Conserving Conference Q&A : Helen Tiffin and Rosaleen Duffy

During our ‘Conserving’ Conference at the University of Sheffield earlier this month, we were extremely lucky to have the chance to talk with two of the keynote speakers about what the theme of this year’s conference meant to them:

Helen Tiffin

1) How does your research engage with the theme of ‘conserving’?

My current research is on the (unfortunately, and in some ways insoluble) vexed relationship(s) between animal welfare proponents and environmentalists. Though their interests should be united, in persuading a generally uncaring majority to consider the interests of the “more than human world” (Philosopher Val Plumwood’s term), they are often at odds, philosophically, ethically and in practice. At this time, my focus is on “alien” eradications, by shooting, poison drop, etc in order to restore “pristine” environments. But as Fred Pearce points out, biodiversity is perhaps going to increasingly rely on aliens to form a “new wild”. Meantime, many animals/ environments are being subjected to “cruel conservation” in what may be a misguided attempt to turn back the clock.

2) How does your particular academic discipline tend to approach questions of conservation, and how does your own work differ?

My original discipline was literary studies, and I worked on the ways in which animals, environments, and conservation measures were represented, historically, and in the present, in all kinds of writing, including scientific accounts. But I also have a Science degree, so some of my work differs radically from that generally done in English or Literary Studies departments, though some is congruent with the area of Cultural Studies, often grafted on to Literature and Communications disciplines.( e.g. my last published article, “Do Insects Feel Pain?“, was a summary of significant scientific research on the Insecta from 1980 to the present. The second last was on the ways in which the Congo region of Africa has been represented, in fiction and reportage, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Last (co- authored) monograph was ” Wild Man from Borneo: a cultural history of the Orangutan“.

3) What, in your view, are biggest problems with some of the public discourse surrounding conservation?

(a) From an Australian point of view, not nearly enough public discourse, with the exception of climate change. Even the latter is driven usually by economic considerations. And in the current case of the Great Barrier Reef endangerment by the massive Adani coal mine, and the incredibly dangerous Abbot Point loading facility, Government secrecy and draconian measures recently undertaken to actually prevent public discourse.

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( b) “Habitat loss” is a useful euphemism for relentless human population expansion and economic greed. But the passive form, and the apparently agent -less happening of “habitat loss”, helps keep discussion of human overpopulation out of the arena. But we have reached the point where, if we wish to have any biodiversity on the planet, we must begin to discuss it. Once humans are here, we have an absolute duty to look after them as best we can; but the right to bring as many into the world as we choose, is a rather different matter. This taken for granted right does need serious discussion, in spite of its unpalatable historical associations, if we are to have any “conservation” of species apart from the human.

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( c) Whether assumed through rights, religions, or economics, the normative assumption of anthropocentrism needs unsettling.

Rosaleen Duffy
1) How does your research engage with the theme of ‘conserving’?

My work examines the global politics of wildlife conservation, and I have mostly focused on the role of the conservation movement in the global South. What I am most interested in is how conservation practice can be made more socially just – for me it is important to examine how conservation intersects with race, gender, colonial history, the dynamics of capitalism, and concerns about global security. This is essential in order to build better practice in the future.

2) How does your particular academic discipline tend to approach questions of conservation, and how does your own work differ?

My ‘home discipline ‘ of Politics and International Relations is not known for a large body of work on conservation. In a sense that has been positive because this prompted me to engage with other disciplines in a search for explanations, theoretical framings and methodological approaches. I count myself as a political ecologist – which squarely addresses the politics of global environmental change, including wildlife conservation and seeks to develop the notion of the production of nature to move beyond narratives of destruction and construction of nature.

3) What, in your view, are biggest problems with some of the public discourse surrounding conservation?

I will confine my comments to wildlife conservation in Africa – the public discourse is dominated by the need to save charismatic megafauna (elephants, rhinos, gorillas, lions), This narrows the focus and allows conservation to sidestep the more awkward questions about how conservation is linked in to a colonial history, how it can perpetuate racial stereotypes (particularly evident in debates about poaching), and how it can be responsible for exclusion and (sometimes) violent dispossession of some of the worlds most marginalised communities.

[The BASN ‘Conserving’ Conference was held at the University of Sheffield on 18th/19th November in conjunction with ShARC]

Reading Group: Dinesh Wadiwel’s The War Against Animals

Join us for our first reading group session looking at the Introduction from Dinesh Wadiwel’s The War Against Animals

In The War Against Animals, Dinesh Wadiwel draws on critical political theory to provide a provocative account of how our mainstay relationships with animals are founded upon systemic hostility and bio-political sovereign violence.
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Please find an online version of the Introduction here.
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The reading group is due to take place from 3pm on Tuesday, 6th December at 9 Mappin Street, 9MS-G14.

Research Seminar: Jill Atkins, ‘Building an ark of emancipatory extinction prevention mechanisms of accounting and accountability’, 29th November

The Sheffield Animal Studies Research Centre warmly invites you to our next research seminar in the series. We are delighted to welcome the University of Sheffield’s own Jill Atkins to deliver a talk on: ‘Building an ark of emancipatory extinction prevention mechanisms of accounting and accountability’.

Jill has recently co-edited a book on The Business of Bees: An Integrated Approach to Bee Decline and Corporate Responsibility as part of a long-term project investigating the role of accounting and responsible investment in preserving biodiversity and addressing the impacts of climate change on business.

The seminar takes place from 3pm on Tuesday, 29th November 2016 in the Diamond Building, Room DIA-WR1.

Read the abstract here.

29th Nov Jill Atkins Extinction

Research Seminar: Sune Borkfelt, ‘Sensing the Animal in Slaughterhouse Fictions’, 15th November

The Sheffield Animal Studies Research Centre is delighted to invite you to attend our next research seminar in the series. We are very pleased to welcome Sune Borkfelt to the University of Sheffield to deliver a talk on ’Sensing the Animal in Slaughterhouse Fictions’. Please find the abstract attached to this email. The seminar takes place from 3pm on Tuesday, 15th November 2016 in Firth Court, Seminar Room F02a.

An abstract of the talk can be found here.
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Sune Nov 15 Presentation

Research Seminar: Susan McHugh, ‘Honeybee Fictions and Indigenous Frictions’, 18th October

The Sheffield Animals Research Colloquium was delighted and incredibly fortunate to welcome Professor Susan McHugh to speak on ‘Honeybee Fictions and Indigenous Frictions’.

The seminar took place at 3pm on Tuesday 18th October 2016 at the University of Sheffield.

Prof. McHugh is the author of Animal Stories: Narrating across Species Lines (2011), a volume in the University of Minnesota Press’s Posthumanities series, as well as Dog (2004), a volume in Reaction Books’ groundbreaking Animal series. She has delivered keynote lectures and invited talks in Canada, Germany, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Sweden, the UK, and the US. Her ongoing research focuses on the intersections of biological and cultural extinction at the University of New England.

Listen to the seminar here – with an introduction from ShARC’s own Dr Robert McKay. Follow the seminar with accompanying presentation slides here.

Kind permission given by Prof. Susan McHugh

bee poster final

BASN: Conserving programme, 18-19th November

British Animal Studies Network

basn conserving pic

Conserving
18th and 19th November 2016

Humanities Research Institute, University of Sheffield

 For registration visit: http://onlineshop.shef.ac.uk/
Early Bird rate £40 waged/£20 unwaged until 17/10/16
Full rate £50 waged/£25 unwaged

 Plenary speakers:
Rosaleen Duffy (University of Sheffield); David Farrier (University of Edinburgh); Helen Tiffin (University of Wollongong)

Draft Programme 

Friday 18th November

12.00-1.00: Registration and coffee

1.00-2.00: Introduction and Keynote 1
Helen Tiffin (University of Wollongong)
Conservation and Animal Welfare

2.00-2.15: Comfort Break

2.15-3.15: Panel 1: Urban Conservation

Samantha Hurn (University of Exeter)
Street Dog Conservation

Beth Savage (Practicing Artist)
Sites Of Encounter: The Zoo As Gallery And Other Curated Spaces Of Conservation

Cara Clancy (Plymouth University)
Life In The Urban Wilds: The Culture And Politics Of ‘Rewilding’ (In) The Anthropocene

3.45-4.15: Coffee Break

4.15-5.15: Panel 2: Conserving as Medium and Memory

Alan Ross (Humboldt University, Berlin)
The Body As A Medium: Conservation Techniques And Visual Culture, 1660-1840

Sally McIntyre (Practicing Artist)
‘How To Explain Radio To A Dead Huia: Listening Memorials To The Sounds And Silences Of Extinct New Zealand Birds’

5.15-5.30: Comfort Break

5.30-7.00: Panel 3 Problematics of Conserving

Angela Cassidy (University of Exeter)
“They can easily protect themselves, you see…” Conflicting Logics of Care in the UK Badger Culling Debate

Anja Höing (University of Osnabrück)
Conserving The Idea Of The Animal: Representations Of Conservation In British Animal Stories

Greg McElwain (The College of Idaho)
Conserving Whom Or What? Midgley And The Problem Of The Species And The Individual

7.00 Buffet Dinner

Saturday 19th November

9.00-9.30 Coffee

9.30-10.30: Keynote 2

David Farrier (University of Edinburgh)
Animal Detectives and Anthropocene Noir in Chloe Hooper’s A Child’s Book of True Crime

10.30-10.45 Comfort break

10.45-11.45: Panel 4: Inner Mongolia and Outer Hebrides

Thomas White (University of Cambridge)
Camels, Pastoralists And The State: The Politics Of Conservation In Northern China

Pippa Marland (University of Worcester)
‘A great altar-cairn of […] corpses': A Reading Of The ‘Guga Hunt’ In Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways

11.45-12.00: Comfort break

12.00-13.00: Panel 5: Critical Stories and Histories of Conservation

Violette Pouillard (University of Oxford)
Appropriation As Conservation. Practices Of Wildlife Management In The Belgian Congo, British Kenya And Uganda (1900-C. 1963)

Wendy Woodward (University of the Western Cape)
Marah And Sekhmet: Two Lionesses, Two Conservation Idols

13.00-14.00: Lunch

14.00-15.00: Keynote 3

Rosaleen Duffy (University of Sheffield)
Title TBC

15.00-15.30 Reflective discussion and meeting close

Call for Submissions: Writing Meat: Flesh-Eating and Literature Since 1900

The conversion of animal bodies into flesh for human consumption is a practice where relations of power between humans and nonhuman animals are reproduced in exemplary form. From the decline of (so-called) traditional animal husbandry to the emergence of intensive agriculture and, more recently, the biotechnological innovation of in vitro meat, the last hundred years have seen dramatic changes in processes of meat production, as well as equally significant shifts in associated patterns of human-animal relations. Over the same period, meat consumption has risen substantially and incited the emergence of new forms of political subjectivity, from nationalist agitation against ritual slaughter to the more radical rejection of meat production in abolitionist veganism.

Distinct disciplinary responses to meat production and consumption have occurred across the humanities and social sciences in areas including (but not limited to) food studies, gender studies, postcolonial studies, ecocriticism, and (critical) animal studies. Theoretical engagements with these upheavals have ranged from viewing meat production as a site of affective encounter and irresolvably complex ethical entanglements, to framing industrialised slaughter as a privileged practice in what Dinesh Wadiwel has recently diagnosed as a biopolitical ‘war against animals’. This edited collection solicits essays which engage with these transformations in the meanings and material practices of meat production and consumption in literature and theory since 1900. We seek contributions from scholars working on representations of meat in any area of literary studies (broadly conceived) but are particularly interested in essays that challenge dominant narratives of meat-eating and conceptions of animals as resources.

Suggested topics include, but are by no means limited to the following:

  • Meat and nationalism/racism
  • Meat and colonialism/postcolonialism
  • The globalisation of meat
  • Future meat (in vitro etc.)
  • Meat and ‘the natural’
  • Meat eating and hospitality/sociality/ritual
  • Vegan theory
  • Meat and nostalgia
  • Unconventional meats: bushmeat, insects etc.
  • Cannibalism (human and non-human)
  • Predation/nonhuman meat-eating
  • Food and abjection
  • The edible and the inedible
  • Sacrifice
  • Meat eating and extinction
  • Flesh/protein/masculinities
  • Revisiting the sexual politics of meat
  • Meat and ‘disordered’ eating
  • Meat production and climate change
  • Dietary orientations towards meat: veganism, pescatarianism, paleo diets
  • Meat substitutes/simulated meats
  • Carnophallogocentrism
  • Hunting/fishing
  • Animal escapees
  • Spaces of meat production (slaughterhouses, farms etc.)
  • Meat and zoonosis

The volume will be submitted to Palgrave Studies in Animals and Literature:

http://www.palgrave.com/series/Palgrave-Studies-in-Animals-and-Literature/PSAAL/

Please send abstracts of 300 words along with a brief biographical statement to Seán McCorry (s.mccorry@sheffield.ac.uk) and John Miller (john.miller@sheffield.ac.uk) by Monday, January 23rd 2017. Essays of approximately 7000 words in length will be commissioned for delivery in September 2017.

Animal Advocacy and the Politics of (Un)happiness

The following is a guest post by Sheffield Animals cofounder Dr Seán McCorry, and was initially presented as a conference paper at Academia and Affect 2016. We welcome contributors to our project blog. Please email s.mccorry@sheffield.ac.uk for more information.

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This blog article is my attempt to work through two related sources of discomfort (or, more productively, two sites of disruption) that I have encountered in my scholarly and activist work on behalf of nonhuman animals. The first of these concerns the place of animal studies in the academy, its legitimacy as an area of scholarly inquiry, and the possibility of being taken seriously (or not) as a researcher who centres violence against animals in their work. The second involves the relationship between advocacy for animal justice and existing sites of social and political struggle.

I should say from the start that my commitments in this area are those of the perennially unpopular political vegan. My doctoral research involved animals only obliquely, insofar as they were deployed as meaning-laden figures by postwar intellectuals struggling to make sense of the perceived failures of humanism in the years that followed the Second World War. While I stand by this work, I now realise that my shift away from more explicit questions of animal justice represented an unconscious concession to the anxieties that I will try to sketch in this blog article. More recently I have been working to reconnect my scholarly and activist commitments. To be clear, then, I consider the abolition of animal agriculture (and more broadly, the abolition of the status of nonhuman animals as property to be bought and sold) to be the minimum demand of any coherent politics of animal justice.

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In March of this year, editors of the journal Totalitarianism and Democracy fell victim to an academic hoax which saw them publish a fraudulent article on German Shepherd dogs, Nazism, and Cold War Germany. The authors of the article claimed that they intended to satirise the “animal turn” in the humanities, identifying it as symptomatic of a dangerous “anti-humanist trend in philosophy”. As the hoax demonstrates, taking animals seriously means risking the charge of having made a poor intellectual object choice. When the intellectual project of Animal Studies is combined with a more explicitly activist orientation that seeks an end to violence against animals, further charges inevitably follow. Depending on one’s existing political investments, scholars who advocate for animals are likely to be read as bourgeois, misanthropic, Eurocentric, or as suffering from a failure of basic humanist solidarity that leads them to neglect more pressing issues of social injustice between humans (and I should point out that these charges are certainly true for at least some animal advocates; I’ll return to this shortly).

I want to engage with the anxieties that such accusations can produce in scholars who, like me, are committed to ending violence against animals. Without dismissing the charges outright, I want to read them as symptomatic of a desire to safeguard and securitise a certain definition of the human, even when the price of this is the tacit (or sometimes explicit) endorsement of industrialised killing and consequent ecological devastation. Drawing on Sara Ahmed’s work on the politics of happiness, I suggest that Critical Animal Studies scholars must embrace the political potential of grief and anger rather than accommodate themselves to the intellectual and ethical consensus which sees critiques of violence against animals as either unserious or dangerous.

Consider the question of Animal Studies’ place in the academy. Over the last fifteen years or so, Animal Studies has grown from a handful of isolated researchers to a major area of scholarly inquiry with its own organisations, international conferences, and prestigious book series. This seems to point towards at least a limited acceptance of animals as objects of intellectual analysis, though with some important limits, I would suggest. As we have seen, though, some humanities scholars view any animal-oriented research as unwelcome and dangerous symptoms of an anti-humanist political malaise.

While the police function of this sort of compulsory humanism has been weakened as Animal Studies has gained ground, the existing scholarship on animals has tended to favour a relatively narrow set of approaches to animal questions. Affectively rich encounters with charismatic animals have been foregrounded (lions, gorillas, dogs, cats), and theorisations of mutually enriching human-animal relationships (principally with ‘companion species’ – pets) have been encouraged. Attempts to critique the more nakedly violent aspects of human-animal relationships are regarded as lacking ‘nuance’ or intellectual sophistication, as though coming to terms with violence is a necessary part of maturing as a scholar. Even within Animal Studies, then, radical varieties of animal advocacy are often treated with suspicion or outright hostility.

I wonder whether Animal Studies’ focus on enriching encounters with animals might be understood as a kind of affective-political work designed to install a certain notion of happiness at the centre of human-animal relationships and scholarship. Undoubtedly, animals can be a source of great joy and delight. I worry, though, that centring Animal Studies scholarship on these experiences means (and indeed requires) the marginalisation of scholarship which takes on the thoroughly joyless task of critiquing the violence that we do to other animals, including our violence towards so-called ‘companion species’.

As the affect theorist and feminist philosopher Sara Ahmed has shown, ideals of happiness can be deeply coercive. They are often affiliated with a moral imperative to be happy, and tend to foreclose any critique of the limits of conventionalised forms of happiness. “Happiness,” Ahmed says, “is sustained by erasing the signs of not getting along.” For anyone who possesses even a passing familiarity with contemporary animal agriculture, it is abundantly clear that humans and other animals are indeed not getting along, though this is only marginally reflected in the scholarly literature. With Ahmed, I prefer to insist on the importance of political work that can only be carried out under the banner of unhappiness, whether in the form of anger, grief, or shame. To be blunt: I am unhappy. And when I attend conferences that celebrate the richness of human-animal relationships while serving animal bodies in the lunch break, I am angry. In what remains of this post I want to work through some of the political uses of unhappiness in activist as well as academic contexts.

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In her truly excellent article ‘Feminist Killjoys (and Other Wilful Subjects)’, Ahmed begins with the image of the table as a space for discussion. “Around this table,” she says, “the family gathers, having polite conversations, where only certain things can be brought up.” In order to hold open this space of hospitable conviviality, certain discursive rules apply which police conversation so that at least a façade of happiness can be maintained. In scholarship – around the academic roundtable, say – this restricts the choice of possible research topics, so that scholars professing radical critiques of violence are often unseated by their would-be hosts, the intellectual gatekeepers who control the dominant positions in the disciplinary mainstream. Often we reconvene around tables of our own making, though typically in some dingy, easily overlooked corner of the academy.

In activist and social movement spaces we do similar work, building new spaces of solidarity from which to contest the dominant culture’s racism, misogyny, and the rest. Ahmed again points out, though, that “if we are unseated by the family table, it does not necessarily follow that we are seated together.” Feminist activists are not always successfully anti-racist, and vice versa. For animal advocates, gaining a seat at the table typically requires repressing the question of animal politics altogether. In some senses this is unsurprising, given the appalling racism and misogyny of many highly visible animal organisations. In another sense, though, this requirement works to reassert compulsory humanism, as though concern for social justice between humans is fundamentally incompatible with a critique of violence against animals.

If activist spaces are not exactly dedicated to happiness, they remain committed to a notion of community of sorts, however fractious and provisional. When animal justice claims are made in these spaces, the possible boundaries of these communities are challenged, often in unwelcome ways. As Ahmed says:

To be unseated by the table of happiness might be to threaten not simply that table, but what gathers around it, what gathers on it. When you are unseated, you can even get in the way of those who are seated, those who want more than anything to keep their seats. To threaten the loss of the seat can be to kill the joy of the seated.

When gaining a seat at the table requires the tacit endorsement of what can only be described as human supremacism in the name of keeping the social peace, we should instead begin to embrace the disruptive potential of our politics. To quietly acquiesce to speciesism in our activist spaces means forfeiting the possibility of critiquing the conditions under which we convene around the table, as well as the violence done to those who gather on it.

With this in mind, I want to gently critique some of the political-organisational norms in activist spaces, principally the notion of ‘safety’ as it occurs in discussions of safer spaces. I am uncomfortably aware that the last two years or so have seen an unwelcome profusion of right-wing, masculinist critiques of the notion of safer spaces, particularly with reference to university settings, and it is very far from my intention to add to this oppressive chorus here. My critique, then, should be understood as coming from a desire to strengthen, rather than undermine, this project. My refusal of human supremacism again draws me back to Ahmed’s notion of the table as an (always fraught) space of hospitality and welcome, and as Jacques Derrida’s work on hospitality has shown, the space of welcome is always delimited by an often tacit exclusion of those who are emphatically not welcome. The activist context brings to mind the image of the table as a space for meeting and discussion with a view to forming communities of solidarity, where discussion is (rightly) informed by an explicit mode of discourse ethics that we have come to know as safer spaces policies. But what happens when, for instance, food is served in these spaces of political solidarity? For an animal advocate, there is something deeply jarring about political discussion taking place under the banner of safety around a table which is strewn with corpses. The question remains: safety for whom, and at what cost?

I confess that I’m not sure where to go from here. Do we once again build our own tables, or do we struggle for a seat without compromising our politics? I don’t know. Optimistically, I would like to think that we could at least get a fair hearing for our views at the existing activist and academic tables. To be comfortably seated, though, you have to accommodate yourself at least partially to the existing political frameworks in the communities you hope to join. Nobody, activists included, wants an ill-mannered guest at the table. When for the animal advocate something as almost comically benign as a cheese sandwich signifies an erased history of reproductive violence, child abduction, and industrialised killing, realistically you are not likely to make for a happy dinnertime companion. But then, maybe happiness isn’t the point.

Research Seminar: Carrie Rohman on Dance and Animality, 16th June

You are warmly invited to the final Sheffield Animals Research Colloquium talk of 2015-16, which will be given by Prof. Carrie Rohman of Lafayette College. Carrie is both a semi-professional dancer and one of the foremost scholars of literary animal studies; she has published widely, including her first monograph Stalking the Subject: Modernism and the Animal and essays on Rebecca West, Rachel Rosenthal, J.M. Coetzee, Virgina Woolf and Italo Calvino. Her most recent work, a monograph titled Choreographies of the Living: Bio-aesthetics in Literature, Art, and Performance and is forthcoming with Oxford University Press.

rohman finished

 

Carrie Rohman, ‘Isadora Duncan and the Creature in the Soul’
Jessop West Seminar Room 8
Thursday 16th June, 4-6pm