From non-native “weed” to butterfly “host”: knowledge, place, and belonging in ecological restoration
Anderson, Robert Myron
MetadataShow full item record
Increasing recognition that what we call “natural” landscapes and ecosystems are often co-produced through human activities has prompted a proliferation of conversation, across the natural and social sciences, about the meaning and role of ecological restoration in the 21st century. Emergent concepts such as the Anthropocene and “post-Natural” conservation work to destabilize conventional categories, such as “native” species, that have been used by restorationists to answer the question of what plants and animals belong in particular places. Such categories matter because the forms of life that are understood to belong are actively made to live through the practices of restoration, while others are killed or allowed to die. I apply the Foucauldian lens of conservation biopolitics to an ethnographic case study of a restoration project aimed to foster the life of a species of endangered butterfly on San Juan Island, WA. This case provides evidence of multiple environmentalist discourses of restoration, exemplified by competing norms regarding a plant, once considered a non-native “weed,” that is now carefully propagated as an important “host” plant for butterfly reproduction. Tensions between the different approaches to this restoration project provide insight into the human values underlying the scientific knowledges that constitute the discourses of restoration and conservation. The processes of life-making and place-making inherent to restoration, I argue, shape human understandings of ourselves in relation to “nature,” through processes of normalization and discipline that create environmentalist subjectivities. Through critical discourse analysis of the effort to foster butterfly and host plant lives, I examine how particular kinds of places and human subjects are made through the biopolitical endeavor of ecological restoration. In contrast with critiques of restoration as a nostalgic practice aimed at re-creating the past, I argue that contemporary restoration discourses have promise to provide a foundation for a (bio)political understanding of human intervention in “nature” that is explicitly conceived through relationships between human and nonhuman life.
- Geography