- Wild Life: The Institution of Nature by Irus Braverman
It seems that the more important it becomes to conserve an increasingly imperiled wilderness, the less sure we are what we mean by wilderness, wildlife management, or nature. Is the most appropriate response to threats of extinction an attempt to conserve species in situ or ex situ? What values underlie the choice of one type of recovery plan over another? Have natural habitats been rendered uninhabitable [End Page 112] by climate change and deforestation? Are we too sanguine about human manipulation, however well intended? It is depressing but realistic to accept that some endangered species may (perhaps) be preserved while others (probably) cannot. We must adapt to the idea that “there is not one nature but many”: we should not fetishize or romanticize our concepts of nature, Braverman writes in this ethnographic survey of conservation administrators, breeding specialists, zoo professionals, biologists, and government environmentalists. Disagreements over whether our epoch is indeed Anthropocene—whether human activities cause environmental changes—inflect the viability of conventional and posthumanist models of intervention and restoration. Like any good ethnography, Wild Life reveals dysfunctions, prejudices, habits, and conflicts underlying the straightforward, objective ecological science that we might desire. Braverman intersperses her accounts of people’s anthropocentric, hubristic, dominionist, institutionalist foibles with close-up parables of endangered species, reminding us of why the stakes are so high.
Randy Malamud, Regents’ Professor of English at Georgia State University and a fellow of the Oxford Center for Animal Ethics, is the author of Reading Zoos, Poetic Animals and Animal Souls, A Cultural History of Animals in the Modern Age, and An Introduction to Animals and Visual Culture, as well as books of literary criticism. He writes regularly for the Chronicle of Higher Education.