Bioacoustical Worlds

Authors: Max Ritts*, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), Karen Bakker, University of British Columbia
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Environmental Perception, Animal Geographies
Keywords: acoustics, multispecies, environmental governance, sound, nature
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

The intensive research that has cohered over the last 15 years around the scientific study life through sound, aka bioacoustics, is having profound effects on the way nature is being managed, represented, and controlled across diverse landscapes. While scientists have long recognized sound as “an important medium for interspecific communication among… groups of animals” (Krause and Farina, 2015, 245), their socio-technical ability to glean biological insight from sound has increased exponentially. In Europe and North America, bioacoustics is now a regular component in a range of species management practices, including biodiversity assessment, population count, and habitat quality. Scattered throughout such practices are metaphors – “acoustical niche,” “exposure threshold” – with motivated representations of ecological form, function, and differentiation; and targeted expectations regarding species management and environmental health. Bioacoustical practices shift not only the modalities of perceived nature – which comes to consist in periodicities, waves, and frequencies too high or low to be audible by humans -- but the basic understanding of what nature is, as well. In this talk, we explore bioacoustics as a way to puzzle through contemporary geographies of multispecies governance. If bioacoustical projects co-evolve with a “surveillance eco-capitalism” managing the world’s non-human actors and ecosystems for economic purposes, they also point to worldings as yet unaccounted-for in capitalist value regimes, and through which different politics of nature emerge. Drawing from a history of bioacoustics and a survey of recent works, we argue for a greater consideration of bioacoustical worlds in geographical studies of multispecies life.

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