Cryptic invasions and invisible residence: politics, practices, and performance of uncertainties in invasive insect establishment and eradication

Authors: Jennifer Sedell*, University of California, Davis
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Agricultural Geography, Biogeography
Keywords: uncertainty, invasive species, agriculture, political ecology, insects
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Balcony M, Marriott, River Tower Elevators, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

At the center of controversies over state attempts to eradicate invasive insects lie two questions: how does the federal government know an insect exists in the wrong place, for too long? How do they know it no longer exists? Determining whether or not an invasive insect is already established should, in theory, be an “epistemic uncertainty” (Christly et al. 2013). More data from monitoring traps and genetic testing should reveal whether a population has been recently introduced or has existed locally for some time. In contrast, determining whether or not an invasive insect is absent can only exist as an "ontological uncertainty" (ibid.). There is no way to prove zero. Drawing on feminist studies of science, this paper investigates the politics, practices, and performances of uncertainties in making and contesting invasive insect regulatory science. Ethnographic and archival research on recent eradication programs in California showcase how the practices of state actors to make invasive insects “legible” (Scott 1998) inevitably lead to growing epistemic uncertainties over population establishment. Anti-pesticide activists and sympathetic entomologists leverage these epistemic uncertainties to challenge programs that have forcibly brought pesticides into residential spaces. For the agricultural regulatory apparatus, these efforts threaten the flow of capital and agricultural goods. Having a debate over whether or not an invasive population has become established “puts doubts in the minds of our trading partners," according to regulators. In turn, performances that demonstrate that the population has been eradicated, closing an ontological uncertainty, emerge as the avenue for closing epistemic uncertainties.

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