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Multispecies Communities

“All living beings emerge from and make their lives within multispecies communities.”[1]

Multispecies studies encompasses approaches within the Environmental Humanities that encourage “passionate immersion” while researching, understanding and engaging with more-than-human others, to borrow a phrase from the Anthropologist Anna Tsing. Tsing writes:

There is a new science studies afoot, of which this special issue is a part, and its key characteristic is multispecies love. Unlike earlier forms of science studies, its raison d’être is not, mainly, the critique of science, although it can be critical. Instead, it allows something new: *passionate immersion* in the lives of the nonhumans being studied.[2]

If you would like to gain an overview of multispecies studies please read the following article:

Thom Van Dooren, Eben Kirksey and Ursula Münster “Multispecies Studies: Cultivating Arts of Attentiveness,” Environmental Humanities 8, 1 (2016): 1-22.

Note: For the course it is not essential to read the full article. The article uses a lot of terminology that may be unfamiliar to you. Please only read the article in depth if this field of research is of particular interest to you.

The article explores approaches within multispecies studies and the wider theoretical context. It focuses on how to cultivate “arts of attentiveness,” which the authors describe as “modes of both paying attention to others and crafting meaningful response.”[3] Describing multispecies studies, the authors write:

Unsettling given notions of species, it explores a broad terrain of possible modes of classifying, categorizing, and paying attention to the diverse ways of life that constitute worlds. From detailed attention to particular entities, a multiplicity of possible connection and understanding opens up: species are always multiple, multiplying their forms and associations.[4]

Some of the key questions raised in this article include:

Are all lively entities biological, or might a tornado, a stone, or a volcano be amenable to similar forms of immersion? What does it mean to live with others in entangled worlds of contingency and uncertainty? More fundamentally, how can we do the work of inhabiting and coconstituting worlds well?[5]

What do you think?

  • After reading the article, what are your thoughts on how we might rethink our relations with other species?
  • “What does it mean to live with others in entangled worlds of contingency and uncertainty?”
  • What do you make of the claim “the arts of attentiveness remind us that knowing and living are deeply entangled and that paying attention can and should be the basis for crafting better possibilities for shared life.”[6]

Further optional reading

To learn more about the emergence of multispecies ethnography, read:

Eben Kirksey and Stefan Helmreich, “The Emergence of Multispecies Ethnography, Cultural Anthropology, 25, 4 (2010): 545–576.

If you are interested in gaining further understanding of the complex interconnections between culture, society and environment in the field, read the following article by Eben Kirksey:

Eben Kirksey, “Living With Parasites in Palo Verde National Park,” Environmental Humanities 1 (2012): 23-55.

Eben’s journey to understand the many different stakeholders and forces at play in Palo Verde National Park illustrates the complex entanglements of culture, society and environment and hits on some key themes that are central to Environmental Humanities, and this course. In the article, Eben observes that:

Creatures, like the fringe-toed foam frog, that refuse to participate in anthropocentric collectives are living figures of post-human hopes. Living and dying in zones of abandonment, these organisms are in an epistemological space beyond the reach of scientific measurement and direct biopolitical regulation. Even as aspiring scientists earnestly worked to democratically speak for nature, struggling to build stable speech prosthetics for a multitude of unloved critters, I found constant evidence of constitutive outsiders. I discovered species that were ever elusive, unloved others who were unrepresented in realms of human discourse. [7]

References

  1. Thom Van Dooren, Eben Kirksey and Ursula Münster “Multispecies Studies: Cultivating Arts of Attentiveness,” Environmental Humanities 8, 1 (2016): 2.
  2. Anna Tsing, “Arts of Inclusion, or, How to Love a Mushroom,” Australian Humanities Review 11 (2011).
  3. Thom Van Dooren, Eben Kirksey and Ursula Münster “Multispecies Studies: Cultivating Arts of Attentiveness,” Environmental Humanities 8, 1 (2016): 1.
  4. Ibid: 1.
  5. Ibid: 1.
  6. Ibid: 17.
  7. Eben Kirksey, “Living With Parasites in Palo Verde National Park,” Environmental Humanities 1 (2012): 48.

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This article is from the free online course:

Environmental Humanities: Remaking Nature

UNSW Sydney

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