The newly-released Routledge Handbook of Ecocultural Identity was co-edited by José Castro-Sotomayor and Sonar advisor Tema Milstein. The book features chapters from Sonar members Toni Frohoff, Elizabeth Oriel and Laura Bridgeman, and advisor David Abram.
Toni and Elizabeth teamed up to write a chapter titled Interspecies Ecocultural Identities in Human-Elephant Cohabitation. The abstract is below:
One could map the diversity of human-elephant relationships on the landscape and, correspondingly, map the continuum of these interspecies dynamics on both human and elephant psyches. The mind or psyche is an ecological system, as landscapes are, and these systems reflect and mirror one another. Accordingly, landscape designs correspond to and materialize subjective positions and perceptions. Across Asia and Africa, human-elephant conflict occurs within a complex nexus of ecological, subjective and social relations that inform and emerge from one another. This chapter explores this nexus, with attention to the interplay of landscape, land-based practices, and ecocultural identities for both humans and elephants in India, Sri Lanka, and Kenya. Highly disrupted and fragmented landscapes, altered by human activity, become especially challenging systems for human and elephant coexistence. Historically, human and elephant lifeways and cultures formed interweaving and often mirroring patterns of mobility and shared permeable spaces.
Working with extant literature, we explore how these patterns reflect pluralistic or dialogic relations and hegemonic or monologic influences. Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin argues the world and existence are dialogic, with different contesting perspectives coexisting, though this reality can be overlain with monologue which subsumes difference into one voice, one perspective. In certain areas within elephant ranges, traditional dialogic patterns have been losing out to a complex mix of monologic anthropocentric land designs, often precipitated by colonial rule. We argue that historic trans-species negotiations and relations generate and are generated by selves that are hybrid forms, acknowledging interdependencies and mingling amid shared more-than-exclusive spaces, mirrored in permeable concepts of self. We begin tracing the historic route from cohabitation to conflict, and we discuss how conflict reflects monologic relations to landscapes and selves. We then explore how dialogic identities touch the social, subjective and physical spaces for humans and elephants, and examine movement and shared permeable spaces and the loss of these in relation to human-elephant coexistence.
Laura Bridgeman wrote a chapter titled Western Dominator Ecocultural Identity and the Denial of Animal Autonomy. The abstract is below.
The horse-man (not woman) is both metaphor and lived relationship, illuminating the Western dominator ecocultural identity that actively denies animal sentience and physical autonomy. The horse-man relationship has played a central symbolic and literal role throughout Western civilization, with the horse’s body serving as a site of both representation and acting-out of the domination of gendered selves and othered animals according to the chain-of-being hierarchy originating with Plato. The relationship has remained core to the dominator identity for thousands of years, including during waves of colonization and in recent assertions of white racial supremacy. By critically examining the relationships rendered by the horse-man metaphor, the author advocates for the practice of a loving ecocultural identity that replaces domination with respect within relations with individuals of other species.
Buy the book here, and to request these two chapters email laura (at) wearesonar.org.