In this episode of AnthroPod, guest producers Stine Krøijer and Astrid Oberborbeck Andersen take up a debate that is central to current environmental and political anthropology: namely, how ethnographers can identify and describe the political when earth beings, spirits, or nonhuman others become part of the ethnographic equation? How can we methodologically and theoretically engage with these beings as they become entwined in political processes? The episode is built around a recording of a workshop on “More than Human Politics,” which was held in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Copenhagen in April 2015.
Listen to the podcast here: More-than-human Politics, AnthroPod
Interview with Guest Producers
AnthroPod: What inspired you to produce this AnthroPod episode on more-than-human politics? How does it connect to your research?
Stine Krøijer: The inspiration for the podcast came from a workshop that I organized with my colleague Astrid O. Andersen. We had read Marisol de la Cadena’s book Earth Beings in a reading group at our department, and were lucky enough to have her join a workshop in which we hoped to dig into the themes that the book brings up, which are also relevant to our own research. In recent years I have conducted fieldwork in the Ecuadorian Amazon and on environmental activism in Germany, with a distinct attention to the forms of politics that emerge from human interaction with trees. What has struck me is how trees are mobilized in across very different political projects in our current era and in ways that are unlike previous symbolic mobilizations of trees, in German nationalism for example. By bringing together an amazing group of people, including students doing their first fieldwork on the topic, we wanted to engage in dialogue across partially connected worlds on the various redefinitions of politics that an attention to nonhuman beings might offer.
Astrid Oberborbeck Andersen: In the workshop we wanted to address these themes, while centering the discussion on ethnographic work and analyses in their becoming, rather than dealing with finished papers and polished arguments. We thought that it would be valuable for a wider audience of students and others to get insight into the way anthropological knowledge production is done in practice, through such workshops. That is why we decided to produce an AnthroPod episode based on the workshop. In my work on water politics in Peru and on human–animal–environment relations in northwest Greenland, different beings and configurations articulate forms that are hard to grasp, categorize, or qualify as either political, social, technical, or religious. It has been rewarding to think through the ethnographic materials of others in the workshop, and to craft concepts that work as machines of translation/relation.
AP: Where do you hope that your research takes you? Where do you think research on more-than-human politics might go in the future?
SK: At the moment I am in the midst of several writing projects connected to my research on the political lives of trees. Instead of focusing narrowly on the political effects of nonhuman agency, though, the workshop on more-than-human politics brought home to me the importance of affect. Social interaction between humans and trees generate bodily affect, which is key in politics, as I have also described in some of my previous work on political activism. Nonhuman beings move people and vice versa, and this does not only seem to be the case in societies that are very different from my own. My current research shows how environmental activists in Europe look to indigenous peoples for inspiration in their efforts to re-enchant and repoliticize nature. They engage in odd forms of cross-cultural comparison and translation that might spill into and generate new political debates—about the rights of nature, for example. In this light I think there is every reason to take the study of politics and nonhuman beings home to the United States and Northern Europe.
AOA: One theme that is clearly foregrounded when taking the theme of more-than-human politics home to Scandinavia is the role that robots, smart systems and artificial intelligence are increasingly playing in our present-day and future society. I teach in a program on techno-anthropology at Aalborg University. Such programs educate professionals to analyze and work in human–technology interfaces of different kinds. Students and researchers of techno-anthropology are facing the challenge of how to make ethnographic methods suitable for engaging with technological, more-than-human socialities of the future: how, for instance, can we use ethnography to assess what social life and politics will look like in near and less near futures with the widespread coexistence of robots and humans in and with smart systems? This is one area where I see that more-than-human politics will be relevant. My research focuses on human–environmental relations, and I would like my research to take me further in the direction—with or without technology as such—of working to make multiple kinds of human–environment relations visible and real, in political and nonpolitical realms.