Department of Ecological Anthropology

Department of Ecological Anthropology

In the 21st century, it is increasingly clear that nature and culture are not separate domains. Agricultural practices, resource extraction industries, and growing infrastructures are some of the human activities deeply transforming the Earth’s surface, climate and ecosystems. Manufactured materials such as plastics have become embedded in and will shape the planet’s bio-geo-chemical composition for millennia. Forest-roaming animals are learning to inhabit urban spaces alongside humans; humans grapple with domestic animals who have crossed oceans and now thrive feral, endangering native species. Livestock and crops are genetically and chemically modified; our social lives technologically and algorithmically organised. We live in an age when humans have gained unprecedented power to alter and manage what the modernist imagination has defined as nature, yet our lives are increasingly subject to it as we learn to live under the shadow of impending environmental crises and uncertain futures. There are new social worlds rapidly emerging from these complex sets of relations, worlds which require an anthropology that looks beyond narrowly defined human affairs.

The Department of Ecological Anthropology draws on a vibrant and evolving form of scholarship nested in a broad array of intellectual traditions and theoretical approaches including science studies, economic anthropology, medical anthropology, subaltern studies, more-than-human geography, human-animal studies and environmental humanities. This scholarship adopts an ecological approach to understanding the social, examining how socio-cultural worlds emerge through the ongoing interaction between humans, geographical features, animals, plants, microbiomes, technologies, materials and other nonhumans. Such interactions include, rather than stand apart from, human economy. Bearing in mind that ecology and economy stem from the same root word oikos, the department’s vision of ecological anthropology highlights the significant role of economic processes in governing emerging socio-ecologies. While dedicated to empirically grounded work, the department’s researchers aim at opening new horizons of social scientific enquiry, asking questions leading to the development of relevant concepts, including but not limited to: nonhuman agency, animal and environmental ethics, moral economy, informality, materiality, biosecurity, (post)colonialism, and belonging.

The methodology employed in the department draws on ethnographic investigation based on long-term, intensive, but sensitive engagement in the form of participant observation combined with formal and informal interviews. This approach stimulates profound contact with research interlocutors, human and non-human alike, generating long-term commitment with important epistemic and ethical consequences. Departmental researchers are aiming at using ethnography in collaborative ways and for comparative ends, which often requires a broader historical perspective and the adoption of historical methods including archival research. When relevant, departmental researchers also creatively deploy a range of other methods for empirical data production and interpretation, independently or in close cooperation with experts from other disciplines not limited to social sciences and humanities. Such methodological eclecticism is a foundation for a holistic approach that stimulates the ability to see the bigger picture from various, often marginalized viewpoints. This is a crucial asset in the time of evermore fragmented knowledge production.

Current and future research foci:

  • Shifting waste regimes in contemporary Europe.
  • Disposal practices and subsequent recovery and transformation of value.
  • Informality, with special interest in moral and ethical dimensions of economic practices.
  • Paradoxes of thrift within a comparative perspective.
  • Negotiations of multispecies co-existence within global(izing) regimes of biosecurity.
  • Hunting as a practice of multispecies co-existence.
  • Role of veterinary medicine in creation and maintenance of cosmopolitical order.