Report: Animals in the Anthropocene, University of Stavanger
Katie Dow September 2015
In September, I participated in a small interdisciplinary conference at the University of Stavanger. The conference theme was ‘Animals in the Anthropocene’ and the panels considered the many different ways in which humans interact with other animals in contemporary life, set against the backdrop of climate change and increasing anthropogenic effects on the environment. There was, naturally, much discussion of the term Anthropocene and whether it is a helpful addition to the intellectual, philosophical or ethical toolkit. Although reproduction wasn’t highlighted as a major theme of the conference, species endangerment and the effect of human population growth on other animals recurred in discussions throughout the conference and it provided me with much food for thought for my collaborative project with Janelle Lamoreaux, Reproducing the Environment.
At the conference, I presented a paper called ‘Seeing with Dolphins: Reflections on the Salience of Cetaceans’, a longer version of which will be published in an edited collection from the conference in 2016. In the paper, which is based on the research I did amongst environmentalists in rural Scotland that is discussed in my forthcoming book, I explore how bottlenose dolphins model ethical behaviour both towards other beings and towards the environment more generally. I discuss the recent interventions into the Anthropocene concept by Donna Haraway and Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, who both point out that the ‘anthropos’ in the Anthropocene is problematic when we consider diversity and inequality in human lives and worlds. With these feminist critiques in mind, in the paper, I argue against a universalised or misanthropic notion of human nature that might be implied by the concept of the Anthropocene.
Highlights of the conference for me included a keynote speech by philosopher, interspecies musician and writer, David Rothenberg; a screening of in-progress documentary about donkey santuaries, Donkey, by David Redmon; talks on industrialised bee-keeping by Rebecca Marsland and Kate Milosavljevic, ‘cat ladies’ by Angela Sorby and the place of seagulls in the experiences of political prisoners in the former Yugoslavia by Milica Prokic.