Our Elusive Neighbours: Imagining and Negotiating Natures with Urban Coyotes

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 19:00
Oral Presentation
Nhi Ha NGUYEN, Queen's University, Canada
The history of human–wildlife relationships in urban spaces is a socio–historical account of multiple “natures” in the context of environmentalism and city development. Taken for granted in everyday life, urban wildlife appears as an ongoing pragmatic lesson on eco–social coexistence at best, and at its most unruly, a sobering, embodied reminder of a sublime nature, as awe–ful as it is an escapist spectacle for upper–class recreation. A liminal social imaginary that increasingly transgresses modern nature–culture boundaries, the urbanized, non–domesticated nonhumans colloquially known as urban wildlife thus provide a unique lens, through which the complexities of governing human–animal relations can be examined. Situated at the crossroads of public imagination, popular media and narratives of “nature” encounters, this project investigates environmental hermeneutics and the construction of “risk” as a determinant of accountability in urban wildlife interactions.

This research centers on urban coyotes, which belong to a category of non–domesticated nonhumans I define as “urbanized animals”. The designation refers to those highly versatile species that have become habituated to, yet not completely dependent on human livelihood (e.g. urban red foxes, pigeons). Partly an effect of their characteristic elusiveness, and partly because of the dynamics of modern nature-culture dichotomies, the presence of urban coyotes is largely inconspicuous unless a risk element makes them visible. The proposed research is an ethnographic inquiry into the discursive framing of urban, nonhuman Others as risks, as entangled as this process is with a triangulation of governance practices, public opinion and popular media. It will contribute to the social sciences through exploring the following questions: In what way is our perspective of elements of the cityscape influenced by and influences governance of humans and nonhumans' behaviours? How are human encounters with urban wildlife coproduced through different imaginations of “nature”?