia), looking at the ways that the Mentawaians otherwise excluded from political discourse are able to access certain rights in a complex relationship also binding the filmmaker and those who view the film.
I propose that the visualised subject is able to invoke a “civil contract”, whereby they are able to become a citizen within the citizenry of photography (quite separate to the citizenry of the nation-state). In doing so I hope to open up a discussion about the ways in which injustice and suffering enter the civil imagination and how the visibility of those excluded can challenge or respond to existing discourses on humanity, development, race and ethnicity. Lastly, I seek to open up a discussion concerning the theoretical and methodological tools that the discipline of anthropology can offer to the analysis of the representation of humanity in the context of suffering and catastrophe.
Department of People, Environment and Planning, Massey University
Differing The Anthropos:
Towards an an anthro-de-centred anthropology
Global humanity in the new millennium is faced with growing knowledge, awareness and experience of the material consequences of anthropocentric worldviews and corresponding practices. Anthropocentric life modes, which continue to exploit, dominate and destroy nature threaten not only the sustainability and flourishing of non-human species and delicate eco-systems, but the survival of humanity itself. The apocalyptic milieu of what is being called the Anthropocene calls for an urgent re-thinking and re-organizing of relations between ‘nature’ and ‘culture’. Critically engaging with recent post-human and advanced phenomenological perspectives and discussing fieldwork on pilgrimage and tourism in the Himalayas, this paper imagines what a post-anthropocentric anthropology might look like. Such an anthropology would not do away with the human, but rather would situate the anthropos in a relational nexus co-constituted by human and non-human elements. This reimagining of nature-human relations will be shown to have theoretical, practical and ethico-politico implications not only for anthropology as an academic discipline, but for a shared and increasingly uncertain planetary future.
Sydney School of Public Health and Department of Anthropology, University of Sydney
A New Turn In a Post-Human World:
Cross-species disease transmission
Anthropology’s engagement with nature in the form of animals (both wild and domesticated) and avian species has taken a new turn in a post-human world with the increasing occurrence of cross-species disease transmission such as in the newly emerging infectious and deadly viral diseases of Avian influenza or bird flu, Rabies and Hendra. All three zoonoses (transmission from animal/bird to humans) are found within the Asia-Pacific region. Though distributed differently, all pose health threats to individuals and groups of both humans and animals at the interface of human/animal interaction because viral pathogens respect no geographical borders and can mutate and evolve strains. In this paper I discuss the economic, social, cultural and environmental dimensions of avian influenza and the human suffering for communities contracting highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) or H5N1 from bird flocks in Bali and Lombok, Indonesia where the disease is endemic. I outline also, the biopolitics of global institutions such as the World Health Organization and others in their quest to contain, manage, control, monitor and predict avian influenza outbreaks in the name of the public good. Finally, I conclude with an anthropological engagement about notions of risk and surveillance around cross-species transmissions and their interpretations for societies.
Department of Anthropology, University of Sydney
DMT Entities And Ecocide:
Debilitating Distraction or Necessary Engagement?
Ruminating on the dire state of our world, the pioneer explorer of altered states Terence McKenna liked to argue that he had never met anything as capable of bringing about rapid changes in consciousness as psychedelics. In the pantheon of psychedelic substances, McKenna reserved pride of place for the shattering experience of taking N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT). Similar sentiments are often met with among users of vaporised and orally active forms of DMT, and as the take up of this powerful psychoactive increases rapidly in western countries, it seems worthwhile to set out the possible stakes. Here, among the many experiences reported by users, encounters with ‘another world’ and its so-called ‘Centities’, ‘spirit beings’ or ‘intelligent beings’ are particularly provocative. In this paper I focus on the enigma of the entities and their worlds, asking what bearing these experiences have on understanding and responding to western cultures present ecological predicament. What kinds of insights or would-be insights into the human relationship to nature, and therewith the human relation to itself, to its own histories, to its socio-cultural and political productions, are being seeded back into western(ised) cultures by entity-encountering DMT enthusiasts? Drawing on personal interviews, participant observation and online resources I attempt to provide a preliminary map for thinking further about these questions.
School of Archaeology and Anthropology, Australian National University
The Constitutive Role Of Language In Sociality
One of the features that distinguish humans from our closest primate relatives is spoken and written language. Human language rests on certain key characterics of social interaction that emerge in early infancy, and language is centrally implicated in the constitution of social institutions. Drawing on evidence from anthropology, linguistics, and cognitive science, this paper explores some of the ways in which we use language to frame institutions including kinship, possession (or “property”), and morality, with examples from a broad number of cultures.
Department of Anthropology, University of Sydney
Agency And Consciousness:
Mana’uhakapiri on Rapanui
Rapanui commonly say they can communicate with people they know – family members and close friends – by thinking about them. Whilst this does not always work, during my fieldwork on Rapanui (Easter Island) I experienced a number of examples of this. In the paper, I explore the ideas of Koestler on “coincidence”, Jung’s beetle and Sheldrake’s “psychic resonance” to try to understand this more un-anthropological investigation of field experience consigned to the fringes of the discipline. “Mana’uhakapiri”, and like features of human groups, has played a part in the acquisition and transmition of cultural patterns, practices and ideas. I am asking if anthropology cope with the intangible.
Walking Which Way?
The displaced story of ‘minimal’ impact bushwalking in Australia
Best practice for the management of national parks requires the promotion and enforcement of ‘minimal impact’ camping and bushwalking. These historically and culturally congruous practices have evolved to place the minimal possible impact on the local environment, but they often do so by displacing their social and environmental impacts to other locations. Paradoxically, these practices are only able to preserve one landscape at the expense of another.
The consequence of this mindset is that it encourages bushwalkers to consider aspects of the non-human world as not only separate from humans, but also separate from each other. This paper considers the implications of this ethos in light of global environmental challenges that increasingly demonstrate the interconnectedness of species and earth systems.
Keywords: recreational bushwalking, National Parks, environmental management, displacement
University of Sydney
The Show Must Go On:
A Functional Analysis of Selected Jewish Religious Practices as Mediators of Cultural Transmission
The acquisition and transmission of cultural patterns, practices and ideas is an important subject to consider in an analysis of a so-called “post-human” world, for any given cultural system or structure usually has as one of its foremost priorities reproduction (for example, Bourdieu 1973).
One such cultural system is the Jewish religion. At the heart of this religion lies the Torah; the ‘core blueprint’ of the entire system, and one that must be transmitted without fail across successive generations for that system to perpetuate itself.
Following a year spent with the Breslov orthodox Jewish community in the north of Israel, I suggest that a number of teachings, precepts and practices, well-known and central to modern Judaism, are mechanisms for transmitting that core blueprint of the religion, the Torah, down through the ages. The sophistication of some of these mechanisms, either on an ideational level to influence the individual mind, a practical/physical level to shape social structure, or both, is often remarkable. If the Torah is considered to be a replicating unit, then it has deployed complex and effective means to fulfil that task. It is interesting to note that, in contrast to this etic functional description, the religious adherents on the ‘inside’ tend to construe these very same teachings, precepts and practices as moral and/or spiritual imperatives.
An analysis of cultural transmission may benefit from an understanding of the sophisticated solutions that Judaism has applied across thousands of years to ensure that its individuals acquire and transmit its cultural units.
Bourdieu, P. (1973). Cultural reproduction and social reproduction. In R.Brown (Ed.) Knowledge, Education and Cultural Change: Papers in the Sociology of Education (pp. 71-84). London, England: Tavistock Publications
What Would A Man Be Without An Elephant, A Cat, A Lily…, Or Strudel?
Lévi-Strauss said he believed in neither God nor Man, wanting to dissolve the latter, seeking nothing less than ‘the reintegration of culture in nature and finally of life within the whole of its physico-chemical conditions’. This paper departs from the upbeat ending of his book, Tristes Tropiques, where he concludes that ‘man is not alone in the universe’, and leaves him with the contemplation of the beauty of a mineral, the learning in the scent of a lily, and an involuntary but knowing exchange with his cat. Passing by Montaigne, several centuries earlier, and his attempts to savour and understand some of the fabric of our existence, we glimpse a man who knows the cruelty of certain men and dogmas, and often, of the universe itself. He suggested we should embrace sympathy rather than certainty, relinquish our species arrogance, and realise we could learn from animals, who had their own languages and were in touch with ‘necessary, tangible and palpable’ benefits of nature (even proposing that elephants might have a religion!). We then make our way to Edgar Morin, who has long argued that our thinking has been hindered since the Cartesian era by paradigms of disjunction, reduction and simplification that lead us to shatter and mutilate the complexity of phenomena. My own introduction to Morin’s work was through his book on film and the ‘imaginary man’. Frustrated with the reductive nature of so-called ‘radical’ film theory, I was convinced that more was at stake than film—what was at stake were ways of theorizing human being in the world. From a perspective that is neither anti- nor post-humanist, and a domain awkwardly called Visual Anthropology, I discuss the ‘ontological democracy’ of objects, nature, and human actors on film, and the way that Yugoslav filmmaker, Dušan Makavejev, both searched for understanding of and argued against the tyranny of the Communist model of the New Man—with animals, food, water, plants, poems, songs, and even women.
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
Biology And Anthropology:
Amazonia, Aboriginal Australia and ‘The West’
With its overwhelming emphasis on genetics, Darwinian biology could be said to be profoundly post-humanist – human beings and other creatures are ostensibly made of the same stuff and shaped by the same evolutionary processes, giving transcendental form to ‘life’. Why, then, does anthropology have such a difficult relationship with biology, resisting Darwinian ideas and their application to humanity – and in some cases to other creatures? Marshall Sahlins gives one answer: Darwinians naturalise the rapacious individualism and objectivism of Western culture and thereby truck in an ethnocentric ‘illusion’. Tim Ingold gives another: Darwinians misconstrue agency, locating it in genes and memes rather than in organisms or persons – and he, like Sahlins, argues for an emphasis on the kind of ‘relational ontology’ that Viveiros de Castro captures through his ideas about Amazonian perspectivism. In this paper, I suggest a way of integrating Darwinism into anthropology that avoids the kinds of problems indexed by Sahlins and Ingold. I do this by exploring biologically framed ideas about reproduction in relation to two different forms of ‘totemism’ – one characterised by Amazonian perspectivism (as outlined by de Castro), the other embodied in Aboriginal notions of The Dreaming. I argue that there is a level of parallelism between Amazonian, Aboriginal and Darwinian systems of thought that arises from a universal intuition of what it means to be human. I suggest that this intuition is never more than an ideal and that Amerindians, Aborigines and biologists seem generally more comfortable with this fact than cultural anthropologists.
School of the Arts and Media, University of New South Wales
Fattening Ontologies In The Field
Hypothesising that much ethnographic writing is just a touch ‘thin’, this paper takes Bruno Latour’s advice that ‘we are going to have to go to dietary clinics for ontological fattening…’ (Enquête sur les modes d’existence: une anthropologie des Modernes. Paris: La Découverte. 2012, 182). Fieldwork in the process of being carried out in Goolarabooloo country (Broome) has the specific project of ‘applying’ a Latourian multiple ontology framework, so that Indigenous and non-indigenous institutions of the law, politics, aesthetics, morality and religion, etc. are given a fuller weight in the writing. If, in Enquête sur les modes d’existence, Latour has offered a breakthrough anthropology of Western worlds, this local ethnographic attempt will look at the Broome instance of Western and non-Western worlds in conflict and how their (Sloterdijkian) ‘spheres’ of influence interact. Accordingly, the writing will find formal strategies to open negotiation ‘portals’ for each mode of existence.
UQ School of Social Science/Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies
Companion Species And Urban Ecology In Brisbane
Synanthropic animals flourish in urban landscapes that are highly altered by human practice. They become key players in a city’s ecology, often to the detriment of less robust species. While some (such as the cockroach or pigeon) are abundant in cities around the world, many Australian urban synanthropes are native – a phenomenon that has led ecologists to observe that a ‘new nature’ is developing in Australia where many native animals are no longer in ‘the bush’ but occur in close proximity with humans (Lowe 2003). My PhD research project is an interdisciplinary exploration of the complex cultural and ecological entanglements that occur when humans and common native animals share urban space. Focussing on Brisbane, Queensland, I ask: What happens when the ‘wild’ meets everyday life in Brisbane? How do humans and these animals learn to live with each other? I consider these questions from the standpoint that humans and everyday wild animals are ‘companion species’ (Haraway 2003), and Brisbane is a ‘living city’ – a site of multiple human-animal becomings which present novel challenges for how we see the city and how we live together (Hinchliffe and Whatmore 2006). In my presentation, I discuss the methodological questions that have arisen in my research, including how to ethnographically account for animals as ‘active participants’ in complex nature-cultural entanglements, definitions of agency in the overlapping ecologies of humans and animals, and issues of human and animal ‘dwelling’ in Brisbane.
Haraway D. (2003) The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press
Hinchliffe S. & Whatmore S. (2006) Living cities: Towards a politics of conviviality Science as Culture 15(2)123-138
Low, T. (2002) The New Nature: Winners and Losers in Wild Australia Camberwell, Vic: Viking
Department of Anthropology, University of Sydney
Pigeons, Post-Colonialism And The Struggle For Life In The City
David Harvey writes of dead capital impeding new capital, urging us to see the inertia created by capitalism’s geographic expansion. This apparent ‘dead weight of tradition’ as Marx called it was for Polanyi the basis of a counter-movement that could dampen the disembedding of men from one another and from nature. Even for Jean Baudrillard who sees the disembedding as complete, there emerges from it the simulacra, which he calls a funeral, but one without referents: simply a free floating image the production of which required the death of something real. More recently Manuel Castells writes of the switching off of spaces that no longer have value, while Loic Wacquant writes of the formation of wastelands. These sociological metaphors of death, termination and inertia seem to sit uncomfortably with an anthropology of the urban in Southeast Asia where the inert is never dead but always communicating with the living, forcing them to reflect on life and right injustices.
The once vibrant industrial heart of Surabaya is lifeless: old factories lay in ruins, new ventures lay stalled for years, weeds take over old abandoned lots and makeovers last only a short time before old factory turned entertainment hall is reclaimed again by grass, cobwebs and echoes. Nowhere in such a landscape can one find the life of the early post-colonial city of popular occupation when there roamed goats, dogs, becak, madmen, unhindered by the strict compartmentalisations of the old colonial city. From a city of industry that controlled man and nature to a deindustrialised city reclaimed by man and nature as vacant spaces filled with the life of ludruk troupes, riversides filled with people defacating and camping out, coming together, seen by one another (berkumpul). Man (Tomo) was portrayed as half wild, naked and like a child who no longer knew how to conduct himself. In Java, the child reflected a counter-movement against authority, throwing light in the inherent power of the little man, who entices the leader into action like Arjuna’s teacher, the clown holy man. Sukarno, despite all his exhortations of enticing the crowd to act, Sjahrir showed that it was they who lead, penetrating the state, destabilising parliamentary democracy and drawing Sukarno and the PKI towards it. As Peacock showed in 1963, the bureaucrat was seduced by kampong beat. Through the 1970s and 1980s, population boomed and socialist principles of gotong royong held strong. For Javanese at least, it was an ideal state of affairs depicted in wayang as people living close together and their animals freely roaming.
Geir Henning Presterudstuen
Sociology and Criminology (SoSSP), University of Western Sydney
Life In The Age Of Cyborgs – Or, The Political Production Of Post-Humans
The epistemological question of ‘what is the human’, particularly with reference to the relationship between humans and technology, has gained new immediacy through current developments in cybernetics and robotics. Advancements in these fields has prompted not only a renewal of the classic modernist interest in how science can improve the human condition, but also an awareness of how modern technology can potentially refashion humanity by integrating machines directly into the human body.
Post-humanism has thus emerged as a powerful academic discourse through which a future is imagined where classical dualisms, are becoming increasingly difficult to entangle and some even argue that “boundaries between humans and machines become almost inconsequential” (Warwick 2003: 131).
These and other perspectives seeking to “open up the question of humanity” (Latour 1997: 15) explicitly undermine anthropocentric modernist notions of human subjectivity, but, I argue, often ignore the key political implications of these positions. Whether presented by the proponents of cybernetics and cyborgology, amodernists or neo-primitivists, perspectives on post-humanism rarely acknowledge that any blurring of the ontological demarcation between human and non-human entities is necessarily mediated by capitalism as a mode of production, both of market actors and market relations.
In contrast, I will draw upon Marcuse’s notions of technological rationality along with theories of anarchist anthropology and anarcho-technocracy, to argue that the liberating potential of modern technology that constitutes a realistic, practical alternative to contemporary power structures needs to involve an affirmation of humanism and a process of redrawing the demarcations between humans and machines.
Department of Anthropology, University of Sydney
What The World Eats:
Rethinking oikos as a future of human species being
This paper examines the concept of an oikos (household) in economic anthropology. The concept of the household is central to several strands of political economy, and remains influential in many approaches to economic anthropology. At the same time, it is questionable whether one could define the household as a cross-culturally universal form of domestic economy. The concept overlooks both the cultural variation in kinship, gender as well as the varied ways in which people’s livelihoods are embedded in a larger social whole. Is there anything worth retaining from the concept of oikos as a fundamental unit of people’s substantive, material relationship with their environment? This paper attempts to revise the oikos by taking off from a recent example of the economic and ecological imaginary, What The World Eats, a photographic essay which depicts the gross quantitative and qualitative differences of households around the world by picturing families sitting amongst the foods that they would typically eat in one week. The collection of vivid, detailed portraits suggests both dramatic and unexpected variability in people’s subsistence as well as offers both an ethical and scientific common ground embodied in the families sitting amongst their ‘favourite foods.’ As text, What The World Eats is a useful starting point for uncovering the unstated assumptions lying at the intersections of economy, kinship, and environment. The paper moves from critique to dialogue with the pictures and concludes that there can be a cross-culturally applicable concept of oikos, yet one that frames the people as tied to each other and to the material conditions, rather than as purely rational and autonomous decision-makers.
University of Newcastle
The role of the non-human in producing knowledge
Much has been written on the capacity of the non-human to help define humanity. Relatively little attention has been given to the unique role of oceans in this relationship. Even though oceans make up over 70 percent of the planet, they are sometimes overlooked as spaces and materialities with which people have important, diverse and unsettling encounters.
In an attempt to address this, and to bring out the richness of oceans as they figure in and disrupt our lives, I examine a case study on deep-sea scientific surveys as conducted by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) off the coast of Tasmania, Australia. I draw on the work of Latour and Woolgar (1986) and John Law (2004) to argue that such scientific practices seek to develop a sense of managerial capacity through which clear human/non-human boundaries can be enacted – specifically, that through the collecting and recording of marine life, the non-human is reproduced as knowledge. These practices, I argue, may be understood as a response to the sometimes anxious work of being human, as a complex exercise seeking to minimise human vulnerability in a powerfully more-than-human world. However, despite the scientists’ efforts to demystify the non-human and establish a more ‘humanist’ account of the world, the ocean and its inhabitants prove to be both elusive and surprising, suggesting our knowledge remains partial, situated, and always vulnerable.
School of Social Sciences, University of Queensland
Persons, Objects And Things:
Anthropology’s necessary anthropocentrism
To address Latour’s suggestion, ‘the non-human’ may well not be ‘inhuman’ (1998: 15), but nor does it hold the subjectivity that anthropology seeks to understand. Tim Ingold (2010) writes that non-human things are active and living but not agents in the ways understood in social science. Yet anthropology is nothing if not focused on the agency of humans in relation to one another as well as to the wider living environment. Sarah Whatmore’s vision of ‘more-than-human’ approaches wants us to avoid logocentrism, that is, focus less on meaning and instead examine what ‘things’ do, in what she terms the ‘co-fabrication of socio-material worlds’ (2006: 604). Nic Peterson (2011: 177) terms such writings a ‘new animism’ that is full of intellectual muddles and confusing literary license. While Peterson examines the propositions in the context of empirical investigations in Australian Indigenous studies, in my view his critique has broader traction. This paper presents three cases to argue for anthropology’s necessary anthropocentric approach. In each case, it is human agency and the production of meaningful worldviews that arises from our discipline’s ethnographic engagement with the world. We don’t write ethnographies of non-humans, whether other animals or environmental features. We write ethnographies of human engagements with those species and environments. In the case materials introduced, this is evident from a magazine produced by a group of committed New Zealand environmentalists engaged in ecological restoration, from discourses produced for public consumption at a tourist monument site in southwest Australia, and from my work mapping cultural landscapes with Aboriginal people in northern Australia.
Ingold, T. 2010. Bringing things to life: creative entanglements in a world of materials. ESRC National Centre for Research Methods Working Paper 15. University of Manchester.
Latour, B. 1998. To modernize or to ecologize? That=B9s the question. In Remaking reality: nature at the millenium, N Castree & B Willeems-Braun eds., pp 221-242. London: Routledge.
Peterson, N. 2011. Is the Aboriginal landscape sentient? Animism, the new animism and the Warlpiri, Oceania 81: 167-179
Whatmore, S. 2006. Materialist returns: practising cultural geography in and for a more-than-human world, Cultural Geographies 13: 600-609
Thom van Dooren
School of Humanities, University of New South Wales
Living With Crows:
Conservation in haunted landscapes
As of 2002, the Hawaiian crow is extinct in the wild. The only remaining participants of the species are now required to live their lives in captivity, subjects of a long running conservation plan that aims to breed enough birds for eventual release. This paper takes as its focus the forests that these crows once inhabited, and might one day return to. In these places the absence of crows is profoundly felt. For example, there are now concerns that one or more tree species that previously relied on crows for seed dispersal may be at risk of extinction. Here, co-evolved affinities held in woody flesh become liabilities for those left behind. But in their absence crows continue to exert an influence on the forest in other ways too. While the legacies of their past presence are felt by some, the promise of their future return is also a powerful pressure on management policy. Spectral crows demand a regenerated forest understory and the exclusion of introduced pigs – which are seen by many as central to traditional Hawaiian hunting. These agendas now shape possibilities for everyone. But these forests are haunted by other histories too. For example, legacies of colonialism and federalism have contributed to a deep suspicion about any project – like this one – that involves the perceived intervention of the US Federal Government in island matters and on state and private lands.
This paper explores this complex multispecies landscape in a way that cuts across neat divisions between the natural and the cultural, the living and the dead, the past and the future. Crows, people, pigs, trees and many others are tangled together here, at stake in each other. Paying attention to ghosts – to the missing presences, buried pasts and promised futures – that haunt landscapes like these is vital work for an informed conservation.
New York University, Sydney
Where Dogs Reign:
Relations of subordination, degradation and admiration
This paper is based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in the small country town of Ceduna, Far West South Australia.
In 2008 the Ceduna local council contracted a private security firm to enforce council by-laws that prohibit public drinking and camping. The K9 Unit, colloquially known as ‘the dogs’, patrol Ceduna’s streets and foreshores as part of an initiative aimed at regulating the presence of Anangu (Aboriginal people) in town. Out bush, the presence of wild dogs and dingoes also makes itself felt. These creatures, as well as other more-than-human phenomena, were both feared and respected by the Aboriginal people who frequently took me camping on their traditional country.
In this paper I analyse the relations between humans and dogs in town and in bush. Crucial to my analysis of the role of dogs in each of these spaces is an account of the racialised social hierarchy imagined to belong to each space. In Ceduna, white hegemony remains a persistent, complex, social fact, despite the racial intimacies that characterise Ceduna’s history and present. Out bush, Aboriginal people re-imagine and invert the established racial hierarchy. Here Aboriginal people are assumed to belong more fully, rightly and deeply. Their relationship with the bush, however, mixes pleasure with fear. Understanding the bush involves understanding that powerful and dangerous forces inhabit the bush and that, today, some things lie beyond human knowing. Here, also, dogs reign.
Social Policy Research Centre, University of New South Wales
Nature, Culture, Tourism (maybe), But No Gas:
An Environmental Ethnography of Conflicts over Country on the Kimberley Coast
Woodside Ltd. and its joint venture partners plan to build a 40billion AU$ liquefied natural gas facility (LNG) at Walmadany / James Price Point, 50 kilometres north of Broome. Construction was to begin in 2009 but the site holds significant natural and cultural values so that a diverse group of opponents has formed and delayed the project until now.
Walmadany is part of the 82-kilometre Lurujarri Trail that was initiated in 1987 and follows an Aboriginal song cycle. Many people who have walked the trail now reunite to protect it from industrialisation. Further opposition stems from the Broome community, numerous environmental groups and well-known individuals such as Bob Brown, Geoffrey Cousins and John Butler.
Apart from people and heritage, equally significant actors in this movement are nature and country. Community science projects documented monsoonal vine thickets, humpback whale nursing grounds, turtle nests, dinosaur trackways and bilbies. Interconnectedness of people and country is further represented through sites for traditional tool making and sacred burial grounds.
Woodside Ltd. received an Aboriginal Heritage Act Section 18 clearance to start work, but when this was announced on 15 January 2013, strong rains set in over Walmadany and washed off the sand from many of the burial sites and artefacts that now lay exposed to the human eye. How can we grasp this, to paraphrase Latour, ‘non-human but not inhuman’ intervention of nature?
In my presentation I argue that in order to understand the complexities involved in the conflict over country outlined above, human and non-human actors must be analyzed with neither subordinate to the other. I will discuss this ‘ontological turn’ in anthropology based on material collected in my long-term ethnographic study between March 2012 and May 2013.