Anthropology and Environment Society
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
Rather than a physical manifestation of the human conquest over nature, cities are convivial spaces of multi-species assemblage (Hinchliffe & Whatmore, 2006). However, violent attempts to uphold the nature/ culture divide remain pervasive (Castree, 2014): urban ‘liminanimals’, for instance, are often detested and policed. This paper interrogates NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “War on Rats”: an aggressive and expensive extermination attempt where rats are cast as “matter out of place” (Douglas, 1966): threatening to health and quality of life. I ask why rats, which pose minimal health risks, are slaughtered, while other wild-lives are simultaneously encouraged. Through focusing on one “battleground”, Central Park, I contextualise the “War on Rats” discourse in wider histories and processes of exclusion: that of homeless people, homosexual cruisers, and black protesters, as well as inclusion: "Nature Sanctuaries" and a zoo welcome some nature, and some people, into NYC. Thus, this is not just a war on nature/ city muddling: it is one on a certain kind of conviviality, a certain kind of nature, which is entangled with wider classist, racist and homophobic spatial orderings. Through this I reveal that understandings of ‘civilised’ spaces of city and nature rely on complex performances of modernity that bears heavy consequence on those species and groups that have been rendered 'uncivilised' through unjust historical processes. I therefore expose the fatal selectivity in our celebration of convivial cities. This paper thus challenges the aversion towards cities in anthropology (Passaro, 1997) and brings a critical anthropological lens to urban ecology literatures.