Eels, Algae, and the World: Nonhuman Actors in Transnational Networks at the Albufera de Valencia, Spain

Saturday, January 7, 2012: 11:30 AM
Superior Room B (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Sarah R. Hamilton, University of Michigan
For more than two centuries, the Albufera de Valencia, a large lake on the Spanish Mediterranean coast, has been the site of social, political, and physical battles to reshape the landscape and redefine the “proper” use of nature. Farmers, filling in its shores to build rice fields, struggled with fishermen who eked out a living from dwindling fish populations, while national and local politicians debated the relative importance of conservation and touristic development. Agricultural subsidies, international trade, and environmental laws imposed in the late-twentieth century further complicated the picture.

Amidst these human stories, a wide variety of nonhuman actors have played pivotal roles in the outcomes of policies and engineering. This paper examines the role of these less-obvious factors in global networks and local outcomes, within the context of the Albufera. Invasive species, from carp to corn-borers, have posed unexpected challenges to traditional activities. Sedimentation and algae blooms, themselves unintended byproducts of upstream human actions, not only fundamentally alter the lake’s ecosystem but stymie the technological works intended to control the lake for a variety of economic uses. In tracing these factors, this paper will illustrate their origins in and influences on the flows of information, practices, and materials across national borders.

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