Globalizing animals: histories for the anthropocene

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Scholars of globalization tend to write about humans. They are interested in the movements of and connections between people, human-made products, ideas and money. As a result, the natural world generally receives only meagre attention in histories of globalization.

In my inaugural lecture, I explore how a more-than-human history of globalization could look like. I do so by focusing on the ways in which the globalization process has changed the interaction between humans and undomesticated animals. The changes are manifold. The infrastructures of globalization – ranging from railroads to pipelines – have influenced the movement of animals. They have contributed to the spread of some species, while hampering the mobility of others. In the twentieth century, furthermore, scientific research has gradually allowed for globally coordinated management regimes that sought to control animal trajectories. Laws, information systems and technologies have been developed to contain or exterminate unwanted animals (such as invasive pests) while protecting others (such as threatened megafauna). Of course, these management regimes cannot be seen independently from the cultural representations of the animals in question. Some representations – for instance in Disney films, tourist folders, or campaigns of international conservation NGOs – have a gained a global reach. By influencing human conceptions and behaviour, they affect concrete animal lives. One can only conclude that undomesticated animals are caught up in the globalization process in multiple ways.

The history of globalization is partially shaped by modernist ambitions of control over non-human life forms. Yet, I think this history also offers more optimistic stories. Looking closely, one finds ideas, practices and technologies that seek to attune human and non-human movements in a shared choreography. Such stories can hopefully prove inspirational in rethinking the interaction between humans and non-human life forms for the future.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationMaastricht
PublisherMaastricht University
Publication statusPublished - 4 Nov 2021


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