At the Ngā Tohu o te Huarere: Conversations Beyond Human Scales conference in December 2022, we announced the winners of the inaugural Deborah Bird Rose prize for postgraduates and early career scholars. It is designed to commemorate and further Deborah Bird Rose’s immeasurable contribution to thinking and feeling in the environmental humanities, both globally and specifically in our region.
The entries were independently read and assessed by three academics – Dr Alda Balthrop-Lewis, A/Prof Emily Potter and Dr Alexis Harley. The standard was so high that the ASLEC-ANZ executive decided to award two prizes of $AUD500. All the reviewers commented on the high standard and exciting ideas contained in the proposals.
Congratulations to the winning entries “On sharks never seen: Absence, nonencounters, and the possibility of extinction in multispecies ethnography” from Sadie Hale and “Abject Communities of Fate: Stories of Activism from Kerala, South India” from Susan Haris.
The recipients will also receive a publication mentorship opportunity if they choose to take it up.
Sadie E. Hale is based in Lisbon, Portugal and completed her Research MA in literature and environmental humanities at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in 2021, where she researched human-nonhuman entanglements and timescales of the Anthropocene with particular reference to Greenland sharks, the planet’s longest-lived vertebrate. In the future, she hopes to expand this research into the sphere of multispecies anthropology. She also holds degrees in Literature (BA Hons, King’s College London) and Gender studies (MSc, London School of Economics).
I’m delighted to have been co-awarded the Deborah Bird Rose Prize 2022. Rose is one of the thinkers I engaged with most deeply in my MA thesis, and her poetic way of writing gave me the confidence to be bolder in my own academic writing. I was saddened to learn that she had passed away just before I began my degree, but to me her legacy lives on through other scholars who build upon her insights. What an honour to have my name associated with hers in this way.
My essay proposal is about different kinds of sharks: Greenland sharks and basking sharks, two large North Atlantic species which are sometimes seen by humans but are by no means easy to ‘access’, and in my case I have never seen. It builds on research and fieldwork that I conducted throughout 2021, in which I explored the tensions inherent to writing about a fellow creature that I could not see for myself. If multispecies ethnography advocates witnessing, immersion, and observation as important pillars of researching nonhuman others, then how can a multispecies ethnographer hope to write well about something they cannot see? Should they even try?
Amidst the sixth extinction and the ongoing depletion of many marine species, I propose that absence could become a productive heuristic for analysing multispecies relations in the Anthropocene. By inhabiting a humble positionality of “situated unknowing” put forth by Michelle Bastian (“Whale Falls”)—itself a concept which arose out of a deep engagement with Rose’s scholarship—I wish to explore Rose’s contention that absence itself can be a provocation, by building in the possibility that “living things [also] communicate by their non-presence […] it is the not-happening that makes it possible for the happening to have meaning” (“To Dance” 291). By respecting sharks’ (and other nonhuman animal) agency to withhold themselves from human view, and if we accept that absence is always a defining feature of our relations with nonhuman others, what implications could this have for multispecies relations going forward?
I also look forward very much to seeing where my co-winner Susan’s proposal takes her as we go forward.
Susan Haris is a doctoral candidate in literature and philosophy at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi and a Fulbright-Nehru research fellow at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her research follows human-animal relations, specifically wild pigs and street dogs, in Kerala, a state in the south of India.
Abject Communities of Fate: Stories of Activism from Kerala, South India: This research project is part of a larger investigation into the lives of animal rights activists in Kerala, India. In investigating their abject affiliations with the animals they care for, this project situates them as members of what Deborah Bird Rose called the ‘community of fate’. How can we think about interdependence from a position of powerlessness and what kinds of cross species kinships emerge from that limit?