Jacob Bull: A little more than kin a little less than kind: critical potentials of symbiosis for multi-species worlds
Symbiosis is increasingly being used within academic articulations of our ‘multi-species’ worlds (see for example Barker 2010; Freccero, 2011; Haraway, 2008; 2016; Hird, 2009, Lorimer, 2016). Often defined as the living together of two or more dissimilar organisms, this move towards symbiotic understandings of life is important as it emphasises the co-dependencies and interrelations between humans and other species. As such it is a tool of description, it makes visible the connections and co-reliance between seemingly autonomous beings. But it is also an analytical tool with critical potentials. It unsettles conceptualisations of ’the Human’, and makes obvious that particular forms of humanism are indebted to the various technologies of agriculture, science, medicine, ‘wilderness’, industry, (and so on) that tie people and animals together in particular ways. Making codependence visible is an important step as it emphasises shared (evolution) histories, spaces of cohabitation and corporeal exchange and bears witness to the more-than-human bodies that labour in the Anthropocene. Through symbiosis Life becomes about relationships as ‘beings do not pre-exist their relating’ (Haraway 2003:6) rather than an individualised struggle as featured in neo-Darwinian narratives survival of the fittest. As symbiotic theory continues to gain ground in the natural sciences, social sciences and humanities we have opportunity to rethink issues of kinship as genome mapping shows commonalities and connections between species, phyla and kingdoms. Similarly horizontal gene transfer in terms of asexual reproduction, epigenetics and work on microbiomes has illustrated how human, lives, sex and inheritance are always more-than-human. There is therefore much critical potential in symbiotic theory. However, perhaps a victim of it own success, symbiosis as fundamental and ubiquitous as it is, risks becoming a descriptor of everything and thereby losing critical potential. This paper therefore proposes a more nuanced definition and a more varied history of symbiosis theory as one way of maintaining critical potential.
Erica Cudworth: For Terraism: excavating multispecies community in a time of extinction
We humans and a multiplicity of other species create eco-systems and possibilities for life continually. These contexts of mutuality might be thought of as political in that they address the problem of what might be done in the face of an uncertain future and the crumbling of the certainties of the framework of modernity. Our (em)bedding in a relational landscape with other beings and things invites a reappraisal of the ways in which we have been human. “To be in relationship is to be vulnerable” as Deborah Bird Rose (2011: 142) puts it, and certainly, our relationality and our bodiment ensure our vulnerability. In the face of the existential threat of climate change and mass extinction in the Anthropocene/Capitalocene, what is the possibility of fruitful futures in times of great precarity for vulnerable embodied critters?
This paper sets out a ‘posthumanist manifesto’ which argues for a creaturely politics and promotes a strategy of terraism in which the flourishing of posthuman community might secure political change from the bottom up. This rejects a position of liberalism in which grand calls are made and demands placed on existing international institutions. Rather, critical approaches to life in and beyond the ‘Anthropocene’ are required. The paper draws on the recent call by Simon Springer (2016) to ‘Fuck Neoliberalism’. This involves expressing rage (through scholarship and protest); rejection (doing things differently); and prefigurative politics in which we learn to create new worlds. Similarly, Amy Allen’s (2016) notion of negativistic emancipation suggests the need for a combination of the critique of existing society with an examination of ‘heterotopic spaces’ as alternate though not utopian spaces, where practice challenges prevailing social structures. While the fucking-up of the Capitalocene is desperately needed, we also require prefiguration.
Thus this paper will argue for a ‘creaturely politics’ which stresses the bodied nature of the human and our bedding in vital networks with other beings and things. This does not only imply a critical perspective on the human centred organisation of our economic organisation, our social practices and our ways of doing politics, it also requires a shrinking of the idea of ‘the human’ as we know it, and a transition to a more creaturely condition in which we humans share vulnerabilities with other creatures and living things. Second, following William Connolly’s call for “micro-experimentation on several fronts” (2013: 38) and Donna Haraway’s (2016: 5-7) invitation to stay “with the trouble” of our times through creative practices emergent in “actual encounters”, the paper argues for the development of ways of flourishing in our precarious times, in particular through ‘posthuman communities’. Employing a rather more critical version of companion species than we find in Haraway, two kinds of posthuman communities are considered: those found in the edgeland spaces where dogs and their people hang out in contemporary urban and rural Britain, and the rather more tense and fragile spaces of warfare, past and present.
Claire Jean Kim: Murder and Mattering in Harambe’s House
This talk examines the controversy over the killing of the gorilla Harambe in the Cincinnati Zoo in May 2016 as a unique window onto the making of humanness, animalness, and blackness in the contemporary U.S.
Ann-Sofie Lönngren: Falling in love with a bear girl. Scandinavian literary representations of cross-species sexuality, love, and family formations at the turn of the 21st century
In Western societies, Christianity´s rigid hierarchization of the human-animal relationship has generated a strong taboo regarding cross-species sexualities (Dekkert 1994; Rydström 2001). The fact that this taboo is active still today can be seen in several ways, for example the recurring use of animals in pornography (Kulick 2008). As has however been noted in the field of HAS, a rigid focus on taboo and bestiality might make invisible the potential of the new contracts of intimacy that are sketched in the postmodern, multi-species household (Rudy 2012). Although often understood according to derogative stereotypes such as the ‘crazy cat lady’ (Holmberg 2015) or as substitutes for a ‘real’ partner (Garber 1996), the cross-species living together might create possibilities for “otherworlding” (Haraway 2008) and make visible ways of life that can be conceptualized as “queer beyond queer” (Kuzniar 2008).
In this paper, I discuss the negotiation between taboo and otherworlding regarding interspecies sexuality, love and family formation in a number of texts written by authors from Europe’s northernmost part at the turn of the 21st century. Swedish author Elsie Johansson’s novel The woman who met a dog (1984); Danish author Peter Hoeg’s internationally acclaimed The woman and the ape (1996); Sámi author Kirste Palltto’s collection of short stories Stjålet (2003); and Norwegian author Erlend Loe’s novel Doppler (2004) all thematize cross-species sexualities, intimacies and love, but in very different ways. Together they make visible tensions between different paradigms regarding the human-animal relationship (modern, postmodern, indigenous), as well as the intra-action with categories such as gender, class and race. In these stories, that which Donna Haraway (2016) refers to as “the Chthulucene” – an ontology based on multispecies stories and practices of becoming – is represented both as a threat posed against a hegemonic world order, and as a promise of other possibilities.
Andrea Petitt: Cowgirls of the Kalahari. Cattle intersecting with relations of power in Botswana
In Botswana cattle production is constructed as a male sphere whereas women as a group are placed symbolically and, in large, materially, outside the realm of cattle. However, looking closer at this narrative, there are exceptions to the general ‘rule’ that women do not have cattle in Botswana. Expectations on how women relate to cattle are built around intersecting notions of gender, class, ethnicity and race. Looking at actual practices, however, women do engage in an array of cattle practices that both align to but also challenge these expectations. Drawing on notions of the past, they benefit from cattle relations because or in spite of these expectations. Cattle, as a species category, are both symbolically and materially active in creating relations of power between humans, and being a woman in rural Botswana is done through relating to cattle. Exploring what ‘becoming with’ cattle can mean at various intersections of gender, class, ethnicity and race in Ghanzi, Botswana, characterized by the harsh Kalahari climate, this paper draws on interviews and participant observation among forty cattle owning women to show how species specific human-animal relations are an integral part of what it means to be a woman.
Pär Segerdahl: Intellectual asceticism and hatred of the human, the animal, and the material
In his remarks on the meaning of ascetic ideals in philosophy, Nietzsche connects these ideals with “hatred of the human, and even more of the animal, and more still of the material.” If Nietzsche is right in viewing metaphysics as generalized “aversion to life,” including aversion to the human, then the idea that philosophy idealizes the human, and tells us a story of human exceptionalism, may need to be reconsidered. What does metaphysics idealize, if it isn’t the human? What is the meaning of the human/animal opposition, if it expresses hatred even of the human? In this paper I summarize Nietzsche’s remarks on ascetic ideals in philosophy and discuss what they imply for human exceptionalism. Finally, I relate Nietzsche’s remarks to Donna Haraway’s questioning of the Anthropocene as a story to think with; a questioning that is made partly on the basis of the idea that it continues a story of human exceptionalism. In the paper I also discuss the notion of “power over life” (as opposed to “power in life”) and its connection to ascetic practices.
Eliza Steinbock: Catties and T-Selfies: A Question of Sovereignty
This talk responds to the phenomenon of Internet cats becoming pervasive in Web 2.0, while at the same time digitally shared self-portraits commonly called “selfies” also circulate with extremely high frequency. I track the efficacy of sharing selfies for trans/Two Spirit individuals such as artist Kiley May and in trans-centric hashtag campaigns. I will show that trans-animality in digital life can offer sovereign forms of subjectivity and engage response patterns that locate a trans point of regard. Further, I will try to explain why so many different kinds of cuteness are shared in the intimate superpublics of online trans* communities. Building on classic texts in philosophical cat studies, such as from Jacques Derrida, the concept of the “inappropriate/d other,” and contemporary cuteness theories, I will propose that cute aesthetics provide a sentimental shield, can counter sexual indifference, and often enact a mode of resilience crucial for surviving in (media) cultures that erase the existence of trans people of color.
Cleo Woelfle-Erskine: The watershed body: Transgressing frontiers in riverine sciences, planning multispecies worlds
In the Northwestern U.S., some ecosystem managers and scientists are turning to beavers (Castor canadensis) as partners in restoring hydro-ecological function to damaged salmon streams and avert extinction of coho salmon (Oncorynchus kitsutch). Drawing on interviews conducted on beaver relocation trips and at conferences, I examine particulars of anthropocene beaver worlds that are emerging in landscapes whose defining hydrologic features are large dams that block water flow and fish migration nearly every river. I extend Eva Hayward’s concept of transgender embodiment to explore transgressive potentials of these scientists’ collaborations with beavers. Thinking of a relational water(shed) body as always-becoming trans body focuses attention on how the vicissitudes of settler legacy and present human need shape any given water body and transform that water body, and together with the various species and elementals in the watershed shape its possible presents and futures. In trying to reverse the damage of 20th century river engineering projects, these actors are entering into improvisatory riparian collaborations with an animal they often call an ecosystem engineer, by trapping ‘nuisance’ beavers, matchmaking in a repurposed fish hatchery, and then releasing beavers into mountain headwaters, where their dams improve streamflow and salmon habitat.
Wendy Woodward: ‘Miracles of attunement’? Reading dog and human beings-with in southern African narratives
If the girl-child produces the small dog’s body as she lies next to him on the hall carpet, attempting to see with his small-dog eyes and his dog senses, to what extent is the child herself produced by the experience? An apparently timeless moment of the child and dog’s being-with is, however, imbricated in a particular southern African situatedness, which will be unpacked. This paper reads various narratives--by Luis Bernardo Honwana, Es’kia Mphalele, Njabulo Ndebele, JM Coetzee, Thando Mgqolozana and Marlene van Niekerk--which figure taxonomies of race and species through humans and dogs. Vinciane Despret’s notion of human-nonhuman animal attunement will be deployed while remaining mindful of Claire Jean Kim’s call to “remain attuned to the ... dynamics of difference production.” The paper concludes with Tinyiko Maluleke’s short essay “I am an African and I grieve for my dog Bruno” and asks if mourning could foster a recognition of feelings without recourse to the current South African imperative of sedimented racialised and gendered differences.
Hyaesin Yoon: Beyond the Erotics of Singularity: the biopolitics of intimacy in commercial pet cloning
This presentation examines the biopolitical arrangement of intimacy among human, animal, and technology in the transnational pet-cloning industry. In doing so, I depart from prevalent critiques on cloning that reverberate in the popular imaginary of clones as what will supersede humans and other natural creatures in the dystopian future. That approach is problematic not only because of its recourse to the Western metaphysical binaries between original/copy and nature/technology, but also because of its reliance on performative production of the in/human – intersecting with the relations of gender/sexuality, race, species, and disability. I analyze two cases of pet cloning. First, the media representation of an American woman who cloned her deceased service dog and was later revealed to be the protagonist of a 1970s sex scandal. Second, the narrative of a man who lives with two clones of his deceased dog. I argue that the human-canine relations in these cases challenge the prevalent critique on cloning (and its emphasis on the singularity of the original), subtended by ablist-heteronormative sexuality and the specieated order of relationality. In this light, these cases call for queer and beyond-the-human biopolitics of intimacy in an era of genetic reproduction and postindustrial capitalism.