The Entangled Biologies of ‘Natives’ and ‘Invasives’: Plants and Animals In and Out of Place in the Arkansas Ozarks

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Abstract

Invasive alien species (IAS) are considered one of the major ecological threats of the contemporary international conservation moment, and IAS are often conceived as living pollutants of ‘pure’ native ecosystems. IAS are entangled with economics, historical and contemporary mobilities, and social and political discourses of who and what ‘belongs’ in a given place. The Ozarks is a specific bioregion primarily located in Missouri and Northern Arkansas, and this area has a complex history of Native American habitation, cultural contact, and colonization that further entangles the biotic and abiotic assemblages that comprise the Ozarks. Contemporary environmental conservation praxis involves all of the attendant histories of land management, resource extraction, and the contradictions of conservation and capitalism that wend their ways through the bottomlands and ridgetops of the region. This paper draws on fieldwork conducted in 2015-2017 in the Arkansas Ozarks among self-described environmentalists with a goal of exploring the complicated relationship between conservationists and environmentalists and contested concepts of what they are ‘saving.’ I argue that conservation praxis in the Ozarks blends a love for ‘nature’ with a loathing for the ‘invasive’ plants and animals that accompanied settlers or continue to arrive as part of contemporary global economies. While it is not a new idea, ‘invasiveness’ is one means through which people who live in the Ozarks construct a specific sense of place that is in conversation with ideas of ‘natural’ and national purity, as well as symbolic and actual pollution. This study builds on affect work by Sara Ahmed, Anna Tsing’s anthropology of living in the ruins, and Mel Chen’s work on animacy hierarchies to argue that discourses of ‘native’ and ‘invasive’ are not only part of an Ozarks sense of place, but also key to settler-colonial discourses that substitutes invasive plants as a locus of environmental destruction in lieu of assigning blame to systems of settler-colonialism. I conclude that this process is grounded in the ways that ‘invasiveness’ is a discourse of living matter out of place constructs animals and plants as being culpable for their own existence outside of their ‘proper’ ecosystem.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAmerican Anthropological Association
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2018

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