social pigeons

After spending a few months in my ‘to read’ pile, I finally have started Colin Jerolmack’s The Global Pigeon(2013). It feels as if everything that has been coming together (or apart) in my head, he found the proper words to put on paper. I am fascinated by nonhuman animals classified as, synanthropic, animas that prefer for various reasons, to find refuge in built-environments with humans.

Below is a quote from the text that dismantles the idea that the concrete jungle is empty of anything but human life.

“One warrant for looking at animals in cities is because these seem to be sites where the ambivalence surrounding cross-species encounters is most salient. After all, most urban spaces are imagined as human-only places- ‘nature’ is in the ‘countryside’. In our mental maps of the city, animals and plants are relegated to compartmental realms where encounters with them can be managed: the manicured park, the dog run, the zoo, or the tree encased in concrete. But in everyday life, nonhumans overflow the physical and symbolic containers and collide with the sidewalk’s pulsing humanity: weeds poke through asphalt; gulls scavenge from dumpsters; feral cats prowl alleys; and diseases like West Nile virus jump from animals to humans. The edges of the city and nature continually rub against, and run over, each other like tectonic plates. The interaction may be smooth, or tremors may result; and the fault line can widen, narrow, and shift as an effect of the encounter. By straddling the fault line, we can begin to understand how the borders and contours of urban experience are shape through cross-species encounters” (16).

The other night I went to a show, that was not all that enjoyable. Feeling blue with my failure of being social in this really big city I now live in, I walked through a tunnel to find pigeons roosting in the little nooks, making various coo-ings at each other, and teetering in their spots, not sure if they should disappear deeper into the nooks or if they could watch as I passed safely from their perches.

Jerolmack questions how these encounters are filed under being ‘asocial’, and in fact, encounters like these can be one of the most important interactions for a person, especially for folks who are routinely ignored or made to feel out-of-place such as homeless people. Also important to note is that interacting with pigeons is kind of like the classic “dog walking” condition, in where you are likely to attract attention from other humans. But they are more than just mediations for human to human contact, the cross-species interaction can fill the loneliness or social urges for people. That night I immediately felt less-alone, the slumbering pigeons reminded me of deeper feelings of connection that surpass the probably empty drunken-conversations I may have had if I stayed.

there was about 6o+ pigeons retiring to their slumbers for the night in this little underpass, making the most beautiful noises at/with each other 


where have i been & ants on the look-out

I apologize. I have been absent from this blog, and this cause for far too long. I have lost a lot of footing in the past year or so with the death of my mother. Turned out it was a lot more than I was/am prepared for and has halted me greatly, but I find the more I acknowledge this, the more I move forward. It can be hard to be a 22 year old person with no family, and trying to build meaningful relationships while feeling so desolate and hurt. But I am tryin10355644_10153318202391291_7198036368485300180_og. I was evaluating how much depth I should go into for this blog, but I think this is all I can muster up for this online space.

Turmoil can facilitate growth. I lost that fundamental concept of suffering but today seeing    this gorgeous spiky plant hosting several ants and their eggs reminded me of that growth and perseverance that comes with the want of survival and happiness. Wandering outside today with my partner we sought shelter from the oncoming storm to only stumble upon a metre-high weed covered in blooming flowers and prickly spikes. When we looked further we saw ants occupying specific areas of the plant. All I could think about was how this was an ideal representation of adapting to new situations. My knowledge of ants coupled with a concise google search suggests ants live in soil and from time to time wood. What we found today appears to be a very rare occurrence, or rather an undocmented way of life. If anyone has come across this please do share your stories!

Approaching this finding today I will see it as an act of resistance against the concrete jungle. Finding a home in 10003599_10153318201741291_5962677920076849408_owhat is considered an unwanted plant is firstly a political act to the human-eye by creating meaning to what we onsider a disposable plant and also an incredible act by outwitting us in finding a space they can dwell in that will offer the support they need and protect
ion from disruption. These ants have reconciled a rather horrible environment and turned it into a conducive and supportive home. But if so, what does this mean for their societies? What does this mean for our understanding of ants? Is this common?

I have learned a valuable lesson from ants today, or perhaps they just caught me on a day that I felt opened once again. I will make an effort to visit them often and document their existences. These ants are fighters and if we just stopped and paid attention to them to take note of their ways, we would see them as the brave and creative beings they are.

Invasive Species lecture at University of Waterloo

I am incredibly excited for a guest lecturer coming to my school Dr. Tom Stolhgren. This coming Thursday the March 12th, at 5:30pm he will be speaking about invasive species.

The event page reads:

“Invasive species may be the number one environmental threat  (ohh???) of the 21st century. Invasions from Inner Space: Species Invasions and Extinctions will examine creepy stories of biological invasions in your backyard from Asian carp to the emerald ash borer, zebra mussels and giant hogweed.

With his signature presentation style, mixing mediums and humour, Dr. Stohlgren engages audiences of all ages sharing his globally-recognised expertise in biological invasions. Explore the link of current extinction and invasion patterns around the globe as a result of population expansion and loss of biodiversity.

Tom StohlgrenTom Stohlgren, Ph.D., is a leading authority in the field of biological invasions. Senior Scientist at Colorado State University and Director of the National Institute of Invasive Species, he holds numerous recognitions including several Partners in Conservation Awards and the Meritorious Service Award. Recently Dr. Stohlgren received the top honour in his field: Resident Distinguished Ecologist.


Politicizing Urban Wildlife

Reading List
1. Urban wild things: A cosmopolitical experiment. Steve Hinchliffee, Matthew Kearness, Monica Degen, Sarah Whatmore. Environment and Planning Development 2005, 23(5).
2. Risky Zoograpgies: The limits of place in avian flu management. Natalie Porter 2012.
3. Tales of cruelty and belonging: In search of an ethnic for urban human-wildlife relations. Erin Luther 2013.

This week I shall discuss intersecting and urban animal management in terms of complicating the typical and standardized way of going about this.

This week is somewhat a hodgepodge of remarks; however, I was able to find a cornerstone in the article ‘Urban wild things’ by Steve Hinchliffee and colleagues. Their article actively looked for non-human spaces by looking at marginalized and hidden niches within the urbanscape.  They collectively argue that urban wildlings are “neither rosy enough to be nature, not pure enough to be true nor human enough to be political—thus urban wilds have no constuency and can be acted upon with little protest”. As narcissistic as this statement may be, it speaks true to how wildlife management is conducted. Animals are actively resisting our ever-encroaching ways however; when policy and law-making is introduced humans are able to forward their value-systems and social constructions of animals regardless of other details.

The researchers used an approach that married scientific discourse and political ecology into what they call the biodiversity action plan. Applying this approach to the water vole they set out to prove the presence of these coquettish creatures. The problem at hand was urban development was in the planning but a wildlife management assessment was required to deem this particular land void of water voles as it is illegal to disrupt their immediate habitat. Researchers dealt with the fundamental problem that water voles and brown rats had almost identical markings on the landscape. Moreover, due to the shyness of water voles every step they take they use their back claws to cover it up.

Equipped with the local knowledge that water voles are found in the summer months while conducting an urgent and time-restricted investigation in the winter season proved to be incredibly frustrating for the researchers. Incidentally, this raises an important point when dealing with urban wildlife management. As often forgotten, animals, just like humans are capable of changing their ways according to the seasons adopting different behaviours of dwelling and consuming. Nearing the end of their research project, the presence of water voles, or as they call it, ‘water vole writing’ was found thus guaranteeing legal protection for the year of 2005. However, what does this mean if another investigation is initiated by less keen researchers with a shorter timeline? The water voles may have been safe in 2005 but their safety was contingent on caring researchers.

Using this particular case study in mind showing nuances of wildlife management, I shall look at other wildlife management issues in Vietnam and Toronto that highlight the complicated and humancentric ways in which humans define how urban creatures can exist within our shared spaces.

`The conflicting of views between Vietnamese citizens and health workers are rooted in the differing relationships with avian life in urban settings. Avian influenza and other zoonostic diseases have caused much concern in Viet Nam requiring intervention that reflects the sanitization movement seen in Victorian England that moved the animals out of the city into marginalized lands hosted by industrial facilities. Vietnamese see health workers fundamentally as drivers of the United Nations Food and Agriculture project that is proposing a restructuring of their chicken industry. Currently, Vietnam is dominated by small-scale farmers who hold ‘ backwards’ views of animals places in society and the environment such that every household has a range of chickens sharing their dwelling. Rather than erecting boundaries between humans and chickens, it is common to have avian creatures occupy many species within the rural and urban area. Reasons for this inclusion come from sentimental as well as practical rationales. Chickens hold an integral place within Vietnamese culture since they are safety nets for lower income households (which represents the bulk of Vietnamese citizens).

Health workers perceive avian zoonostic concerns as related to the space chickens occupy seeing them as commodities that are in need of being relegated to factory farming industries in order to ‘clean’ up the streets and homes as well as push an economy based on the commodification of animal flesh. In contrast, small-scale Vietnamese farmers and citizens see chickens not as commodities but as animal companions that tell of stories between families, hold memories and represent so much more beyond the caloric detail. Even the understanding of zoonostic diseases comes from contrasting views. Health workers blame the small-scale farmers for improperly tending to the animals whereas small scare farmers contextualize the chickens in broader environments. Farmers see natural elements such as wind, migration, and other earth mediums as responsible. It is also unfavourable to try to control these particular elements as their worldviews strongly oppose that.

Therefore, what seems like a simple project to address the potentiality of zoonostic diseases from sharing such close proximities with animals in Vietnam is understood as a carefully packaged attempt of projecting the industrialization of small-scare farmers lives which would harm a relationship they have with fellow creatures as well as turn their livelihoods upside down and require them to integrate into global market forces. Regardless of this is the true intention driving health workers, it is crucial to understand the profound changes it has as well as the discrepancy of perspectives.

In an attempt to centre the chickens lives for a moment as they are as much affected as small-scale farmers would be, this would radically change all aspects of their lives from taking away their livelihoods, ability to hold pecking orders and familial relationships, their freedom of movement, and even down to the genotypical level of introducing new ‘brands’, ‘species’. Small scale farmers are pushing back against the FAO as well as the all-too-concerned health workers in an attempt to maintain and restore the balance they have struck between chickens and humans.

The next wildlife relations issue in the city I shall discuss comes from Toronto in the Summer of 2011. Dong Nguyen  a resident of Toronto was caught in the act of beating a litter of raccoons. This particular act of animal abuse is undoubtly rare, however, often goes unnoticed or tucked away. Interestingly, the conversations engendered pulled on sentiments of citizens of Torontonian’s worry that Toronto has become an urban ‘wildlife preserve’ shifting the focus from Nguyen’s obvious act of blatent violence towards animals into one that almost justifies his actions. Nguyen was really acting in a heroic sense then, clearing Toronto of pests. Perhaps this reflects other Torontonian’s hidden culture of extending violence towards undesired pets in the city, but this would be an incredibly tasking investigation to prove.

Conceptualizing animal cruelty within the city boils down to the visibility factor of the human and urban wildlife interaction. During the summer of 2011 the media was bifurcated. On one hand the media was actively calling out Nguyen for his act of violence during this particular incident whereas there was also a group of people taking up anti-raccoon chants. One reporter said on television, “the city should not be protecting the right shifty little creatures who come out of the birth canal sacking and looting” (Luther 2013, 39). This statement seems incredibly cruel and misunderstanding but was echoed by a great deal of people, during this summer as well as tends to be the note that most urban dwellers have towards raccoons. As discussed in a past reading note, raccoon’s are exceptionally fascinating animals’ dwelling in the urban city as they are almost entirely dependent on human refuge and habitats. Bringing an anthropological concept into the discussion, raccoon’s and other undesired critters in the city occupy a ‘liminal space’ in that they straddle the binary of being wild and not at the same time. Wild as a category requires proximity between human and nature realms. Raccoon’s provide a breath of fresh air into the discussion of who belongings in the city. If the sentiment toward raccoon’s is carried into other urban wildlings’s lives, it appears that the city is dislodging bad and misbehaved  creatures thus resulting in what could be considered a dangerous path into making the city barren of wildlife and animals that do not reside in the comfort of our homes. Apparently it seems that to truly tackle urban wildlife management involves living without wild-urban creatures due to them constantly transgressing our projected and always changing boundaries we put between us and ‘them’.

Watch out! The complicated tales of ‘invader’ species

An animal is rarely just an animal. And an animal is particularly precious when wrapped in a flag” (Coates, 2015, pg. 60).

A provocative category of animals deemed ‘invasive’ is evoking deep-rooted sentiments of nationalism, racism, colonialism and fear of the foreign or the ‘other’. Thus far, appropriate responses to these creatures is to focus on further rejecting them and ultimately annihilating them supported by propaganda campaigns and state sanctioned –and at times state funded-  ‘violence’. The current socio-historical context that condemns violence is shifting to accept heroic citizens taking up their arms to defend their countries soil of these malevolent creatures. This week I read from Invasive species in a globalized world: Ecological, social and legal perspectives on policy edited by Reuben Keller, March Cadottee and Glenn Sandiford. Published in 2015, this anthology includes key scholars exploring the socio-political, economical and environmental implications involving invasive species.
Two concepts forwarded by the text are faunal citizenship and environmental visa. Both of these concepts have counterparts in human-centered debates on citizenship and nationality. It can be argued that nationalist bigots have found comfort in debates surrounding invasive species, re-directing their vulgar comments that are not ‘politically correct’ concerning humans towards animals. Masking such sentiments does not curb their bigotry but reinforces their racist, and moreso, eugenic stances towards ‘who’ is welcomed and for how long. Incidentily, some invasive species have been assigned particular ‘ethnic’ identities such as the American gray squirrel in Britain, the Asian carp in North America or the South American can toads in Australia. All three of these species have been discussed at length in Invasive Species which I will now turn to.

strange places: finding companion animals in shelters and in cemeteries

Urban Companion Animals
Reading List
1. Homeless women’s vices on incorporating companion animals into shelter services. 2011, Jennifer Labreque & Chrstine A. Waslh, 79-96
2.  The emergence of “pets as family” and the socio-historical development of pet funerals in Japan. 2009, Elmber Veldkamp, 333-346
3. The meaning of American pet cemetery gravestones. Stanley Brandes, 2009, 99-118
4. Geographies of more-than-human homes and cultures. In Placing Animals: An introduction to the geography of human-animal relations

This week the scope of my readings crossed between the planes of living and mortality, relating to the phenomenon of urban companion animal keeping.  I wanted to pursue a different approach to understanding this practice within the urbanscape rather than the typical socio-historical approach that looks to pet-keeping as an elitist pursuit. This week my investation takes me to the experience of the homeless, specifically women as well as the morbid side of pet-keeping, the practices of disposing of loved animals bodies.

A small snapshot of Animal Geographies

I designed this course to begin by building a foundation of knowledge for what constitutes the study of animal geography. Two of the articles I chose this week come from what are considered essential basic texts in this geographical subdiscipline. The first is Animal spaces, beastly places: New geographies of human-animal relations (2000) edited by Chris Philo and Chris Wilbert.  The second text is Animal Geographies: Place, politics and identity in the nature-culture borderlands (1998) edited by Jennifer Wolch and Jody Emel. I also want to mention a forthcoming book edited by Katie Gillespie & Rosemary-Claire Collard’s Critical Animal Geographies: Politics, intersections, and hierarchies in a multi-species world (2015). I am more than excited for this book and have requested my University library to obtain a copy –pleasures of working in a library and knowing the system!:). 

I consider my approach to research multidisciplinary and was excited to see concepts from all sorts of disciplinary backgrounds in these readings. Especially concepts coming from feminist and anthropological research. I read these texts to pull out some of the main concepts that will lead my future readings so this post will read as very conceptual and straightforward.

The text in Animal Geographies (1998) is called ‘Animals, geography, and the city: Notes on inclusions and exclusions’. I thought this was a very important framework employing feminist and racial theorists concepts of bodies being included/desired and excluded/undesired. This is a very useful binary when considering what animals we see in certain spaces and places. It also carries over the politics that guide inclusionary and exclusionary policies among human populations making it also valid to politicize how these concepts play out in animal worlds.
Something I found disappointing about this text was the authors proffer of animals transgressing but steered away from animals resisting. They defined resistance has the subject having intention against an entity, whereas transgression is just a matter of wanting to be ‘noticed’. It was disappointing in that the authors sided with animals resisting but were unsure of how to articulate themselves properly.
Returning to employing the binary of exclusion and inclusion, they used the example of 19th century London’s approach to fared animals in the city. Farmed animals presence was once considered normal in all spaces whether rural, urban or in-between. However, in 19th century London there was a ‘sanitary’ movement that commented profusely on the unacceptable “smells, flies, and sights” (60) of farmed animals. The authors argue it was this movement that drove the wedge deep creating the neat boundary between urban and rural areas. This also marks a time where animals explicitly were stated to violate human space, to essentially be the ‘matter out of place’ requiring an entirely new approach to biopolitics. Meaning that farmed animals were firstly controlled genetically and behaviorally to support ‘more productive animal flesh’ and now were spatio-temporally limited.

animal geography puzzle

Something I would have liked to see from this article was for the to draw upon the explicit reference to farmed animals being detested due to the ‘flies’ that swarmed their bodies. Critically practicing anti-speciesm should be attentiveness and not overlook multispecies interactions. It was not only a sanitary movement against farmed animals, but also against pesky flies and other insects that use larger animals bodies as ecosystems.

The other article I read this week is the introductory chapter to Animal Spaces, Beastly Places. This article builds upon the above reading and introduces Edward Said’s concept of ‘imaginative geographies’ which are discourses assigned to proper placements of beings supporting the colonial mind frame of ‘us’ verses ‘them’ (the ‘other’). Chris Philo and Chris Wilbert build on this by conceptualizing a spatial structuring that western society has mapped out. This conceptualization sees spaces as political in that human actors have assigned roles, meanings and memberships to space. Viewing places in such a way raises and makes visible the impenetrable boundaries. Animals, specifically animals in urban settings strattle, disregard and cross these invisible but felt boundaries that result in a plethora of responses. Typically what we see is the typical ‘wildlife management’ approach focused on managing the situation through violence and fear. Responses that consider why the animal ‘trespassed’ or the possibility that perhaps they have been co-habiting these spaces do not surface. Ideally, this course will carve out a space to bounce between both responses, with preference that the latter will become a more common response.

Both authors held the idea of animals independent of humans as capable of constructing and maintaining their own worlds. They proffer cultural geographers and other academics to rightfully consider animals as worthy subjects outside of their relationship or insight they provide to humans.

Addressing this point more heads-on is the goal of the article Methodologies for animals’ geographies: Cultures, communication and genomics’ by Timothy Hodgetts & Jamie Lorimer (2014). Both others recognize the lack of efficient methodologies in geography to approach animal geographies, however, make an argument that many of the long-standing and current methodologies can be appropriated. They identify three areas of useful methodologies: technologies, intra- and inter-specieis communication and genomics.

Technologies of monitoring and tracking are commonly used methods in geobiological and animal studies’. Yet these methods can be radicalized to consider animals themselves as informants rather than solely using humans as the soap boxes of information. Appropriations of technologies include enploying animals as their own camera crew generating data that can be translated and interpreted in a more animal-centered way. This particular point reminds me of an anthropological class I enrolled in called Visual Culture that discussed indigenous peoples using western media techniques that were/still used as western tool of colonialism and spectacle. The appropriation of a tool once used to harm can be used as a tool to amplify resistance and voice! The other technique that was mentioned was interpreting animal monitoring data beyond the population dynamics and distributions. Ingeniously, this makes use of a system already in place plus has colossal amounts of data already collected.

Both of these techniques reminded me greatly of what Kim Socha proposes of ‘negative space’ in Women, destruction & the Avante-Garde: A Paradigm for animal liberaton. Negative space is an artistic term used to describe blank space  is still very much so apart of the entire space. Animals prophetically occupy negative space in human constructed spaces. This radical approach positions animals as worthy subjects outside of the saturated studies into human-animal encounters. Socha proffers this approach in an animal abolitionist perspective, in that, we should leave animals alone. Albeit, it can also serve as an approach to better articulate animals’ complex worlds, histories, sentiments and lives that function in/out/inbetween of human encounters.

Moving onto the second point proposed by Hodgetts & Lorimer focuses on intra- and inter-species communications. Right from the get-go they articulate the vital and necessity for aural and olfactory communication to be granted more attention. They also included some neat scientific and artistic experimental attempts of suffusing a inter-species communication modes. Take for example, Kira O’Reilly, an experimental performance piece. Kira, after realizes the closeness of skin texture to a pig rested with Delia, a pot-bellied beautiful girl for hours on end as an instillation. Her performance was grounded in focusing on the animal and commenting on in her first installation how her the human, and Delia the pig were merely occupying ‘different placeness’ and hence different treatments.
kira oreily 0u2falling59_29777142_n

The final geographical methodology appropriated by the authors was using molecular markets to track history animals mobility’s. Benefits of this tool include creating a historic account of animals movements, patterns and perhaps provides a framework to discuss place and meaning for animals.

All of these points come together in what Hodgetts and Lorimer state:

By working through the material specificities of our entangled worlds                                    they help establish the significant forms of different and the more-than-                                  human values, knowledges and spatial practices that must be considered                              in recent appeals for a post-humanist cosmopolitics (2014, 7). 

Independent Studies 402: urban animals / animal geography

I am so happy to confirm that I will be critically reading through texts again this term with the lovely Dr. Anne Dagg. I am going to explore urban ecologies and specifically placing animals within the western city; however the discourses can are witnessed globablly. Within the cityscape, animals hold different physical and ontological places according to context, histories and  even particular areas within the urban city. This is a really fascinating point as it informs the very ways in which humans relate, interact and engineer the lives of animals. Animals are certainty overlooked within the cities as we hear in comments about leaving the city to be ‘one’ with nature, or to ‘see’ nature. In reality, ‘nature’ or whatever word you prefer is all around us. We lack the knowledge to know how to see the presence of animals that go beyond the foot prints or very noticeable traces. This is something I hope to address over the next few months.

The literature I will be looking over comes from animal geographers, critical animal studies scholars and urban geographers. Unsurprisingly, Anne has written on urban ecologies in the 1970’s so there will be a historic component regarding the development of this issue as well as the academic scene of it.

Some of my goals are:
-form my own urban bestiary and continue these conversations within my communities
-to visibilize and write animals into our urban daily lives
-to grant animals an agency that is often dismissed by placing them as active agents within urban communities
-to understand the academic literature supporting urban animals which will be important to the Canadian Geese issue I am working on with ornithologist Cristobal Pizarro

I will upload my syllabus in the next few days when it is confirmed:)