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Tree Talking and Collaboration: Toward Restoring Equitable Relations and Earth’s Natural Systems

Authors: Sarah Abbott*, Royal Roads University | University of Regina
Topics: Environment
Keywords: Trees, nonhuman knowing, interspecies communication, ethnography, Indigenous methodologies
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2020
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:20 PM
Room: Virtual Track 4
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The proposed paper considers interspecies communication with a focus on trees as individual, agentic “biosocial becomings,” an understanding conceptualised by Tim Ingold that views nonhuman and human life as evolving equally and intrinsically through both social and biological influences. My presentation emerges from my doctoral research, “An Ethnography of Trees: Sensuous Scholarship in Plant Ontologies and Environmental Empathy,” based in interdisciplinary social sciences, public ethnography, Indigenous methodologies, plant science, and the paradigm-shifting, vulnerable territory of communication between humans and trees. As Lien and Pálsson discuss, historically, ethnographic “attention to the ‘other-than-human’ has been ... sidelined by human-centered theoretical pursuits.” My findings, represented both as a film and written material, include the practice, as method, of embodied engagement with sensual, intuitive knowing as ground for interspecies telepathic communication that transcends anthropomorphism. Working openly and honestly within this topic pushes the traditional edge of “respectable” and “sane” Western academic and scientific research. Discomfiting clashes within dominant Western-based identity arise when humans take seriously the acts of mutual talking with trees; asking permission before entering their communities; listening to their messages of health, being, and awareness; and working with trees’ want to collaborate with humans to restore Earth’s natural systems. To inquire and write honestly within a framework of relations with nature and its intelligent awareness is to embody and (re)new ancient ways of knowing that are vital to moving beyond human-centered treatment of the Earth and its inhabitants at a time when the consequences of environmental, climate, and ecocide crises are dire.

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