In this review, we report the main discussions and concepts debated in the workshop “Animals and Politics: Explorations for a More-Than-Human Democracy,” the first academic event on animal studies in Chile. After a brief overview of the workshop, we summarize its results by identifying three broad conversations that cut across the workshop—borders, affects, and effects.
Rethinking the Social Contract: The Animal Question in Post-Pinochet Chile
April 23, 2016, marked an important date for Chilean politics. During the following two months, the government conducted an ambitious nation-wide participatory exercise to define the pillars for a new Constitution. Citizens were invited to organize informal meetings with relatives, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances to debate how we Chileans imagine the principles, forms, and challenges of collective life. Ideas and proposals were uploaded to a website, consolidated, and then openly debated and enriched in provincial and regional assemblies throughout the country.
In early June, in the midst of this constitutional experiment, we organized the first workshop on animal studies in Chile. Although initiating a debate about our etho-political entanglement with more-than-human animals could seem to go against the grain of the concurrent effort to rethink our “all-too-human” social contract, the fact is that the two events are intertwined because they are occasioned by the same question: the nature and scope of our collective life. And this is precisely what our seminar set out to discuss.
The emergence in Chile of variegated interests in nonhuman animals within the social sciences and citizen organizations is predicated on a broader malaise about how “society” has been defined, performed, and installed in post-Pinochet Chile. The multiplication of environmental conflicts—as the foci of larger claims against neoliberal and technocratic politics in the country—has been crucial in this respect. In the context of an unquestioned extractivist national project supported by both the right and the left, environmental resistance against energy plants, mining operations, and forestry interventions since the mid-1990s became a mode of contesting epistemic and political orderings in late capitalist Chile. Activism around these conflicts has significantly increased in the last decades (
Interestingly, while animal welfare organizations have been around for some time in Chile, it is only with the proliferation of environmental controversies and the suffering—broadcasted profusely by the media—of concrete species as collateral effects of industrial processes that animals became a specific source of politicization. Especially important for introducing animals into politics was the unprecedented citizens movement that emerged in Valdivia in response to the mass death of black-necked swans due to the toxic discharges of a paper mill in the mid-2000s. Following this case, a nationwide mobilization against the endangered Humboldt penguins by a large carbon energy plant took place in the north of Chile in the 2010s. Conflicts around huemuls (an endogenous, large, and severely endangered type of deer), wild dogs, and zoo lions ensued, along with a myriad of animal liberation acts and boycotts.
The irruption of animals in political life in Chile has been accompanied by the establishment, since the late 2000s, of a new generation of scholars in the social sciences and humanities that has embraced non-anthropocentric questions and modes of inquiry. Using insights from post-humanism, actor-network theory, cosmopolitics, multispecies ethnography, feminist technosciences, and ontological politics among other theoretical sensibilities, these scholars are relocating the human vis-à-vis the non-human in questions around politics, knowledge, and the environment. Some others, especially those closer to activist groups, have complemented these insights with neo-Marxist perspectives on reproduction, oppression, and alienation. The overall result is, broadly, a conceptual contestation of the ways in which our sense of “we” has been construed in multiple sites of social life, and of the persistent neglect—both ontological and political—of non-human animals as beings who partake in the making of our worlds.
Hence, the simultaneous occurrences of this first event on animal studies and the most active debate about the Chilean constitution since the recovery of democracy was not a mere coincidence: it constitutes the symptomatic response to the same political and ethical challenge, namely the expansion of our sense of (political) community and the invocation of a new set of kinships, knowledges, and practices to reimagine our collective life. Life, the workshop readily added, has to be defined as including the plethora of non-human animals, beings, and forces that animate politics, albeit in unexpected ways and sites.
The Workshop: An Open Conversation for a More-Than-Human Democracy
The workshop “Animal and Politics: Explorations for a More-Than-Human Democracy” held on June 1, 2016, at the Pontificia Universidad Católica (
As the first event to fully engage in the establishment of an animal studies community in Chile, the seminar was purposefully devised as a workshop—a rather intimate setting for engaging in a productive conversation. To ignite this conversation, the organizers, Manuel Tironi and Beltrán Undurraga, asked six scholars doing animal studies in Chile to prepare a “provocation”: a short exposition regarding a key concept emerging from their work with, on, and alongside animals. The aim of the exercise was to create a more fluid space of debate, but also to assemble a glossary for animal studies in Chile: a dictionary of sorts with key entries to understand, inquire about, and specify the ways political practice and theory are being expanded by the agency of animals.
Drawing on his fieldwork on expert environmental management vis-a-vis cattle practices by Mapuche people in southern Chile, Piergiorgio Di Giminiani (Anthropology
Borders, Affects, and Effects
Rich in ideas, concepts, and propositions, the workshop surpassed all expectations. In what follows, we present three broad conversations that cut across the workshop’s discussions, weaving the six provocations together. These conversations lack clear demarcations and both overlap with and contradict each other. By giving an account of the workshop through these three sets of issues, our intention is not to summarize the debate but to delineate the objects and concerns of the emergent field of animal studies in Chile.
The issue of demarcation—what separates humans from, or entangles us with, other animals—pervaded many discussions during the workshop. As a foundational starting point both theoretically and ethically, the workshop often invoked reflections about how (not) to sustain ontological boundaries between animal species—a theme that has haunted Western philosophies from Aristotle and Aquinas to Heidegger and Derrida. More recently, it was remembered during the workshop, the question has been recast in more radical terms by different critiques of humanism. According to Agamben (2004)—to take one prominent example—the distinction or caesura between human and nonhuman animal should not be understood as a given but rather as the result produced by the political and practical operation of the “anthropological machine” of Western thought, in its ancient and modern variants. Several debates during the workshop touched on these issues in order to pave the way for more empirically oriented investigations on the separation and entanglements of humans and nonhuman animals in politics and other domains.
Along these lines, a salient theme concerned the differentiations between the human and the animal/nonhuman in social and political thought. In his intervention, Undurraga tried to come to terms with the prospects and stakes involved in introducing nonhuman animals into habitual forms of political theorization. From the vantage point of the “common sense” of conventional political theory, he argued, questions concerning the politicity (capacity to become political) of nonhuman animals are rather unthinkable, or at least suffused with scandal and impropriety. A category mistake, some may say. Others would surely frown and see in this attempt yet more proof of the excesses of postmodern and posthumanist thinking.
From this perspective, Undurraga claimed, the trouble would not lie in what we could call the “downwards conflation” that consists of “lowering” humans to the status of “mere animals.” As a matter of fact, Western thought provides plenty of diagnoses lamenting the modern assimilation of humans with nonhuman animals. Thus, Marx (1964) in his theory of alienation argued that the universal subject of capitalist society was indistinguishable from the horse, laboring with the sole purpose of sustaining his/her animal existence. Likewise, Hannah Arendt (1998) famously introduced the figure of the animal laborans to describe our modern human condition, in which labor for the sake of reproducing the species had displaced the other, properly human activities of fabrication, action, and speech. As these two examples show—and there are many others—the notion that humans in modernity have become akin to the rest of animal species is not a particularly novel one. What is bound to generate perplexity and scandal among mainstream political theorists, Undurraga claimed, is something different: the “upwards conflation” that purports to “elevate” the non-human animal to the range of experiences traditionally associated with the human; first and foremost, those we associate with political life.
Still, within the landscape of contemporary political reflection, Undurraga suggested, there is at least one approach where we might expect a more welcoming stance towards the question of animals and politics, namely Jacques Rancière´s political mode of theorization. The reason is that politics, according to Rancière, is above all the scene of a scandal or impropriety that challenges common sense perception. His conception of democratic politics (Rancière, 1999) highlights precisely the surprising, polemic, and disruptive emergence of new political subjects that come to reconfigure the public scene and the aesthetic parameters that define what is sayable and hearable, and by whom. To that extent, a Ranciérean politics could in principle open a space for thinking of the “partaking” of non-human animals in the construction of common worlds. Yet, as Undurraga showed in the workshop, things are not so simple, for this perspective simultaneously offers a formidable resistance to such a project. This is because for all its radicalness, Rancière’s vindication of equality turns around language as a condition of possibility for emancipation. This much is clear from his refusal to engage with Jane Bennett’s proposal about the possibility of regarding non-humans as a demos capable of erupting into public space (Bennett, 2005).
Understood as a human prerogative and a sine qua non of politics, language seems to constitute the major obstacle for a more hospitable reception among political theorists vis-à-vis claims about the politicity of animals, even for approaches that would otherwise seem more willing to entertain such an improper possibility. Hence, Undurraga suggested how language (the specifically human capacity for speech) might constitute the most daunting barrier for the project of crossing borders between the human and animal realms, and the disciplines these encompass. Such a project would have to either confront this challenge head on, or find ways to circumvent it.
In his presentation, Rossello discussed the notion of dignity in the context of recent literature on human dignity. He argued that scholars in various academic fields such as theology (Meilaender, 2009; Milbank, 2013, 2014), political philosophy (Habermas, 2010; Waldron, 2012; Rosen, 2012), political theory (Kateb, 2011; Phillips, 2015), intellectual history (Moyn, 2014, 2015), and critical theory (Santner, 2006, 2011), all construe human dignity in contradistinction to animal forms of life. In this literature, Rossello suggested, human beings are portrayed in terms of aristocratic dignitas, as a species of a higher rank who, in the best-case scenario, has derivative moral obligations towards lower, undignified forms of life.
Rossello called “species aristocratism” this gesture of moral noblesse oblige towards non-human animals, and argued that the construal of such hierarchy has consequences for our understanding of contemporary democracies. Since our post-
But Rossello also contended that the claim of species egalitarianism does not simply follow from species aristocratism. What would be the risk of such move? Rossello mobilized literature from a strand of critical animal studies (Agamben, 2004; Derrida, 2008; Oliver, 2009; Calarco, 2008; Haraway, 2008) to warn us about assimilating animals to all-too-human forms of conceptualizing the political—egalitarianism included. The risk is to turn egalitarianism into forms of assimilating the other to the same, namely, to further re-distribute (human) dignity towards non-human animals at the expense of animals and animality itself. Put differently, when allegedly non-speciesist thinkers like Donaldson and Kymlicka (2013) think of certain animals as co-citizens in a zoopolis, the risk is to domesticate the field of differences in such a way as to not be affected by how animals may invite us (or force us) to re-think our notions of citizenship, agency, and political inclusion. Projecting such notions unto animals, with the self-confidence characteristic of noble rank, may simply add another chapter to the saga of species aristocratism.
In his conclusions, Rossello explored novel ways of halting what Agamben called the anthropological machine. The politics of (in)dignation, Rossello suggested, should track and question the ways in which the notion of human dignity iterates itself in different registers, vocabularies, and fields of study. Moreover, drawing on Oliver (2009) and Massumi (2014), Rossello made the case for a political animal studies approach that could go beyond the monopoly of ethics in relation to the animal question. A political studies approach thus construed should be able to resist the projection of our (alleged) conceptual superiority towards animal forms of life and to permit, instead, the animal question to shatter our certainties regarding the nature, scope, and grounds of our conception of the political.
The debate around interspecies boundaries and entanglements was crystallized by a further, more ontological question that repeatedly returned to the table: What would animals say about themselves, about their desires, propensities, and environments if they could get rid of human mediation? Indeed, another crucial debate during the workshop was around access—or what Meillassoux (2009) would call correlationism: the extent to which our incapacity to access animals beyond our humanness—that is, beyond our human consciousness, sensorium, and rationality—undermines our possibilities for knowing animals in their sheer animalness.
Along these lines, Tironi tackled the question of borders directly. He opened his discussion on cordiality by suggesting that one critical problem within animal studies is their tendency to engage with symbolic, representational, or otherwise abstracted animals—rather than attempting to relate with them as powerful and recalcitrant earthlings. As Tironi argued, the recognition of animals as beings intervening in our social life came along not just with the problem of epistemology (how to know them) but also of ontology: how to speak on behalf of a world, the animal world, that in many aspects is completely indifferent to ours.
Taking inspiration from Kohn (2013) and Haraway (2016), Tironi gave what might be called an ecological answer. The possibility of engaging with animals beyond the human can be invoked, Tironi argued, if we recognize that animals, human and otherwise, live together within symbiotic ecologies. More concretely, our existences are vitally entangled insofar as we establish with other animals, as Tironi said, “bonds of care and love, affective prehensions without which our forms of being in the word are illegible.” This was the crucial point for Tironi: that we don’t just live with animals; we become with them in the affectiveness of life—that vibrant meshwork constituted by the trajectories of beings that feel, relate, and suffer each other. This is especially true in our intimate co-existence with companion species, as Haraway has insisted. With those creatures with which we share our existence, Tironi argued, an inter-species kinship is already in place, a kind of alongsideness (Latimer, 2013). The quotidian and affective intimacy we establish with more-than-human creatures does not represent a connection between two independent beings, but an atmosphere of care without which our existence as humans could not endure, and thus an ethical and somatic compromise that cannot be separated from life itself.
A second major thread of the workshop was affect as the privileged ethical and embodied medium by which human-animal entanglements are instantiated in diverse settings. Interestingly, the conversation went beyond conventional sociological debates about the strategic mobilization of emotional claims and rhetoric by animal activists (cf. Lorimer, 2007). Rather, attendants to the workshop convened on animals are here “to live with” (Haraway, 2016): powerful forces with the capacity of affecting and being affected through everyday life, variegated vital and pre-reflexive commitments (Massumi, 2002).
Sepúlveda’s provocation asked, on the one side, to what extent can nonhuman animals be considered full-blown political agents and, on the other, if to acknowledge such agency may also allow us to conceive animals as taking part—even if temporarily—of the political community. In order to answer such questions, Sepúlveda worked with the already mentioned case of the massive death and migration of the black-necked swans from the Río Cruces, in Valdivia, Chile, as result of the heavy pollution coming from a new pulp-mill owned by the Chilean holding Arauco (Sepúlveda & Sundberg, 2015; Sepúlveda, 2016).
In accounting for the local mobilization in defense of the swans, Sepúlveda explained that by the early 2000s—when the disaster begun—Valdivians lacked any meaningful bond with the swans. In fact, no traces of these birds are found in Valdivia’s prolific literature, painting, or historiography (Sepúlveda & Sundberg, 2015). Interestingly, however, Sepúlveda also found that, according to the testimonies of several of actors—from authorities to the company’s executives and from scientists to citizens—the main driver behind the mobilization was the suffering of the swans (Sepúlveda, 2016). A suffering that was enacted through the very specific capacities of the birds themselves.
Indeed, swans fell over people’s yards and houses, or slowly drowned in front of shocked witnesses. These face-to-face encounters with the suffering swans made it impossible for humans to avoid being exposed. Such exposure, in turn, was a determinant in the disaster’s political salience, not only locally but also beyond Valdivia. In particular, the vast circulation of pictures and videos of dead or agonizing swans helped to expand the political agency involved in such exposure. Only during the first three years of the struggle, more than three thousand articles about the disaster and the dying swans appeared in Chile’s main newspapers (Halpern, 2007). Similar coverage occurred on national
The case of the Valdivian swans, Sepúlveda suggested in the workshop, exemplifies the theoretical challenges involved in making room for animals as political subjects (Hobson, 2007). As feminist theorizations have for long argued, bodies are not only the effect of historically contingent practices and regulatory norms (Butler, 1993). They are also active agents in the workings of power (Sundberg, 2010). The bodies of animals, their corporeal exposure, can be revealing of the limitless exploitations to which both humans and nonhumans are exposed (Diamond, 2003).
However, to theorize about the massive unsettling provoked by the bodily suffering of the swans is not an easy task. As Cary Wolfe acknowledged when interviewed by Medero and Calder (2003), although the suffering of animals and our response to it are everywhere, the academy has resisted the conceptualization of what this overpowering presence means. For Wolfe the reason is that “academic discourses [have] remained within an essentially humanist framework” (Medero & Calder, 2003, p. 43). Moreover, Wolfe claims, the fundamental challenge of taking our relation with animals seriously is that “it discloses how the human is not and never has been human—in the ways that we now think about it and in the ways that the traditionalists thought about it” (Medero & Calder, 2003, p. 43). Political theory is not exempt from these tensions.
The latter explains in great part why, Sepúlveda argued, despite Rancière’s ontological approach being potentially compatible with a posthumanist interpretation, his political theory remains fully grounded within humanism. In particular, by presupposing that the fundamental force behind any event able to interrupt the prevalent order and expose its polemical configuration is the principle of “equality” (Rancière, 2011), nonhumans are de facto denied any capacity for political agency. Indeed, Sepúlveda reminded us, according to Rancière it is because of such equality that the “police order” may be questioned as a naturalized arrangement by subjects who are outnumbered with respect to the whole of the population, and who demand to be counted as part of the political community (Rancière, interviewed by Panagia, 2000).
This is where Sepúlveda brought Critchley’s (2007) understanding of the properly political into the debate. For Critchley, the main driver of political action is not the principle of equality but an ethical demand of infinite responsibility that takes form as we witness the suffering of “another” that is revealing of a vulnerability that is also our own. We experience such ethical demand as a moment of “hetero-affectivity” or “intimate disturbance” that precedes any political claim (Critchley, 2007, pp. 131–132). What this splitting of our hearts in front of a “namelessness and powerless exposure” finally shows is nothing less than “our essential interconnectedness and vulnerability to the other’s demand” (Critchley, 2007, pp. 119–120). The political may then be seen, above all, as an ethical impulse that originates from experiencing a shared vulnerability in front of a wrong that makes an “other” suffer.
For Sepúlveda, the ethical call conceptualized by Critchley may well be occupied by nonhumans. In these terms, it is a call that notably resonates with those experienced by Valdivian citizens in front of the swans. Thus, Critchley’s interpretation allows to treat seriously both the suffering of the swans and the testimonies of humans. Indeed, it entitles us to recognize that—as the actors of the Valdivian struggle have declared—the suffering of the swans was “the” fundamental driver of their political impulse to act in response to the disaster. Indeed, the bodies and “doings” of the swans—previously unaccounted—are what unleashed an unexpected political potency and disturbed the previously prevailing order. Sepúlveda argued that by prompting through their suffering an ethical response conductive to the political sequence, swans became members—at least temporarily—of the political community.
Noteworthy, for Sepúlveda, Critchley’s understanding of the hetero-affective impulse that drives political action strongly resonates with the conceptualization of animal suffering by posthumanist philosophers, such as Diamond (1978, 2003), Derrida (1995, 2002), and Wolfe (2009, 2010). For these authors, animal suffering and our response to it constitutes the key question that an Animal Studies taken seriously needs to respond to.
Suffering, and the ethical act of taking care of those significant others that suffer, was precisely the heart of Tironi’s provocation on cordiality. In Puchuncaví, explained Tironi, a territory subjected to five decades of toxic contamination due to unregulated industrial development, neighbors sense pollution through an extended sensorium: somatic prehensions including their own sentient capacities of smelling, feeling, and suffering, but also those of nonhuman animals. Dogs, cats, chickens, sheep, and other vertebrate companions help their human caregivers make visible toxicants that would otherwise remain withdrawn from human perception. These animals function, put differently, as sentinels. That is the case of Sara, one of Tironi’s research informants. Through a knowledge practice she has refined over years of toxic suffering, Sara evaluates atmospheric contamination through minute afflictions on her body, but also observing and healing her sheep’s ailments.
At first sight the relationship between Sara and her sheep seems highly asymmetrical. Has Sara asked the sheep what she wants? Maybe the sheep would prefer to avoid having her wool dyed or her belly swollen by toxic chemicals—even if these afflictions enhance the environmental awareness of her caregiver.
But for Tironi this question, while valid, does not recognize the complex and energetic communion established by Sara and her sheep. Sara does not just confirm every morning the amount of ash that has coated the body of her sheep. She is also affectively moved by the suffering of her sheep because between them an intimate relationship of care and attention has incubated. Thus, the evidence gathered through her non-human companion is not primordially material—quantity of particulate matter fallen over her sheep—but affective. In a particular symbiotic alliance, Sara feels the feeling of her sheep; just as the sheep lends herself to be affected by particulate matter, Sara has learned to be affected by her sheep’s affections. Arm in arm, intoxicated by the same chemicals, they congeal an inter-species camaraderie to cope with an industrial violence exerted differently but intensively on both.
How do we think about this interspecies friendship? Rather than seeing the relation between Sara and the sheep as a strategic alliance, we should make sense of their coalition, Tironi suggested, as an attempt at atmosphere-making (Sloterdijk, 2011). Literally the “ball of fog” or the breath that surrounds us, for Sloterdijk atmospheres are the psycho-climatic envelopes that sustain and enable our existence. Being-in-the-world as humans always involves at least two—the individual and that which sustains her, the breath, the atman (Sloterdijk, 2011) that allows her life on Earth. This energetic swathe making existence possible is a material accomplishment (the air we breathe) but also emerges from the deep phenomenology of two beings vitally engaged in the co-creation of an affective sphere or mood (Anderson, 2009)—a sphere without which their lives could not carry on.
And here lies the heart of Tironi’s provocation: Sara and her sheep, suffering and coping together, persevering as one in a toxic environment, constitute an atmospheric coalition not just because they are useful for the vital endurance of each other, but also because they have established a relationship of cordiality. Sloterdijk (2011) defines cordiality as the synchronization of hearts. More a rhythmic attunement or a vibrational choreography than a cognitive or discursive agreement, cordiality is a calibration that is not species-specific. The co-vibration of hearts, Tironi argued, is a sympathetic alignment that unfolds in the energetic space of things being and becoming together (Whitehead, 1979), thus and “intimate reciprocity” (Sloterdijk, 2011) open to all matter. Sara and her sheep take care of each other, they feel each other’s feelings, and it is through that cordiality that they have enlivened an atmosphere to endure as ethical beings.
This inter-species cordiality, Tironi concluded, has not been recognized by scholars investigating the practices of endurance in toxic environments in Chile. Environmental suffering in Puchuncaví is atmospheric, both because it entails airborne toxicants and because it has provoked more-than-human cordial alliances to cope with industrial violence. Future research in Puchuncaví and other sacrifice zones should be more attentive to these multi-species entanglements and the particular ethics they convoke.
Finally, a third set of issues addressed in the workshop pivoted around the question of agency: the capacity of nonhumans—animals included—to do things and disrupt our habitual modes of organizing political and social life, as well as our inherited habits of understanding ourselves and the world. More than two decades ago, in a historical context very different from our own, Latour (1993) concluded that in order to figure out who we are, and the things that we do, the agential capacities of nonhumans we have failed to acknowledge had to be taken thoroughly into account, for they are part and parcel of the worlds we inhabit. Indeed, at certain crucial points the discussions gravitated towards the related idea of “cosmopolitics” (Stengers, 2005) and the question of how to “compose” the world(s) we have in common. Assuming that the introduction of this theme will require a deep reconfiguration of our conventional understandings, rather than simply making some ad-hoc adjustments, the interventions by Schaeffer and Di Giminiani gave some valuable insight into some of the ways in which animals do have a constitutive effect on our (ostensibly) human politics.
With the help of the huemul deer and the creature’s participation in the environmental campaign Patagonia Sin Represas (
According to Schaeffer, animals have been seen from the optics of politics as representations of something else (symbolism of animals) or as an ecological problem (concerns over extinction of species). These perspectives do not always pay attention to the actual liveliness of animals as unique individuals, and thus understand animals as external to the human world (Hobson, 2007).
The huemul played multiple roles in the controversy over the building of dams in Patagonia. Notably, the company enacted the huemul, interchangeably, as an endangered species, as embodying contested knowledge about Patagonia, as a politico-legal object, and as a symbolic element linked to national identity. These mobilizations of the huemul always pointed, however, to a fixed, objectified, and stabilized version of the huemul. The huemul performed by the company was resisted by local communities but also—and this was Schaeffer’s main point—by huemuls themselves. The huemul’s “individual character, knowledge, subjectivity or experience” (Tovey, 2003, p. 196) mattered and played a role as political subject, not standing merely as object.
Thus, the irruption of huemuls into the controversy, Schaeffer suggested, was not an issue completely under the control of the environmental campaign against the dams or solely the work of human activists. The huemul made a difference, mediating in the composition and production of
In his presentation, Di Giminiani discussed the effects that nonhuman animals might have in oppositional political affairs that only apparently involve disputes restricted to humans. In order to ground the involvement of animals in political disputes between different interest groups, Di Giminiani examined the frictions between environmentalist organizations and farmers generated by non-governmental conservation projects in southern Chile. A common explanation for such controversies points to the existence of irreconcilable differences in political culture, class, and ways of dwelling between farmers and environmentalists, who are in most cases urbanites with no agricultural background.
In a departure from approaches to politics presupposing power relations as the result of opposition between discourses, Di Giminiani proposed a focus on the role that inter-species relations have in reconfiguring constant power relations among humans. The notion proposed to guide this presentation was mobility, a phenomenon at the heart of politics and its understandings (Cresswell, 2006). The ways nonhuman animals move about and dwell in a particular habitat and humans’ attempts to control such movement illustrate clearly how animals in conservation politics are not only objects of controversies, but also mediators of power relations.
The most relevant inter-species relation in conservation politics is the one between domestic animals and humans, since the former are usually excluded from categories of wilderness implicit to conservation projects (Brockington, 2002, p. 11). Di Giminiani presented one particular controversy common in many conservation areas instituted to protect southern template forests in the Andean range. This controversy focused on a customary transhumance practice, veranada, carried out by both indigenous Mapuche and non-indigenous small landholders. Veranada consists of the movement of livestock between winter and summer pastures, a practice that helps farmers avoid overgrazing in lower sections of the Andes, where homesteads are located. Unlike other transhumance practices, farmers return to their homes, leaving cows unattended for much of the summer. A veranada is thus a risky business.
Thieves are on the lookout for cows and typically farmers using the same area for transhumance organize regular rounds of vigilance. Yet, chances of animals getting lost or stolen remain high. Farmers in fact hope that animals’ own sense of orientation and initiative will contribute to their survival. Control over animal mobilities in this case does not only concern interaction between guardians and animals, but also the broader political and economic landscapes in which farmers find themselves embroiled. Veranada was made possible by the fact that summer pastures typically correspond to unclaimed areas or state-owned land. However, in the last three decades, property access restrictions mainly caused by the privatization of state-owned land made possible by Pinochet-era neoliberalization processes, have forced many farmers to abandon transhumance practices.
A fundamental threat to transhumance was the institution of both public and private conservations areas. Today, forests previously used for intense summer grazing and logging activities are at serious risk of deforestation. One of the largest threats to forest regeneration is cattle husbandry, as cows typically graze on young trees, negatively affecting their growth. For many park administrators, preventing animals from accessing forests is necessary to increase the chances of forest regeneration. In most cases, this action requires the use of fences and more generally, the imposition of an idea of property as an impermeable border among farmers.
In concluding his presentation, Di Giminiani stated that conservation controversies are just one of the many possible ways in which the political potentialities of animals can be recognized and revisited. Further research on conservation controversies can help us realize how the ontological divide between human and other animal species becomes uncertain once we realize that apparently pre-political actions, such as animal mobility across ecological and property boundaries and human attempts to control it are indeed profoundly political to start with. The key question here is not to dissolve human intentionality in the political sphere, but rather to see it as a less definitive outcome in which animals can have a say despite human control over their acts of dwelling.
As Undurraga noted, the roles played by the deer of Patagonia, the cows in the Andes, and the swans in Valdivia introduce some promising venues for understanding the agency of animals beyond language, somewhat bypassing the main obstacle he identified for enacting a dialogue between animal studies and political theory. Albeit in different ways, all these cases confirm the non-sovereign character of human action in politics, a feature that has been thought of mainly in relation to the fact that human plurality frustrates any attempt at controlling what happens in political spaces (cf. Arendt, 1998).
Indeed, the disruptive and unsettling political effect that authors like Rancière confine to the agency of speaking animals (the human demos) can very well be observed—in novel and irreducible ways—in nonhuman animals. As a fresh source of dissensus, uncertainty, and unexpected affective connections, the mise-en-scène of animals variously illustrated in the workshop represents an auspicious alternative for thinking of the agency of nonhuman animals politically. It may also represent an antidote for the privileged ranking of humans in terms of aristocratic dignitas that Rossello discussed at the seminar, without at the same time succumbing to a species egalitarianism or similar strategies that ultimately end up assimilating animals to all- too-human forms of thinking about politics. The challenge, Undurraga concluded, amounts to refashioning our conceptualizations of “the political” just as radically as the works of Latour and others have transformed our understanding of “the social.”
The multidisciplinary perspectives brought to bear in the workshop resulted in a small but suggestive set of concepts that researchers concerned with animal studies in Chile, and, we hope, abroad, can mobilize in order to shake up the humanistic common sense that has hitherto limited the range of actors and topics admitted in the political conversation about our collective life. By understanding the impropriety involved in the expansion of the human demos as a politically fertile form of disruption, and by critically interrogating our persistent impulse to rank the species according to humanly inflected notions of dignitas, scholars in animal studies can begin engaging in an alternative “constitutional” redrawing of the boundaries between humans and animals. Also, in order to acknowledge the agency of animals, we need to learn to make room for the role of corporeality and affect in the constitution of political communities, and commit ourselves to incorporating the affective dimension activated by experiences of inter-species cordiality. Lastly, our discussions indicate that the effects introduced by nonhuman animals in our political life pertain to what they do—as in the question of mobility illustrated by transhumance practices—but also to the challenge posed by the elusive and ungraspable character of the things they do and the beings they are.
During the workshop, the concurrent process of consultation and debate among Chileans about the pillars of our legal constitutional framework loomed large. In hindsight, there is a certain sense of incommensurability between our discussions on the politicity of animals and the narrow, “all-too-human” framing of the national participatory exercise, with its confinement to human speech and the juridical sphere. From the perspective we were attempting to articulate, those deliberations were indeed far away in terms of the conventionality of their assumptions and parameters. Yet, they were also quite close in terms of the question they were purportedly posing and addressing: how are we to articulate our socio-political coexistence? Hence, far from diluting the significance of our initiative, we believe that this distance indicates the urgency and scope of the challenge facing those interested in expanding our political imaginaries to acknowledge and include—in their own terms—the partaking of nonhuman animals in the composition of our common world(s).
Manuel Tironi would like to acknowledge support from
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