Department of Geography, Cambridge » Vital Geographies skip to primary navigation skip to content
 

 

Vital Geographies – blog

Easter 2022 Term Card

May 16th, 2022

The Vital Geographies research group announces our Lent 2022 term card!

 

Term card with illustration of bird and map, as well as details attending events.

 

We are delighted to have two speakers this term: Dr Michael Guida, and Professor Alison Bashford. These are hybrid sessions, with in person and online (via Zoom) attendance; in person attendance is limited to 15 people and masks are required (unless exempt). If you would like to attend either session in person (in the Geography Department building), please contact Professor Philip Howell (pmh1000@cam.ac.uk) in advance.

Everyone is most welcome!

Seminar Details

Modern British birdsong and civilization
Michael Guida, University of Sussex
Monday 16 May 2022, 16:00-17:30

In times of threat and warfare, the natural world has been an important source of hope and healing. The ongoing aliveness of nature has reinforced notions of stability, continuity, endurance and nationhood. British people of all kinds found that in the pressures and crises of early twentieth century modernity, the vibrations and rhythms of everyday nature allowed a modern future to be imaged. Birdsong in particular seemed to animate the scenery – of the suburbs as well as the countryside. Birdsong found a place in the founding of the new domestic medium of radio, and as part of the BBC ’s national cultural menu. During the Second World War, birdlife was understood to be part of a civilized world, untainted by human conflict. The talk will consider listening to nature as a way of making sense of modern life, drawing from my new book, Listening to British Nature: Wartime, Radio and Modern Life, 1914-1945. I will argue that the sounds of the natural world were sought out and pulled close to secure the day and future prospects.

 

Gondwanaland: The Modern History of an Ancient Continent
Alison Bashford, UNSW Sydney
Tuesday 24 May 2022, 16:30-18:00

From the Gondwana/Land project (https://gondwanaland.net):

What does it mean to write the modern history of an ancient megacontinent? Earth scientists know a great deal about the geological history of Gondwanaland and its breakup that began 180 million years ago, eventually creating present day Africa, Australia, New Zealand, South America, South Asia and Antarctica. The Gondwana/Land Project, generously funded by the Australian Research Council and the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council brings together historians from today’s southern lands to address Gondwanaland’s national and continental fragments within modern environmental, cultural, political, colonial, and postcolonial histories.

 

 

Zoom links can be obtained from any of the co-convenors.

 

Co-Convenors: Dr Philip Howell (pmh1000@cam.ac.uk), Dr David Nally (dpn24@cam.ac.uk), Diane Borden (dmb84@cam.ac.uk), Anna Guasco (aklg2@cam.ac.uk), and Anna Lawrence (aml75@cam.ac.uk)

Lent 2022 Term Card

February 7th, 2022

The Vital Geographies research group announces our Lent 2022 term card!

 

Term card with seminar titles and events. All information relayed in plain text on this page. Warm, sepia hues with animal and plant illustrations. Photographs of the two speakers.

 

More detail about each event is available below. Both Vital Geographies seminars will be hybrid; please contact any of the convenors for the Zoom links. Further details about the hybrid event logistics are listed at the end of this page.

 

A Gaian sensibility: sensing soils

Dr Anna Krzywoszynska (University of Sheffield)

February 25, 2022 16:00-17.30 GMT (Hybrid)

 

The Sisyphean cycle of inequitable state production: state, space, and a drainage project in Pakistan

Ayesha Siddiqi (University of Cambridge)

*RESCHEDULED* March 12, 2022 15:00-16.30 GMT (Zoom)

Vital Geographies Lent Social

Outdoors, March 2022, date tbc, details to follow

 

Other Relevant Events

Tuberous Collectivities Conference

14-15 March, Jesus College. Please contact David Nally (dpn24@cam.ac.uk) for more details.

 

Political Entomologies

All Political Entomologies seminars are on Zoom.

Lisa Onaga | ‘Silkworms as Bioresources in Postwar Japan’ | 7th February 2022 (15:00-16:00 GMT)

Luisa Reis Castro | ‘A (Future) Ecology of History: Modified Mosquitoes and the Scales of Health’ | 7th March 2022 (17:00-18:00 GMT)

Columba Gonzalez-Duarte | ‘Insectile Methods for Rethinking Borders: Ethnography with the Monarch Butterfly’ | Monday, 14 March 2022 (15.00 – 16.00 GMT)

Please contact Diane Borden (dmb84@cam.ac.uk) for more details. Registration link: https://tinyurl.com/mrn8aryh

 

Logistical Details & Access Information

 

Access Information: All Zoom links can be obtained from any of the co-convenors. Zoom seminars will have auto-captioning enabled, with attendees able to toggle the captions on or off depending on preference. Access information for the social will be available closer to the date and released via email; please email a co-convenor to be added to the email list or to ask any questions.

 

Hybrid Event Information: Please note that these are hybrid events. They are scheduled for the Seminar Room in the Department of Geography, but capacity there is limited to 15 people, so please email Philip Howell (pmh1000@cam.ac.uk) at least 24 hours beforehand if you want to attend in-person. These are the current Department-approved protocols (subject to change):

  • Maintaining contact data for all attendees, which will be used for contact tracing, should this become necessary after the event
  • Event capacity not to exceed stated capacity for the room/area (see Intranet for more information)
  • Ensuring ventilation by opening windows and doors (where possible)
  • Using hand sanitisers provided and cleaning shared equipment
  • Attendees provided with information on mitigation measures prior to the event (e.g. the requirement to wear masks)
  • Attendees required to wear masks
  • Attendees reminded not to attend if showing symptoms
  • Attendees will take LF tests prior to the event

 

Co-Convenors: Dr David Nally (dpn24@cam.ac.uk), Dr Philip Howell (pmh1000@cam.ac.uk), Diane Borden (dmb84@cam.ac.uk), Anna Guasco (aklg2@cam.ac.uk), and Anna Lawrence (aml75@cam.ac.uk).

Michaelmas 2021 Term Card

October 7th, 2021

The Vital Geographies research group announces our Michaelmas 2021 Term Card!

 

Term card with a leopard photo for the first talk and an artistic cabbage or lettuce for the second.

Black background with white text describing the two seminars

 

More detail about each event is available below.

Welcome Event for Vital Geographies

Friday 22 October, 4:30 pm (outdoors, near Department)

As a welcome (and welcome back) for Michaelmas Term, we invite members of the Vital Geographies research group to an informal meet and greet event. We’ll introduce the group and members’ ongoing research, aiming particularly to help incoming members to feel part of the community. We are planning for this event to be outdoors and in-person (with masks and social distancing); scheduling and location subject to change if needed. Please contact one of the student co-convenors to inform us if you would like to attend (due to capacity limits) and we will inform you of the details.

Seminars

These two events celebrate the recent publication of two books on nonhuman and interspecies entanglements: on stories of predatory big cats in India; and on the history and contemporary significance of veganism. Both events are online via Zoom; after Catherine Oliver’s seminar there will be an opportunity to meet the author in person in the Department of Geography.

Crooked Cats: Beastly Encounters in the Anthropocene

Professor Nayanika Mathur

Thursday 28 October, 4 pm (Zoom)

This talk will focus on the methodological ambitions of Mathur’s recently released book – Crooked Cats. Building upon 15 years of research in the Indian Himalaya this book retells the story of big cats that make prey of humans through a centring of the climate crisis. There are many theories on why and how a big cat comes to prey on humans, with the ecological collapse emerging as a central explanatory factor. Yet, uncertainty over the precise cause of crookedness persists. Crooked Cats explores in vivid detail the many lived complexities that arise from this absence of certain knowledge to study both governance regimes for the nonhuman and inter-species entanglements. Through creative ethnographic storytelling, Crooked Cats illuminates the Anthropocene in three critical ways: as method, as a way of reframing human-nonhuman relations on the planet, and as a political tool indicating the urgency of academic engagement.

Professor Mathur is Associate Professor in the Anthropology of South Asia at the University of Oxford.

Book Launch: Veganism, Archives, and Animals: Geographies of a Multispecies World

Dr Catherine Oliver

Wednesday 3 November, 4:30 pm (talk: Zoom), 5:30 pm (meet-the-author: in-person)

Please join us for a seminar and book launch on Vital Geographies members and Urban Ecologies postdoctoral researcher Dr Catherine Oliver’s new book, Veganism, Archives, and Animals: Geographies of a Multispecies World! This book explores the growing significance of veganism. It brings together important theoretical and empirical insights to offer a historical and contemporary analysis of veganism and our future co-existence with other animals. The book draws upon empirical research through archival research, interviews, and multispecies ethnography.

This session will be in a hybrid format, starting first with a book talk via Zoom, followed by a small, in-person ‘meet-the-author’ session at the Department of Geography. More detail on the format and COVID precautions of the event will be available closer to the date. Link and further information available by contacting any of the co-convenors.

 

Access Information: All Zoom links can be obtained from any of the co-convenors. Zoom seminars will have auto-captioning enabled, with attendees able to toggle the captions on or off depending on preference. Access information for in-person events will be available closer to the date and released via email; please email a co-convenor to be added to the email list or to ask any questions.

 

Co-Convenors: Dr David Nally (dpn24@cam.ac.uk), Dr Philip Howell (pmh1000@cam.ac.uk), Diane Borden (dmb84@cam.ac.uk), Anna Guasco (aklg2@cam.ac.uk), and Anna Lawrence (aml75@cam.ac.uk).

Workshop Summary: ‘Vital Geographies? Tracks, Traces, & Threads’

March 19th, 2021

 

Lines in sand, presumably left behind as tracks from invertebrates. There are a few empty shells of varying colors and sizes.

An example of tracks, tracks, and threads in vital geographies: lines in sand. (Photo by Krisna IV on Unsplash.)

 

Vital Geographies

What does it mean to study and do ‘vital geographies’?

These were some of the key questions of a recent, postgraduate student-led workshop, ‘Vital Geographies: Tracks, Traces, and Threads’. Inspired by the theme that unites the wide-ranging interests of this research group, ‘Vital Geographies’, we sought to unpack the many understandings of ‘vital geographies’.

The theme of ‘Vital Geographies’ has a double meaning: geographies of life, living things, and/or liveliness, but also geographies of urgency. To be vital is to be necessary, crucial even, often for fostering life. Vital signs and vital organs embody this dual meaning. Vitality also raises the issue of time and speed, for vital geographies would seem to require urgent, immediate responses, yet also may benefit from slow, careful attention.

How, then, to bring together these many meanings of ‘vital geographies’?

 

Tracks, Traces & Threads

As a provocation into tracks, traces, and threads of ‘vital geographies’, we turned toward Tim Ingold’s (2007) ‘brief history’ of lines, wherein ‘traces’ become ‘enduring marks’ etched in or left upon a solid plane, ‘tracks’ become a kind of ‘trace,’ and ‘threads’ denote ‘filaments’ entangled with others or suspended between points in space. There is a definitive materiality implied here to tracks, traces and threads. Places become constituted by continuous, interlocking traces. Tracks in the landscape become lingering, worldly presences of human and nonhuman others. Yet, they need not be restricted to what is material and seen — they may haunt landscapes and archives, thread across geographies and temporalities, and otherwise provoke novel explorations in space, place and affect.

Tracks, Traces & Threads are an invitation to engage with ideas of meshworks of all kinds, necessitating an openness to how we tune into their subsequent convergences and emergences. The following sections highlight some of the wide-ranging research interests in the Department of Geography, as shown through the ‘lightning talks’ presented by the department’s postgraduate students.

 

Cartographic Ontologies & Climate Phenomenologies

The opening lightning talks all dealt with enviro-social risks, mapping, and/or knowledge in various ways.

 

Satellite imagery of the eruption of the Copahue volcano, from above. The land dry (brown), with some snow-peaked mountains and waterways, as well as smoke.

Eruption of Copahue volcano, Chile (2012). Public Domain (NASA).

 

Maximilian Hepach kicked off the workshop’s lightning talks with a provocation about the phenomenological — lived, sensed, embodied, affective, felt — experience of climate change. He posited climate not as an abstract, intangible, ‘out-there’ concept but as a viscerally experienced phenomenon. This work ties into an article Maximilian recently published, available open access here.

Emiliano Cabrera Rocha also focused on how climate change is known and experienced, focusing on the threat of ‘savanissation’ in the Amazon rainforest. This threat, Emiliano argued, cannot be understood solely as a climate science issue, but also one that is understood differently — with different values, solutions, and outcomes — in different contexts, including the biotech sphere, the development sector, and Indigenous communities. The question of what to do now is one of temporal urgency, yet it is answered differently based on these different ‘networks’ of values.

Carolyn Smith focused on another form of enviro-social risk: volcanic and cartographic risks. The talk noted how scientific institutions fail to map the volcanic risk of local Mapuche people living near the Copahue volcano in South America. Carolyn highlighted a key tension in her research: how maps and being mapped are colonial mechanisms, while cartography can counter assertions of ‘empty’ land and potentially save lives by planning to abate risk for people who do live in supposedly-vacant land. ‘Vitality’ thus takes on multiple and opposing meanings.

Priti Mohandas spoke about the politics of transitional housing in Cape Town, South Africa, investigating a particular housing program to address the structural barriers that stop housing security. The community, partnered with a local NGO, founded an innovative solution. Theoretically, the project attends to the notion of ‘development,’ expressions of home and gender, as well as questions of improvement. Because, as Priti notes, housing is not just about providing a service, through creating a domestic space, but a question of what kind of citizen are you trying to create?

 

On Archives, Hauntings, and Memory

Subsequent talks explored thoughts on memory work and archives. How do memories activate both presents and pasts? In what ways do archives reveal planty agencies? Further, what materially and discursively defines memory work?

 

Sepia archival photograph of a garden in front of the porch of a house. Some marginalia (writing in the margins) is barely visible on the borders.

Native School teacher’s garden, Whirinaki, 1890s. From Archives New Zealand Te Rua Mahara O Te Kawanatanga, Auckland. (Open Copyright)

 

Anna Lawrence proposed flowers as agents of various biopolitical projects of 19th century Britain; flowers become agents of Empire within the settler colonial context of Aotearoa, New Zealand. Native schools with settler educators were established in the 1860s within Māori communities. These projects commenced simultaneously with plots of land designated for model community gardens (as shaped by settler-colonial authorities). School inspection reports in archives frequently reveal flowers to be explicitly grown (not just agriculturally produced). Anna raises the question of flowers as more than a method of beautification; what power was afforded to the flowers as agents of morality? Further, what were the uneven effects of and hidden meanings behind the supposed neutral beauty of floral nature?

Chloe Rixon led us to consider memory work through visual digital methodologies and landscape. Key themes included the presences and absences of traces both spatially and temporally out of joint; the use of archival photographs to to explore ‘unsettled places and subjects’; and an openness to occupying different rhythms of research writing that become ‘hesitant and expressive’ against untamed hauntings. Reframing hauntings visually, Rixon presented her early works in collage that examine and evoke ‘memory as immediate haunting in Poland,’ illustrating what it can mean to ‘do memory work.’

 

Bodies, Embodiment, and Virality

Moving from memory in the landscape and in communities, some presentations zoomed in on the smaller yet no-less-geographical scale of ‘the body’. In human and more-than-human geography, ‘geographies of the body’ have long provoked an array of questions about fleeting memories or traces, about time and urgency, and about positionalities and differently embodied experiences.

 

Visualization of COVID-19 at the molecular level. Red orb with green/blue/purple spikes, and others hazily visible in the background.

‘Visualization of Covid-19 virus’ by Fusion Medical Animation.

 

Lucy Thompson explored the possibilities of analysing the body as historical or living archive itself, by focusing on embodied histories of dance. Discussing transAtlantic histories of tapdance and their intersection with race, class, and ethnicity, Lucy argued that tapdance can be understood as a site of resistance against repression and inequality in which dancers embody and pass down living histories.

Abbie Greig also focused on the intimate geographies of the body through a case study of ‘donor letters’. In the context of organ donation, transplant recipients are encouraged to write a letter to their ‘donor family’ post-recovery. Abbie highlighted the tensions between intimacy and anonymity — the donor’s family is seen as becoming the recipient’s ‘family’; yet, anonymity and regulation shape the exchange. This paradox of intimate yet impersonal connections between bodies raises questions about the embodied geographies of organ donation and the medical system more broadly.

Ben Thurlow described the lack of visible traces of some viruses upon human bodies. Connecting this invisibility of traces to the need to substitute human hosts/victims of viruses like the novel coronavirus as the vectors of the disease, Ben discussed the NHS ‘test and trace’ app as a manifestation of this substitution. Questions about the biopolitical connections between tracking viruses and their victims to historical and contemporary inequities around responses to viruses emerged. This presentation raised important questions about virality, embodiment, and the (often not visible) connections between human (and other-than-human) bodies.

 

Multispecies and More-than-Human Entanglements

Several provocations emerged concerning more-than-human (dis-)entanglements from charismatic megafauna to the invisibilities of viral beings. Each of these presentations demonstrated the inseparability of ‘human’ and ‘nonhuman’ geographies and the necessity of envisaging these connections.

 

Oil palms gathered on the ground at the base of a tree. They look like clusters of maroon and orange berries.

Palm oil small-plot in Montes de Maria, Colombia. Photo by J. Martínez.

 

Joseph Martínez spoke about the temporalities of contract farming palm oil in Colombia, whereby palm oil credits produce particular rhythms of capital accumulation. Palm oil credits are key to covering subsistence costs for laborers while waiting for the five year productivity cycle of the plantations; yet, credits take on a different temporal register, being expected to be paid fully within 10 years time (double the time it took for the plantations to reach productivity). Joseph explored the entanglements of free labour to manage bureaucracy, long-term financial planning, knowledge production, and the asynchronous temporalities of change within the rural.

Valerio Donfrancesco explored farmer-wolf conflicts in Italy, discussing how entanglement isn’t always as it seems. Entanglements leave traces. Some which are visible–livestock depredations become bodies of evidence (and condemnation) and retaliatory tactics–and some less so. Valerio discusses how wolves could act as an interconnecting medium between different human communities (urban, farming, conservation). A dichotomy between those who love wolves and those who despise them points to the perceptual boundaries of what wolves can and should be. Traces of wolves on the tongues of farmers, through daily talk with researchers and beyond. The question lingers – where do we trace wolves? And moreover, what less-material traces do human-wolf entanglements leave?

Michael Overton discussed wire mesh wildlife fencing, biopolitics and wild boar mobilities. Fencing constructed along the border of Poland and Germany seeks to impair wild boar crossings into Germany in an attempt to prevent African Swine Fever. Michael explored a methodological approach that experiments with animal tracking, observations and rendering fence-boar encounters visible. Pondering how tracking becomes a way of ‘following lines’, he explored how steel meshwork and animal tracks form continuous lines. He then shared a piece from his diary alongside footage from his fieldwork.

Liz Issac presented her ongoing interventions in human-mosquito entanglements, tracing the shifts in spatial distributions aedes mosquito vectors globally in relation to climate change. Urban ‘heat islands’ emerge as a possible influential force in the building of species distribution models. While current collaborations in investigating mosquito distributions have hitherto sought to distinguish the human from the physical landscape on a global scale, there is scope to trouble these neat distinctions.

 

Concluding Questions & Thoughts

We’d like to end with our hope that this blog post can serve as an invitation for additional collaborative thinking across the Vital Geographies group. Let’s re-vitalize the Vital Geographies blog together! We are looking for contributions to the blog on a rolling basis. Do you have a provocation, a topic you would like to raise, an idea in mind that would work as a blog? Please get in touch with your ideas, thoughts, questions and critiques!

 

Blog authors: Anna Guasco & Diane Borden, PhD Candidates and Workshop Co-Convenors

Lent 2021 Term Card

January 13th, 2021

 

The Vital Geographies research group announces our Lent 2021 Term Card!

 

First part of term card poster with titles of events and red and gold background; images of a moth and bird.

 

At a glance:

  • Political Entomologies: Insects/Translations/Biopolitics
    • Seminar Series Launch Discussion (Tuesday 26 January, 4 PM GMT)
  • More-than Human Collaborations
    • Student-Led Workshops (Wednesdays 10 & 17 February, 1.30-4.30 PM)
  • Vital Geographies: Tracks, Traces, & Threads
    • Postgraduate Student Lightning Talks Workshop (Thursday 18 February, 4-5.30 PM)
  • Digital Ecologies
    • An Interdisciplinary Workshop (Monday 29 & Tuesday 30 march, 9.15 AM – 7.15 PM)
  • Winged Geographies: Birds in Space and Imagination
    • Annual Workshop, Thursday 22 & Friday 23 April)

 

All are welcome at these virtual workshops. For further details, please see below, or contact Philip Howell (pmh1000@cam.ac.uk) or David Nally (dpn24@cam.ac.uk).

 

Further Details:

The POLITICAL ENTOMOLOGIES seminar series is a collaboration between the ERC Urban Ecologies project and Freie Universität Berlin. Exploring the significance of insects in biopolitics and political ecology, the launch discussion introduces five virtual seminars in February and March. Please contact Diane Borden (dmb84@cam.ac.uk) for further details. Further information available at: tinyurl.com/y5fsbrnn ; registration available at: tinyurl.com/y5mxen4w

 

MORE THAN HUMAN COLLABORATIONS IN GEOGRAPHICAL RESEARCH is a student-led workshop organised by the Department of Geography with The Lives of Animals Research Group, Queen’s university, Canada. The two workshops explore modes and Motives for collaboration, and the ethics of imagining collaborative futures. Registration details will follow, but please contact Jonathon Turnbull (jjt44@cam.ac.uk) for advance information.

 

VITAL GEOGRAPHIES: TRACKS, TRACES, & THREADS offers an informal forum for postgraduate students to present brief accounts of their work and interests. By embracing the dual meaning of ‘vital’ geographies, we will explore the varied ‘tracks’, ‘traces’, and ‘threads’ that shape the ‘vital’ geographies within our collective research. Postgraduate students in the department interested in presenting on work related to this broad topic should contact Anna Guasco (aklg2@cam.ac.uk) or Diane Borden (dmb84@cam.ac.uk) by 30 January. Please also contact Anna or Diane for the Zoom link to attend.

 

DIGITAL ECOLOGIES draws together Research seeking to understand the ways in which nonhumans and the other-than-human world is increasingly encountered, mediated, and governed digitally. The two keynote speakers are Professor Jennifer Gabrys (29 March) and Professor Etienne Benson (30 March). The Full programme will be released in early February, but for advance information contact Jonathon Turnbull (jjt44@cam.ac.uk), Adam Searle (aeds2@cam.ac.uk), and Henry Anderson-Elliott (hla27@cam.ac.uk).

 

WINGED GEOGRAPHIES is a two-day virtual workshop which addresses the question of our evolving spatial relationships with bird life. For full details, and To register your attendance, please visit https://www.wingedgeographies.co.uk/annual-workshop, and Contact Olga Petri (op257@cam.ac.uk) or Michael Guida (M.Guida@sussex.ac.uk).

10 May 2018: Professor Esther Turnhout – Spaces of Biodiversity Expertise

May 15th, 2018

Last Thursday the Geographies of Knowledge research group hosted their first annual lecture, where they welcomed Professor Esther Turnhout, Professor in Forest and Nature Conservation Policy at Wageningen University. In her talk, Esther explored a number of sites where biodiversity expertise is produced. These included examples in the Netherlands and drew on her experiences as an expert and lead author for the Intergovernmental Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). In exploring the transition from ‘biological diversity’ to ‘biodiversity’, Esther’s lecture presented a theoretical frame for replacing the ‘logical’, drawing upon the performative aspects of the production knowledges pertaining to the concept and politicisation of biodiversity. There was a particular focus on three interrelated logics that are prominent in biodiversity expertise: a logic of inclusiveness, a logic of relevance for policy, and a logic of efficiency for assessment. Esther’s argument was that these logics together prioritise model projections over other forms of expertise. The lecture concluded by discussing the scope for doing things differently and breaking through dominant logics: establishing a context for reconceptualising biodiversity expertise in the presence of political logics and alternative modes of knowledge production.

15 February 2018: David Nally – Biophilanthropy and youth pedagogies: the case of the International Education Board, 1923-28′

February 21st, 2018

Thursday’s Vital Geographies seminar was delivered by the Department of Geography’s David Nally, presenting a paper to be published in the Journal of Historical Geography (JHG) later this year. The focus of the paper – the International Education Board (IEB) – was a short-lived but influential initiative delivered through the philanthropic work of the Rockefeller Foundation. Its origins lay in late nineteenth century work intending to foster scientific farming methods in the American South in the face of agrarian crisis, while aiming for the rejuvenation of ‘rural values’ and the eradication of forms of dependent poverty. Rather than target adults, this agricultural pedagogy focused on youths as pliable recipients of new scientific and cultural values. Skip forward to Europe in the aftermath of the war of 1914-1918 and these pedagogies were being experimentally applied by the IEB to rural communities in Scandinavia as a form of “progressive statecraft” for inculcating American values of democracy and rational agricultural management. This ‘work on youths’ involved advancing quantification through measurement and record-keeping – as a means to awaken a “remunerative spirit” – and the staging of cultural events and competitions as a means of embedding and reinforcing the requisite practices. Borrowing from Tania Li, Dr Nally framed these as a set of “inscription devices” that subtly transmit values through time and across geographies, and which find their zenith in the Green Revolution later in the century. Part of the point is to locate the antecedents of the Green Revolution and reframe it as an historical process, rather than a single event. Particularly striking was how many of the tropes and language invoked by philanthropic actors at the time resound with subsequent and contemporary discourses of international development.

13 February 2018: Lewis Daley – “The Shaman is the White Man’s Computer”: The interaction of shamanism and conservation in Amazonian Guyana

February 14th, 2018

This Tuesday, the Political Ecology group had the pleasure of welcoming Dr Lewis Daley from UCL’s Department of Anthropology, Environment, and Development, where he gave presented on two years of ethnographic research with the Makushi people of Southern Guyana. The indigenous Makushi people live in the Rupununi region of southern Guyana – an ecologically-diverse and seasonally-variable mosaic of rainforests, savannahs, and wetlands on the northerly fringes of the Amazon watershed. In recent years, this sparsely populated area has become the focal point for various conservation and development schemes. Yet shamanism, as an indigenous form of ritual practice and cosmo-political mediation, remains crucially important as a structuring aspect of Makushi life. Indeed, according to many, the power of the shaman (pia’san) to navigate the boundary between Makushi society and the world of Others (ratiko) is more critical than ever before. Within this context, Dr Daley’s talk investigated the complex intersection between conservation, development, and shamanism in Amazonian Guyana.

8 February 2018: Cheryl McEwan – Protean geographies: Plants, politics and postcolonialism in South Africa

February 9th, 2018

In the Departmental Seminar yesterday evening Professor Cheryl McEwan of Durham University spoke to many of the issues that are central to the Vital Geographies Research Group: how a type of flower has often been seen as innocent and beyond politics, but is deeply entangled in political economies, nation-building and post colonialism. Employing a multi-species ethos, she showed how the materiality – the nature – of proteas matters to the unfolding of sustainable trade, sustainable landscapes and to the construction of political relations. The intermeshing of relational and material processes in proteas makes the flower a productive focus through which to think about pressing environmental and political concerns in South Africa. Professor McEwan also outlined her work with colleagues on an innovative botanical database and on the translation of field guides into local languages, and showed one way in which it might be possible to move from studying political processes to transforming them, challenging the historic inequalities that continue to pervade the economies and landscapes of proteas.