Ethnographies of the Unseen? Biosemiotics, Wildlife, and the Politics of Interspecies Relations

Authors: Gwendolin McCrea*, University of Minnesota
Topics: Animal Geographies, Cultural and Political Ecology, Qualitative Methods
Keywords: biosemiotics, multispecies ethnography, animal geography, post-humanism, environmental management, interdisciplinary
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 4:40 PM / 6:20 PM
Room: Bayside B, Sheraton, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Within the last decade, multispecies ethnography has become an important research methodology for post-humanist scholarship in geography, anthropology, and other related fields. This body of work has productively contributed to wider discussions on epistemology and ontology, while also offering valuable insights about the politics of interspecies relationships and nonhuman agency. Of necessity, however, the practice of multispecies ethnography has mostly been limited to work with creatures that are relatively accessible: domesticated animals, lab specimens, and wildlife in rehabilitation facilities. Given the intensity and frequency of interactions in most ethnographic research, it is challenging to imagine how this method might work with more reclusive species. This paper comes out of a project focused on the interspecies relations at play in the management of a 1,500-acre wildlife sanctuary park in the Washington D.C. Metro Area. The need to consider interactions among multiple species led to a deep engagement with animal ethology and biosemiotics, a strategy that raises further questions about the roles of scientific knowledge and alternative epistemologies. The paper explores the idea that an interdisciplinary approach to multispecies ethnography offers a window into the experiences of reclusive wildlife species through which we might approach an understanding of how these animals create meaning and inhabit their worlds. Ultimately, this work helps clarify the specific ways in which interspecies relationships affect and inform environmental management politics and practices.

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