Do Antarctica’s animals need to be decolonized? Environmental Lunchtime Discussion

Antarctica is a famously a continent with no people – or at least, no people who call the continent home – and people are usually regarded as central to any definition of colonialism. In this talk, Peder Roberts, associate professor at the Faculty of Arts and Education at the University of Stavanger, asks whether the way humans engage with the living environment of Antarctica nevertheless can be analyzed in terms of colonialism.

The idea that the continent without people should also be a scene of colonialism seems counter-intuitive. There were no Indigenous Antarctic peoples to subjugate, convert, or attempt to mould into European archetypes. Some scholars have nevertheless argued that colonialism is a useful framework because the way humans have engaged with Antarctic environments bears the hallmarks of the colonial mindsets that Europeans employed in so many other parts of the world. Antarctic animals were classified, regulated, and harvested. The intertwined logics of capitalism and colonialism supported a view of Antarctica as a space to be conquered and exploited, the inscription of European names on maps matched by the incorporation of Antarctic animals into systems of scientific knowledge and global markets. That kind of thinking also centred an anthropocentric view of humans as rulers and animals as resources. Efforts to decolonize science and environmental management have challenged this last position, and there are good reasons to support applying that view to Antarctica. But if we describe human treatment of Antarctic animals as a form of colonialism, does it stretch the term to breaking point? The penguins can be liberated in the sense of humans deciding not to interfere with them. Describing that process as decolonization seems to miss an important point about agency and subjecthood – and misses the fact that the mistreatment of animals under colonial regimes has invariably been as much about controlling people through animals as it has been about controlling the animals themselves.

About the speaker

Peder Roberts works at the University of Stavanger and at KTH Royal Institute of Technology. He is interested in the historical relationships between science, politics, and ideas of environmental management in the polar regions and how these shape the present. He is leader of the ERC-funded project Greening the Poles: Science, the Environment, and the Creation of the Modern Arctic and Antarctic.

About the event series

The OSEH Environmental Lunchtime Discussion series consists of short, 15 minute presentations by invited guests, followed by a discussion. We invite speakers from a wide variety of fields, both academic and beyond. The presentations are accessible and are aimed at anyone with an interest in environmental issues. All are welcome.

Tags: OSEH, HF, Conservation, Antartic Studies
Published Aug. 12, 2021 2:35 PM - Last modified Oct. 11, 2021 10:32 AM