Humans Around Their Necks: Seeing the Sea through the Eye of the Albatross

Saturday, January 9, 2010: 3:30 PM
Manchester Ballroom A (Hyatt)
Etienne S. Benson , Harvard University Center for the Environment, Cambridge, MA
A common trope in the cultural productions of marine biologists and conservation advocates of the late twentieth century was that scientific and technological advances had made it possible, for the first time, to see the sea—including its harshest and most remote environments, where sustained observation had previously been impossible—through nonhuman eyes. Adopting the perspectives of albatrosses, tuna, or tube-worms with the help of perceptual prosthetics, it was claimed, would simultaneously produce natural knowledge and kindle sympathetic identification with the objects of research, which were also objects of environmental concern. Through a close reading of one of these texts, I'll show how late-twentieth-century conservation advocates figured the “agency,” “voice,” and “perspective” of nonhuman actors in a marine environment understood not as an alien space or frontier of conquest but as a shared residence, and how such experiments in perspective-taking repositioned the “voice” and “agency” of fisherman and other human actors in the marine environment.
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