“Environmental Justice in a Multispecies World: Ethics, Science, and Power” brings together researchers from the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities to generate new knowledge and epistemological approaches at the underexplored intersections of multispecies environmental humanities, political ecology, and science and technology studies (STS). The core idea is to develop STS ways of bringing together often divergent justice-oriented and interpersonal-ethics-oriented frames of relationships between human and nonhuman lives. In meetings throughout AY 2018/2019 and 2019/2020, diverse faculty, staff, and students from the Departments of History, Population Health Sciences, English, Spanish and Portuguese, Horticulture, the School of Veterinary Medicine, The Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and others will spearhead a campus conversation on this theme by discussing emerging literature; workshopping research in progress; and networking with scholars beyond UW. The goal is to support the production of publishable research, particularly for junior scholars (students, early career faculty and staff). We will accomplish this through a series of day-long writing workshops that will give UW–Madison scholars the opportunity to work alongside national and international scholars at the leading edges of this work. The cluster will culminate in a competitive, week-long writing workshop in AY 19/20 that will bring external junior scholars to campus to work with cluster members to produce a special issue for the journal Environmental Humanities that will define this emerging field of scholarship. Cluster Theme. The proposed thematic cluster aims to deepen STS scholarship at the intersections of multispecies studies and political ecology. Political ecology, what Paul Robbins has described as, “a field that seeks to unravel the political forces at work in environmental access, management, and transformation,” has a long tradition of grounded, case-based research to explore questions of equity, sustainability, and environmental justice (Robbins, 2012). Meanwhile, a growing body of work in the environmental humanities builds on theories of posthumanism to examine multispecies ethics and methodologies (e.g., Van Dooren et al., 2016). We see these two scholarly conversations working around related issues concerning the relationships among human and nonhuman life from different perspectives, and we note that STS offers useful contributions to help bridge the two. Where political ecology launches institutional critique based in analysis of the intersections of ecology and political economy, multispecies theory tends to locate itself at the level of the interpersonal, interested in the forms of ethics that might emerge from interpersonal relationality. Political ecology tends to privilege contestations over access to resources, while multispecies studies attends to “passionate immersion” in the lives of nonhumans, as three of its leading articulators put it (Van Dooren et al., 2016). Political ecology foregrounds participatory action research, while multispecies research tends to favor the theoretical. While political ecology situates present contestations in histories of colonial encounter and capitalist exploitation, multispecies theory tends to approach history as processes of evolutionary co-becoming. Where political ecology focuses predominantly on issues of institutional justice for humans and nonhumans, multispecies work has focused on theorizing new forms of more-than-human ethics. We insist that both perspectives are essential, but we are concerned that they often speak past each other. We feel an urgent call to consider the shared political, multispecies futures that might emerge from the present moment, which we do not see satisfactorily addressed with either siloed line of thinking.
The role of science and technology in mediating relationships among human and nonhuman life is a consistent theme in both political ecology and multispecies studies. We see extended engagement with STS approaches as essential for thinking through new approaches to environmental justice based on post-humanist ethics. Techno-scientific machineries of knowing and manipulating life are not only at the heart of interpersonal encounters with human and more-than-human others but also constitute the everyday operations of institutions involved in governance, commerce, and civil society (Sismondo, 2010). STS scholarship shows how science and technology are not neutral entities (to be used for either good or bad) and entail value-laden choices shaped by patterns of power and authority that have asymmetric consequences for involved humans and nonhumans. STS is also part of intellectual developments that have inspired “the nonhuman turn” (Grusin, 2015) shaping environmental humanities. Questions regarding multispecies encounters and techno-scientific knowledge stimulate much debate within STS (Sayes, 2013). STS scholarship pays attention to boundary-making practices that produce categories such as “nonhuman” (e.g., Barad, 1998)—interrogating the politics of such categories is a key foundation for re-theorizing environmental justice.
The proposed cluster aims to explore the potential of STS scholarship for catalyzing a scholarly conversation at the intersection of political ecology and multispecies environmental humanities toward considering questions of profound importance: How should human and nonhuman others live together in the so-called Anthropocene epoch? How can recognition of other human and nonhuman values challenge widely held assumptions of profit maximization? How have entangled histories of colonialism, capitalism, and scientific knowledge production shaped contemporary configurations among humans and other species? How do class, ethnic, gender, and knowledge politics shape multispecies encounters? How can recognition of multiple ways of knowing life reframe techno-scientific management, such as in emerging fields such as “one health” that assume a multispecies concept? How might attention to multispecies ethics redefine the politics and structures of environmental justice?