Political Ecologies of Camera Trapping
Tuesday 30 March, 9:30 – 11:00
This session explores the political ecological implications of camera trapping used in wildlife research.
Discussant: Prof Bill Adams, University of Cambridge
Julia Poerting, Bonn University
Markus Rudolfi, Goethe-University Frankfurt:
In 2020, a new virus forced countries all around the world to shut down physically interactive public life. The “Anthropause” has not only allowed for observations on how non-human species react to human inactivity, but also highlighted the possibly troubling intimacy between humans and wildlife. We understand this situation to be a useful starting point to think about how “nature observation” is being done and how digital technology has changed how else humans might relate to and make sense of the natural environment. The possibly troubling intimacy demands us to look for ways of observing “nature” from a more distant position. We are interested in observations of those kinds that refrain from (human) bodily presence. Through our own projects on rewilding and conservation biology (Rudolfi & Poerting 2020), we demonstrate how remote monitoring technology, in our cases camera traps, and related online-based participatory approaches may constitute cases for what Haraway termed “intimacy without proximity” (2016: 79). Our contribution follows three research objectives. First, we discuss the term observation and the notion that monitoring technologies in the form of camera traps are a non-intrusive technology. Second, the digitization of camera trap photographs reconfigures human-wildlife encounters towards asynchronous knowledge practices, in which relations of expertise and authority become blurred. Skill and expertise are no longer (only) based on fieldwork, but on knowing how to label and operate software. And third, as digital identification focuses on species only, it shifts attention from the local embeddedness to the individual specificity of species – a process we call “de-localisation of wildlife”.
Julia Poerting is a human geographer at Bonn University, Germany. Her current research project examines attempts of technological mediations for a human-wolf-coexistence in Northern Germany. She is interested in how digital representations of wildlife and digital interventions in landscapes change conservation science and practice.
Markus Rudolfi is a sociologist at Goethe-University Frankfurt, Germany. In his PhD project he uses an ethnographic approach to study conservation practices at the Transboundary Park Bavarian Forest/Šumava (Germany/Czech Republic). Besides teaching courses in ethnography and environmental sociology, he is currently engaging with biodiversity monitoring technologies and participatory approaches in science.
Trishant Simlai, University of Cambridge:
Trishant Simlai is a doctoral candidate at The University of Cambridge and is primarily interested in the politics and the geographies of wildlife conservation in India. His current research focuses on the social and political implications of using surveillance technologies such as camera traps, drones, and ranger based LEM tools.
Shih-Hsuan Yu, University of Cologne:
Camera traps are increasingly common for forestry authorities to understand what do they actually ‘own’, and mediated as a special agent to human administrators by capturing photos, footage, and information about wildlife for their humans. While forests become so smart, setting up camera traps are still laborious because of the rough landscape and climate, and requires permissions of local human (indigenous) communities who consider data of the wildlife are also part of the territories. Therefore, does it mean that the production of digital data is still so much entangled with the tangible world? In this way, how do people of natural science, who count on the neutrality of data, interpret these entanglements and produce knowledge? what kind of knowledge do we actually get through the materiality of camera traps? One example is that, people are not confident of the population trend of Asiatic black bear in Taiwan, while there are arguments that more and more camera traps are showing that the number of bears is proliferated, for the conservation authority, this presents a dilemma and inevitably for further (more-than-camera traps) investigation. Besides, in the current life of circulated images and videos made possible by camera traps, I want to discuss the role of camera traps in constituting our experiences of knowing the forest, decision making for the forest, and being entertained by the wildlife, when we take a closer look at the audience of Taiwanese Forestry Bureau’s Facebook page (165,946 followers).
Shih-Hsuan Yu is an applied conservation anthropologist based in Taiwan. She received her MA from the University of Heidelberg in Germany in 2018 and joined an initiative of clouded leopard reintroduction in Formosan Wild Sound Conservation Science Center in 2019. She works closely with Austronesian eco-knowledge holders to improve bio-cultural diversity.
Jon Henrik Ziegler Remme, University of Bergen:
For Norwegian recreational lobster fishers, encounters with lobsters have mainly occurred when pulling traps. The last couple of years, however, the Directorate of Fisheries (DOF), the Institute of Marine Research (IMR) and private persons interested in digital media and lobster fishing have set up underwater webcams that provide online, live pictures of lobster traps, giving fishers an opportunity to watch how lobsters move in and out of traps, and sometimes becoming trapped by them. Although seemingly providing fishers with knowledge about lobster-trap interactions that might be useful for their fishing efforts, I suggest in this paper that the particular ‘affective atmosphere’ (Anderson 2009; Lorimer, Hodgetts, and Barua 2019) of lobsters in Norway suggests otherwise. The Norwegian lobster stock has after many decades of heavy harvesting become a species that needs caring in order to survive. DOF and IMR are central to state initiated efforts at cultivating attitudes and practices of lobster care among fishers. It is against this background I look at the emergence of lobster trapcams on Norwegian Facebook groups and other websites. By drawing on recent work on digital naturecultures and multispecies care (Büscher 2016; Turnbull, Searle, and Adams 2020) that point to the ways in which digital media shape the affective entanglements of humans and nonhumans, I explore these trapcams as “matters of care” (Bellacasa 2017) and discuss how their “encounter value” enter into Norwegian government’s attempt at fostering new forms of affective alliances within human-trap-lobster assemblages.
Jon Henrik Ziegler Remme is an anthropologist interested in human-nonhuman relations. He has done research on human-spirit-pig relations in a Filippino highland village and is now studying care, technoscience and material politics in Norwegian lobster fishing and is setting up a project on how climate change transforms human-marine relations in Maine, US.
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