‘Emergent Opportunities in Multispecies Relations’ presentation at AAA in Seattle
Daniel presented an online paper at the panel ‘Relations in Multispecies Ecologies’ at the annual conference of the American Anthropological Association on November 12 in Seattle, USA.
Emergent Opportunities in Multispecies Relations: Garbage, Ravens, and Disturbing Landscape
The central argument of this paper is that the unsettling and hopegul modes of anthropological research exist in a productive tension. On one hand, critical interrogation resulting in discomfort may erode established power structures or challenge normative ways of thinking and acting. On the other hand, the same practice may suppress anxiety and discomfort via familiarization with the seemingly disturbing phenomena. To demonstrate this double quality of our work, the paper presents ideas inspired by a multi-species research of wastescapes in Czechia. During the last two years, I have studied ravens who developed skills to retrieve food waste from the landfills and transport it to their surroundings. Since the transport of food waste is facilitated by various plastic, metal, or paper containers, the ravens eventually drop them to the ground, thus creating unruly accumulations of litter in the woods. These accumulations are scavenged by other animals who spread the garbage further. Polluted woods elicit uneasy feelings that stimulate questioning of who might be responsible for such littering. Interaction and debates with employees of a waste management company, farmers, hunters, and foresters inevitably push them outside their comfortable zone and unsettles their view of themselves as well as the landscape itself. At the same time, an ethnographic immersion into the relations emerging through ravens’ activities reveals entangled modes of coexistence, valorization, and thriving. The landscape, which initially seemed disturbing, becomes less unsettling with the knowledge of the emergent ecologies behind the mere material carriers of uneasy feelings. The resulting picture is not necessarily harmonic but at least brings hopes that unsettling is not the end of story.