Wild(er)ness: Reconfiguring the Geographies of Wildlife

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Abstract

Amidst millennial talk of the ‘end of nature’ (McKibben 1989), this paper examines the precarious geographies of ‘wildlife’ in rather less apocalyptic terms. Animal (and plant) species designated wild are placed categorically outside the ambit of ‘human society’, confined to inhabiting the margins and interstices of the social world. Yet, we contend, such animals have long been routinely imagined and organized within multiple circuits of social power, which (re)configure them in important ways. These social orderings of animal life confound the moral geographies of wilderness, which presuppose an easy coincidence between the species and spaces of a pristine nature. In this paper, we employ the fluid spatial vocabulary of topology to map a more volatile and relational conception of the fabrics of wildlife. Our arguments are worked through glimpses of two historically very different social orderings of ‘wild’ animals – those associated with the military vernacular of the gladiatorial games of Imperial Rome, and the scientific vernacular of endangered species listing and conservation under CITES (the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species). These ‘foldings’ of wildlife in distant time/space aim to disrupt the linear historical narratives of ‘civilization’ and ‘evolution’, which consign wildlife to marginal spaces with a teleological destiny of erasure.

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