The Embodied Work of Wilderness

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 11:24
Oral Presentation
Gary CATANO, Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada
This talk considers how, for natural and cultural resource managers employed by the United States National Park Service (NPS), the construction of “resources” – the transformation of plants, animals, geologies, and artefacts into quantifiable and useful institutional objects – is an embodied practice, one that brings workers into textually and technologically mediated contact with non-human nature as a fundamental aspect of the labour process. Social-scientific treatments of national parks, monuments, and protected areas focus heavily on visitation and the conceptual facets of park-making. These approaches neglect the everyday and increasingly precarious realities of parks as workplaces, and of resource management rangers as workers. Drawing on interview and participant observation data collected during twenty-two weeks spent living and working with NPS employees at Lava Beds National Monument, my research addresses this omission by examining how the work of parks gets done through the voices and experiences of park workers themselves. Through an analysis of acoustic bat monitoring and archeological survey projects conducted at Lava Beds throughout the summer of 2017, the processes by which institutionally meaningful natural resources emerge out of scientific practice, and the ways in which humans come to know, care about, and relate to the world through their labour will be explored. I also consider how local, park-specific texts, and translocal federal directives influence and exert power over these bodies at work – both human and non-human. Institutional ethnography reveals how texts such as research protocols, standard operating procedures, and the Organic Act of 1916 work in concert to shape reality for park workers, informing their relationships to power, and potential paths to resistance. I argue that a focus on the body, a focus on the pleasures, pains, and disappointments of resources work has the potential to build alternative worlds of interspecies care, knowledge, and place based resistance.