WEBINAR | Nonhuman Heroes and Villains: A Cross Project Conversation – 4 March 2021 15:00-16:30 (GMT)/ 16:00-17:30 (CET)


Webinar Convened by: The Global War Against the Rat and the Epistemic Emergence of Zoonosis (University St Andrews), Refiguring Conservation in/for “the Anthropocene”: the Global Lives of the Orangutan (Brunel University London) & Veterinarization of Europe? Hunting for Wild Boar Futures in the Time of African Swine fever (Czech Academy of Sciences)

Tales of heroism, villainy, accolades and blame have long been filled with nonhuman entities, ranging from plants to ‘unloved’ critters (Rose & van Dooren 2011). In this cross-project webinar, members of The Global Lives of the Orangutan, The Global War Against the Rat and the Epistemic Emergence of Zoonosis, Veterinarization of Europe? Hunting for Wild Boar Futures in the Time of African Swine Fever get together to discuss the more-than-human discourses, politics and ontologies of which some nonhuman ‘heroes’ and ‘villains’ emerge and make their presence felt. Join us for short interventions on wolves, pigs, rats, oil palms and orangutans, followed by questions and a general discussion. All welcome!

Registration is free but required for attendance. To register email with your Full Name, email address and affiliation by February 26, 12:00 GMT



Symbol of Modernity or Proof of Archaism? The ambiguity and political uses of rat-catching in Brazil (1900-1914) | Matheus Alves Duarte da Silva (Global War Against the Rat project, University of St Andrews)
The presentation will focus on the political uses of rat-catching in Brazil, showing the ambiguities of both the rat and Brazilian society. To the hygienists, rat-catching was a rational model to face plague, and a national success; to the press and popular sources, it was the symbol of governmental failures that ended up creating a “rat” market.

Not All Wolves Are Equal: Selective villainization among species populations | Erica von Essen (Veterinarization of Europe project, The Czech Academy of Sciences)
Just as Nils Christie presented criteria for the ‘ideal victim’ in criminology, so too we may conceptualize the wolf’s culturally attributed bloodthirst, cowardice, cruelty in the face of its prey and transient vagabond nature across landscape as an ‘ideal villain’. In this talk, I consider how wolf skeptics nowadays selectively villainize individual wolves rather than the species. Informing new insights onto scholarship on ‘animals out of place’ with perspectives from environmental communication, I discuss how this selective villanization represents an attractive discursive strategy for wolf skeptic hunters and farmers. That is, they are able to endorse a hypothetical ‘right to exist’ for wolves as a species, but impose so many genetic, morphological, spatial, and behavioral parameters guiding its actual allowable conduct in practice that no actual wolves ever approximate the lofty standards set by its species norm. I enquire about the origins of this strategy, the extent to which it is a strategy or genuine conviction.

Feeding Extinction: Navigating the metonyms and misanthropy of palm oil boycotts| Hannah Fair (Global Lives of the Orangutan project, Brunel University London)
Among UK-based orangutan conservation supporters palm oil consumption boycotts are widespread, due to the ecological impacts of oil palm cultivation on orangutan habitat. Yet these boycotts are largely at odds with the stances of orangutan charities. Drawing on interviews with orangutan supporters, I explore why some Global North consumers are so consumed by palm oil. Palm oil is viewed by orangutan supporters as insidious, invasive and cheap and forces a bodily complicity with orangutan suffering. It is mobilized as a metonym for human greed and capitalist destruction, while the figure of the orangutan is made to stand in for the precarity of nonhuman life. This metonymic relationship mirrors broader Anthropocenic framings of Human-Nature relations, which emphasize Humanity as a universal actor. Yet the practices of ‘species guilt’ associated with these framings largely mitigate against a decolonizing model of conservation, as they have the potential to deny agency to workers and villagers enmeshed within the oil palm economy.

Becoming Feral: A Tale of Two Pigs  | Paul G. Keil (Hunting the Unruly Pigs of the New Wild project & Veterinarization of Europe project, The Czech Academy of Sciences)

In Australia, free-roaming pigs are constructed as villainous through the term “feral.” This presentation will explore the historical events through which pigs were made feral, and how this branding attempts to unmake this adaptable animal’s (almost heroic) capacity to overcome categorical divides and forge new relations and identities.

Good and Bad Primates| Paul H. Thung (Project on the Keys to Understanding Orangutan Killing, honorary Global Lives of the Orangutan project associate)
In rural Borneo, the legitimacy of wildlife protection is measured in part by the moral character of the specific species. Well-mannered animals are deemed more deserving of protection than mischievous ones. While the character of orangutans is ambiguous and judged varyingly, there is consensus about two other primate species. In this presentation I contrast the local villain status of the Beruk (pig-tailed macaque) with the hero status of the Kelempiau (gibbon). By examining these two extremes, I suggest that judgements of the moral character of a species are based not just in experience of human-wildlife conflict or myths, but also in direct observation of behaviour, stories of human-primate encounters, and everyday discourse.

Palm Oil – The Villain as Hero | Viola Schreer (Global Lives of the Orangutan project, Brunel University London)
This provocation provides a counter-image to the portrayal of palm oil as ecological villain. While Anthropocenic discourses and knowledge condemn palm oil development for deforestation, biodiversity loss, and carbon emissions, these truth-claims are challenged by alternate scientific knowledge that downplays the ecological costs of palm oil development in Indonesia. Backed by this alternative expertise, I show how palm oil industry-affiliated actors celebrate palm oil not only as national hero (pahlawan bangsa) contributing to foreign currency earnings, economic development, poverty alleviation, and national integrity, but even create an image of palm oil as environmental hero.

Economic Zoology: A science of animal friends and foes, 1880s-1930s | Jules Skotnes-Brown (Global War Against the Rat project, University of St Andrews)                                                       This talk examines how economic zoologists – scientists who calculated the utility or harmfulness of wildlife to commerce and public health – shaped conceptions of animals as heroes or villains. Located initially in the USA, and later across the globe, these scientists created economic taxonomies of animal life, which ultimately shaped conservation and pest control in southern Africa.



WEBINAR | COVID-19 as a Zoonotic Disease – July 23 2020 14:00-16:00


A roundtable at gloknos in collaboration with The Global War Against the Rat and the Epistemic Emergence of Zoonosis project (University of St Andrews)

The COVID-19 pandemic is caused by a zoonotic virus, SARS-CoV-2; in other words, a virus which has spread from animals to humans. This roundtable discusses the way in which different animals and forms of human-animal contact have come to be understood and framed in the context of the pandemic. In which ways does the pandemic confirm, trouble or scientific anticipations of zoonotic emergence? To what extent do framings of COVID-19 as a zoonotic disease reflect broader anxieties about human interaction with the environment? Why have ‘wet markets’ become the main loci of blame for zoonotic emergence? And how can we develop an approach to the zoonotic aspect of the disease that is grounded in both disease ecology and ethnographic understandings of animal-human interaction?

You can watch the recorded webinar via gloknos’s YouTube channel

Christos Lynteris (St Andrews)

Lyle Fearnley (Singapore University of Technology and Design)
Tamara Giles-Vernick (Institut Pasteur/Sonar-Global)
Frédéric Keck (CNRS/EHESS)
James Wood (Cambridge)