AUTHOR: Madlen Kobi, Raúl Acosta, Tilmann Heil
CONTEXT: Workshop at the DGSKA (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Sozial- und Kulturanthropologie), September 28, 2021
The slowdown of human life during the Covid-19 pandemic has brought to public attention emerging constellations of life forms in cities around the world: wild boars exploring deeper areas of Berlin; macaques rebelling against a lack of tourism in Thailand; mountain goats roaming city streets in Wales. This epidemic aptly exemplifies the agentic powers of non-human elements, complementing examples of other-than-human forces in cities such as heat waves, floods, energy grids, urban animal populations, decaying infrastructures, toxic exposures, and cyborgs. The growing attention on the interactions between nature and culture in the discussions of the Anthropocene shapes contemporary approaches in urban anthropology. Thinking the city as an assemblage of human and non-human components nourishes countless debates, showing that urban life happens at the interface, in interrelationship and correspondence with a myriad of forces, materials and lifeforms that can be hardly grasped both empirically and conceptually as ‘urban’. In this panel, we will discuss ethical and political challenges that have emerged through the resulting forms of more-than-human conviviality. Our standpoint is that urban life is made up of multi-scalar arrangements between various life forms and objects that were not considered part of the technocratically-designed cities where most of humanity now lives.
This workshop addresses a.) how more-than-human urban entanglements challenge the concepts and very notion of urban anthropology, reflecting upon the analytic potential that lies in starting an inquiry from the non-human, such as construction materials, air pollutants, plants, viruses, animals, or divine spirits; and b.) how these entanglements challenge the modes in which we engage in ethnography both as research and representation practice. Studying cities anthropologically as these more-than-urban assemblages requires developing ethnographic languages, practices and/or devices to grasp the more-than-human forces, materials and lifeforms that traverse cities.
Raúl Acosta, Institut für Ethnologie, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
Tilmann Heil, Iberian and Latin American Department, Universität Köln