- Figuring Our Environments and Living with Critters in the Anthropocene
As any good park ranger will tell you, wildlife management is really about managing the humans. The weight of human dwelling is felt across the globe with no environment or biotope immune from our heft. Indeed, we have terraformed the earth—sometimes intentionally, as with dams and agroindustrial farms, and other times as an unforeseen consequence of our technologies, such as global warming from carbon emissions and aquatic dead zones from pesticide runoff and scarcity of fish due to overfishing. Increasingly, how we live affects how nonhuman life thrives or dies. But what drives how we live?
The question of human dwelling is fundamentally a humanities concern and a foundational question for our work. How we dwell is a matter of what we value as a community. We build and make decisions—conscious and unconscious—based on our understanding of what it means to dwell, to inhabit a place. As humanists, our goal is to understand the unspoken social values at the heart of human dwelling, to bring these to light for conversation and consideration, and to ask how we might dwell differently. How can alternative means of dwelling reflect and structure alternative social values (such as ecological awareness and hospitality for nonhuman life)? Asking these questions gets to some basic structural issues of human habitation. Considerations such as transportation, food sources, power sources, and the size of a modern home are often beyond any individual's power to choose. These aspects of human habitation are structured into how we live, and they quietly expose social values. [End Page 122]
Complementing the question of how we dwell, this essay examines social values of particular communities. As many social theorists (perhaps most notably Habermas 1989) point out, society is an idea and an ideal, which requires and is sustained by members of the community believing in a shared notion of society and instantiating it through lived experience. How we inhabit a place and the mundane rituals of our lives are part of participating in the spoken and unspoken ideas of community. What a society values and how it articulates those values are fundamental humanities concerns. So, with dwelling and social values as guiding questions, we explored the role of nonhumans in two communities, Sinaloa, Mexico, and Phoenix, Arizona, as test cases. Our test cases, both grouped under the rubric Living with Critters, explore and expose the spoken and unspoken values and tensions between the ideas of human community and the wildlife with which these communities share the environment. Our project—designed to be an open-source, replicable, and scalable template that might be employed by other interested university and community groups—emerged from the Humanities for the Environment (HfE), a grant-funded project by the Andrew W. Mellon foundation. Living with Critters was developed as a companion project to Life Overlooked, another outcome of the HfE workshop Multispecies Relationships in the Anthropocene described in the introduction to this special issue. The two companion projects began taking shape in the summer of 2013 and continued to be developed through the summer of 2015.1
Living with Critters takes cues from readings of philosophy of dwelling, from Martin Heidegger's "Building, Dwelling, Thinking" to Herbert Dreyfus on Heidegger to Tim Ingold on human geography and phenomenology (Heidegger 1993; Dreyfus 1993; Ingold 2000). However, we are trying to set our sights on a different task. The Mellon grant in which we were collaborators set as its goal an outcomes-driven humanities perspective—in this case, taking the tool kit of academic knowledge and connecting it with everyday life, with a focus on the environment.
There has been some criticism in the humanities about such applied knowledge as not being sufficiently objective or disinterested. Applied humanities is viewed by some as humanities tainted by advocacy for particular values. It is perhaps common knowledge now but yet worth saying that every method of inquiry contains implicit or explicit values. [End Page 123] Moreover, all scholarship is part of our larger social world; and so like it or not, scholarship is embedded within...