We offer the following annotated bibliography as a set of prompts that may expand your thinking or doing of more-than-human-design:
[work in progress]
The authors draw on extensive work being undertaken within urban and cultural geographies to articulate a new direction for urban planning theory. Rooted in the idea of humans as part of a multispecies community cohabitating in the Anthropocene, they ask what a ‘good’ more-than-human city might look like. Arguing against the conceit of human exceptionalism and urban exceptionalism, the authors position the city as part of the greater landscape and as including nature rather than separated from it, that is, acknowledging nature’s urbanisation. Houston et al. present two key concepts intended as guides for enacting a multispecies urban planning: multispecies entanglements and becoming-world. Multispecies entanglement is defined as connectivity thinking that displaces the human by considering the role of nonhumans in maintaining and productively living in the city’s ecological landscape, and the alternative politics, space and ethics that become visible within the urban environment. Becoming-world (Braidotti 2013) extends Haraway’s (2010, 2015) ‘becoming-with’ into a post-human process of collective worlding, a dissolution of the individual in favour of assembled more-than-human alliances. Building on these ideas, the authors offer three specific challenges to planners:
- Abandon the traditional idea that political rights, entitlements and deserts only apply to people;
- Confront the very real problem of defining political subjects in a world where the boundaries between humans and nonhumans are hard to discern and arguably tenuous;
- Expand political reasoning to include nonhumans, without resorting to the idea that the latter exist ‘in themselves’ (Castree, 2003: 207, in Metzger, 2014b: 208).
van Dooren and Rose consider the urban/rural dualism that has emerged with the image of the city as a strictly human space, and present case studies of little penguins and flying foxes as a way of demonstrating how nonhumans connect with the city environment and render it meaningful on their terms. The paper develops the idea of ‘storied-place’, based on an ethics of conviviality, and considers place as ‘emplaced, embodied, and enlivened through multiple stories’ (pp.02). The authors trace the idea of storied-place back to philosopher Edward Casey whose central thesis was that ‘places are formed between bodies and the terrains they inhabit’ (pp.02) and become imbued with meaning rather than remaining simply physical. Building on this, they turn to Jakob von Uexküll who established the concept of ‘Umwelt’, the lifeworld of an organism and its surrounds, and proposed an intersubjective nature with embodied animals rather than animals as objects. The authors further consider how ‘story’ fits into this concept of place, and suggest narrative and ‘time-binding’, as described by Loren Eisley and used by Paul Shepard, as alternatives to the more meaningless ‘chronology’. They suggest that animals as embodied, intersubjective beings live in the city through the creation of narrative, and imbue specific places with meaning through these narratives, despite not being able to share and articulate them as stories.
Find text here.
Following a recent description of massive oceanic biodiversity loss as “the simplification of the sea” (Howarth et al. 2014: 48), Probyn argues that our cultural and political understanding of ‘what’ and ‘who’ exists in environments such as the ocean are also being simplified. She maintains that scholars need to examine both the production of representations in multiple disciplines and discrete ideologies in order to move beyond the limited conceptualisations that these convey. Spivak’s framing of representation - itself drawn from Marx’s distinction between Vertretung (‘proxy’, i.e. stepping into another’s place: that is, as political representation) and Darstellung (portrait) - are used by Probyn to illustrate the problems of ‘speaking in the name of’ and ‘re-presenting’ (that is, placing elsewhere) when speaking of nonhumans. An (our?) understanding of others is limited by these two modes, as has been evidenced by many postcolonial, feminist and queer critiques. Is it possible to move beyond such simplications and dismantle the human-centred ‘we’? We must - as Cary Wolfe and others have called for - remember that when ‘we’ speak for nonhuman beings, what is spoken of are the relations between ‘us’ and ‘them’, which inevitably points to the serious question of who ‘we’ even is.
Gissen calls for a different set of relations between ‘nature’ and architecture: recognising objects and their surrounds are co-constituted simultaneously rather than perpetuating binary concepts of architecture either as discrete objects serving to larger socio-technical/natural systems or autonomous work answerable only to itself. Gissen associates these two frameworks with Reyner Banham and Manfredi Tafuri. Banham saw the environment as a system external to architecture but suggested architecture-environment relations could be created through the use of technology. ‘Spatial enclosures’ generated through control of heating, water, and electrical flows; thus securing ‘environment’ within the values of American postwar capitalism. Tafuri argued for the ‘autonomy’ of architecture – a refusal to act only as consumerist spectacle. In his view, architecture needed to be liberated from becoming a tool of economic growth, though this position easily produces an architecture aloof to the social and environmental pressures created by human intervention. In contemporary discourse, architecture operationalises the environment through vast data sets (MVRDV, etc) or rejects its entanglement entirely (Mark Foster Gage, etc), reinforcing our surrounds as a passive set of conditions rather than actively produced relations. Thinking through architecture as ‘territory’ liberates us from either trap, and requires a turn to critical geography to interrogate philosophy, science, spatial concerns, aesthetics, and complexities of ‘nature’. It must be remembered that architecture can ‘warp’ the socio-natural conditions it is situated within. Foremost, we design natures that call worlds into being.
Frichot reminds us that “[e]nvironments are ubiquitous” (2019, 16): everywhere - but, significantly, never just outside or backgrounded. Indeed, architecture is often considered a ‘built’ environment’, but we should remember it both produces, and is embedded in, many environments itself. Frichot is quick to focus on the ‘we’ often assumed within architectural discourse and asks, who or what makes up this category? Does it contain simply humans, or does its scope include nonhuman creatures and life processes – and even institutional arrangements and technological infrastructures? Key to this question is the recognition of ‘environment’ as unstable and active rather than fixed and passive. ‘We’ both inhabit the environment and it inhabits ‘us’. As such, nature-culture and society are always entangled – and thus we might come to view ‘nature’ itself as an exhausted concept. Frichot notes these ideas are not new however, and draws attention to “feminist thinkers in architecture [who] have persistently engaged with questions of space, environment and territoriality.” (p. 26). In particular, she highlights connections between architecture, environment and the city via technology, and surmises that architects are (possibly) practicing through remaking ‘possible worlds’: a notion which also has precedents in Uexküll’s Umwelt and how information and meaning is circulated in environments amongst all living creatures; Deleuze & Guattari’s formulation of ‘ecology’ as every territory enclosing, cutting across, and intersecting other species’ territories; and Haraway’s insistence that ‘it matters what ideas we use to think other ideas. It matters what worlds world worlds’ (p. 34). Ultimately, within the discipline of architecture, perspectives and views of the world are required that confound anthropocentric thinking. To do this, Frichot suggests we reconsider architecture: not just as a designed technological apparatus that facilitates human exceptionalism (and which usually forgets other lives co-mingling with it), but instead interrogate who is able to access such an environment. While environments support and sustain all living beings, architects – through ‘managing’ the environment – directly benefit some more than others. Architectural practice should therefore acknowledge there is a ‘contrapuntal’ relationship that is material AND virtual, but that power is not always balanced within this mix.
A consideration of animals in architecture and design highlights questions of technology, material/visual culture and human-nonhuman relations, all of which are ultimately political and economic in character. Wolch & Owens argue that we should note this in particular, especially given the rapid rise of biotech markets and a late capitalist drive to co-opt creativity and experimentation. While contemporary narratives of resilience and ecological crisis point towards a de-centring of the human (and as per significant theorists like Tsing, Haraway and Barad who have reframed subjectivity beyond charismatic fauna), nonhuman projects in architecture and design merely seem to repeat existing typologies, aestheticise neo-modernist interpretations of existing typologies or – at best – offer art- or design-led speculations, rather than posit projects (built or otherwise) that “think carefully about who receives design attention, how much, and for what ends” (p.15). Further, when connections are made between human-animals relations, technology and knowledge in projects (built or otherwise), it is animals who are instrumentalised (non-animal others are rarely foregrounded) in designs for wholly ‘human’ purposes. The participation politics of these manoeuvres require interrogation: who is cast as unwilling or even unaware labour, and why must ‘wild’ life so often become subject to design as a ‘regime of control’?
Wolch & Owens surveyed 86 architectural projects purportedly for animals from 2000-2014 and found the vast majority dealt with vertebrates, and mostly companion animals like cats and dogs at that. Few engaged with the animal’s sensory realm or experiences outside of industry-standard practices, and many manifest instead as ‘designerly luxury houses’ which situate the animal in question more frequently as a novel form of ‘human’. Other significant projects included pragmatic wildlife restoration and strategies for environmental behaviour modification, or mitigating urban human-animal encounters (such as Studio Gang’s bird-collision reduction high-rise towers). Increasing literacy in systems theory, complexity and energy flows have led to a growing number of landscape project which reimagine future conditions, though these are largely infrastructural in nature and quantification-focussed (such as SCAPE’s Oyster-tecture project and MOMA’s Rising Currents exhibition), flattening out the actual experience of more-than-human encounters. A strong neo-modernist ‘alienation from nature’ trope thus ran through most projects surveyed, ignoring the multispecies ‘becoming’ that co-constitutes human experience. Perhaps unsurprisingly, those animals closest to us in an evolutionary sense (apes) or in terms of contemporary industrial lifestyles (livestock) received little to no attention.
Wolch & Owens identify a final category of animal architecture and design: that of the operationalised lifeworld, most notably apparent in art-driven projects such as Jeremijenko & Benjamin’s ‘Amphibious Architecture’, Anne Galloway’s ‘Counting Sheep’ and Chris Woebken’s ‘Animal Superpowers’. Here, animals are produced performatively only, with (speculative) information regarding the perceptual characteristics of nonhumans mined for human aesthetic consideration. All these imaginings and re-imaginings produce a charismatic species other as a managed encounter rather than engaging with an ontology that might be more-than-human. Ultimately, this works to create a depoliticised and quasi-scientific metanarrative to most projects while obscuring many problematic concepts (such as the racialised identification of ‘native’ species) that underpin designing for the nonhuman.
In depth analysis of the term ‘care’ as it has developed ethically and politically from feminist theory into more-than-human worlding. Bellacassa gives a thorough grounding in the way care has operated within labor/work, affect/affections and ethics/politics, seeing within this history the need for speculative, creative engagement (she describes this as ‘critical speculative thought’). Bellacassa thinks with many theorists and writers, in particular Donna Harraway and focuses the final chapters on Permaculture as a practice of ecological care.
This book makes a case for thinking about invasive species through nurturing practices, rather than eradication, culling, etc - putting a permaculture lens on restoration practices. She argues we should look to cultivate beneficial relationships for and with invasive species, rather than treat them like enemies. In many environments, after all, humans could very easily be seen as an invasive species. While it draws on case studies that pertain specifically to landscape restoration, it (like all permacultural thinking) can be seen through a broader lens.
Unlike most theory books, and in sync with most permaculture books, it moves from patterns (theory/principles) to details (pragmatic acts, species lists, etc). Arguably, the chapter ‘Thinking Like and Ecosystem’ is one of the more relevant to this project.