- A Compelling Ontology of Wildness for Conservation Ecology. A review of Jamie Lorimer, Wildlife in the Anthropocene: Conservation after Nature.
Jamie Lorimer’s Wildlife in the Anthropocene is a bold, provocative, and compelling rethinking of wildlife conservation in the age of the anthropocene. Lorimer’s book is driven by the conviction that “the Anthropocene challenges the modern figure of Nature that has become so central to Western environmental thought, politics, and action” (1). In the anthropocene, Lorimer argues, the natural world is hybrid, nonlinear, and multiple in contrast to its traditional essential, circular, balanced, singular, and holistic image (2). Lorimer’s work takes its place alongside that of Val Plumbwood and Timothy Morton in arguing that the concept of Nature no longer helps us think the state of the world, presenting us with the need “to develop and illustrate a multinatural approach to conservation after the Anthropocene” (5). Lorimer develops “an alternative ontology of wildlife that environmentalists might use in place of Nature for conservation” (20). What excites Lorimer about the notion of “wildlife” is its inherently non-anthropocentric, differentiated, and ever-changing character; wildlife being a concrete instance of the multinatural, always “becoming” character of the natural world. Wildlife and the “ontological politics” associated with it “flags the degree to which any management decision is a biopolitical act,” a managing of life at the level of populations (33). In light of this biopolitics of conservation, Lorimer provides a wide ranging and thorough review of recent literature in conservation, philosophy, geography, and ecology, one that marks the complex transdisciplinary nature of conservation ecology, while proposing a fundamentally “optimistic,” clear, nuanced, and practicable way forward for conservation ecology.
The first chapter sketches Lorimer’s ontology of wildlife, drawing inspiration from sources in ecology, ethnology, and conservation biology, as well as from the “vital materialisms” of Latour, Deleuze, Haraway, and Bennett (21). It is the thinking of this later group, and particularly Deleuze, that most influences Lorimer’s ontology, “a concern for difference … [and] becoming” lying at the heart of his account (32). Adopting Deleuze’s distinction between “difference” and “diversity,” where difference concerns becoming and diversity concerns the given, Lorimer argues that much work in conservation focuses on given, “extant diversity,” capturing the diversity of an ecosystem at a particular historical moment and then universalizing and essentializing this snapshot as the basis of its conservation efforts (32). The central problem with this approach is that it “renders the present eternal at the expense of the generative processes that keep ecology alive” (33). To resist this focus on givenness, Lorimer proposes his “generative” ontology that, like many process and vitalist ontologies, takes the process of becoming as the reality of existence. However, the originality of Lorimer’s account is that it shows “wildlife” to be the reality of ontology. As he writes near the end of Wildlife in the Anthropocene, “Wildlife is [...] multinatural. It is immanent. It is difference—where difference is intensive, concerned less with the diversity of current forms and more with the unruly potential to become otherwise” (181). In “wildlife,” Lorimer finds a more concrete, intuitive, and accurate figure for characterizing existence as a process, capturing the dynamic and substantive nature of reality in a less abstract sense than “difference” or “becoming.” For Lorimer, ontology is wildlife, and he develops the essential features of “wildlife” around four themes: “hybridity, nonhuman agency, immanence, and topology” (21).
Hybridity recognizes a complexity to the world that challenges any thinking of nature, “wilderness,” or “the human” as discrete or fundamentally separable entities, suggesting that all existence is always already an assemblage, a mixture. Noting Donna Haraway’s work on interspecies interactions, Lynn Margulis’s theory of symbiogeneis, and Kathryn Yusoff’s geological work on the essential biochemical entanglement of the bio and the geo, Lorimer argues that one simply cannot conceive ontology as dealing with discrete, essentializable, and more or less self-sufficient entities (21–25). What is important about the hybridity of ontology is that it undermines the applicability of categories like “purity” and “authenticity,” as well as disrupting conservation ecology’s reliance on...