Species out of Place Investigating the Visual Framing of an Ecological Problem

Monday, July 14, 2014: 10:45 AM
Room: 302
Oral Presentation
Christian HILGERT , Faculty of Sociology, University of Bielefeld, Germany
Invasive species designate a recently emerged category of ecological risks: alien plants and animals, introduced by human agency, causing extinctions of native species and also diverse economic, aesthetic and human health problems. This phenomenon gained much scientific, political and economic attention. It motivated people worldwide to participate in a vast array of organized attempts to preserve and restore local environments.

My paper investigates the frames (Goffman, Gamson) that constitute this ecological claim (Hannigan). Basically it reveals a construction of nature as differentiated in well-ordered, stable, and homogenous units (ecosystems, ecological communities). I argue that specific visual frames are crucial in establishing the problem formula in question by integrating the realms of science, media and political action. Exhibitions, flyers, documentary films, websites and databanks use maps, photographs, graphics, icons and numbers to display environments as relatively homogenous spaces, which enable clear-cut distinctions of inside and outside (native/alien). Thus specific species become perceivable as invaders and understandable as phenomena of disorder (biological pollution). Furthermore visual references of horror and science-fiction stories (aliens, zombies, monsters, mutants) relate factual and technical information metaphorically to more emotional realms of experience and popular imagination. By this means these forms of ecological communication (Luhmann) encourage state actors and civil society to fight against certain species.

The imagery of dangerous aliens strongly resembles notions of political conservatism, romanticism and xenophobia. Hence it aligns with certain cultural critiques of the disintegrative forces of globalization. As national, ethnic and other perceived primordial identities are feared to dissolve, so is nature. But if undoing globalization is inconceivable, and society and nature have to be understood as inseparably entangled (Latour), don’t we have to confront this nostalgic ecology of small-scale orders with a need to originate positive representations of our globalizing environments, as recent postulates of cosmopolitanism (Beck, Heise) suggest?