Historical Political Ecology Meets Posthuman Political Ecology in the Archive

Authors: Rod Neumann*, Florida International University
Topics: Historical Geography, Cultural and Political Ecology, Animal Geographies
Keywords: more-than-human, animal geographies, research methods
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: Virginia B, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

This paper explores the methodological challenges presented by the intersection of two recent trends in political ecology: posthuman and historical. Inspired by the broader posthuman turn, political ecologists are urging scholars to “be sensitive to,” and “account for” nonhuman agency. Political ecologists similarly have been swept up in the rising flood of interest in historical methodology in geography. If one acknowledges the need for both a historical perspective and attention to the nonhuman, one immediately confronts unique evidentiary difficulties that call for novel, even experimental methods. How do we retrieve the agency of the nonhuman in historically oriented political ecology? More specifically, how do we find the traces of the nonhuman in the archival record? I address these questions through a study of the history of wildlife science in North America, focusing on the case of Yosemite National Park. My understanding of nonhuman agency is informed by both social theory and evolutionary cognition. I employ Giddens’ (1984) understanding of agency as the power to affect, emphasizing consequences regardless of intentionality. From evolutionary cognition I bring new findings that can inform our understanding of wild animal agency. Cognition studies have found traits that Western philosophy had long presumed to be exclusively human—self-recognition, social learning, contingency planning, tool making, etc.—in wild populations of avian, primate, and cetacean species. Using the case of wildlife science, I explore how these findings might help in confronting the methodological challenges of posthuman political ecology archival research.

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