Interspecies ecocultural identities in human–elephant cohabitation

Authored by: Elizabeth Oriel , Toni Frohoff

Routledge Handbook of Ecocultural Identity

Print publication date:  May  2020
Online publication date:  May  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138478411
eBook ISBN: 9781351068840
Adobe ISBN:


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In Chapter 8 of the Routledge Handbook of Ecocultural Identity, Oriel and Frohoff explore ways one could map the diversity of human–elephant relationships on the landscape and, correspondingly, map the continuum of these interspecies dynamics on both human and elephant psyches. The mind or psyche is an ecological system, as landscapes are, and these systems reflect and mirror one another. Accordingly, landscape designs correspond to and materialize subjective positions and perceptions. Across Asia and Africa, human–elephant conflict occurs within a complex nexus of ecological, subjective and social relations that inform and emerge from one another. The authors explore this nexus, with attention to the interplay of landscape, land-based practices, and ecocultural identities for both humans and elephants in India, Sri Lanka, and Kenya. Highly disrupted and fragmented landscapes, altered by human activity, become especially challenging systems for human and elephant coexistence. Historically, human and elephant lifeways and cultures formed interweaving and often mirroring patterns of mobility and shared permeable spaces. In certain areas within elephant ranges, traditional dialogic patterns have been losing out to a complex mix of monologic anthropocentric land designs, often precipitated by colonial rule. Oriel and Frohoff argue that historic trans-species negotiations and relations generate and are generated by selves that are hybrid forms, acknowledging interdependencies and mingling amid shared spaces, mirrored in permeable concepts of self. The authors begin tracing the historic route from cohabitation to conflict, and discuss how conflict reflects monologic relations to landscapes and selves. They explore how dialogic identities touch the social, subjective and physical spaces for humans and elephants, and examine movement and shared permeable spaces and the loss of these in relation to human–elephant coexistence.

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