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Title: The political ecology of human-elephant relationships in India : encounters, spaces, politics
Author: Barua, Maan Singh Kharangi
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2013
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This thesis presents an examination of the political ecology of human-elephant relationships in India. Its overall aim is to revitalize the ecology that has been sifted out from the discipline. The thesis draws upon, and consequently develops, more-than-human geography through a sustained engagement of nature-society relations in a non-Western context. The thesis has three broad objectives. First, to examine what more-than-human geography’s emphasis on non-dualistic forms of agency, could contribute to understandings of policy, planning and politics in conservation. Second, to examine the spatial dimensions of human-elephant relations and the social orderings of space which influence these relationships. The third objective of the thesis is to interrogate the politics of elephant conservation through a sustained engagement with diverse modes of human-elephant encounters and the socio-political assemblages with which they are entangled. The thesis first deploys and develops the concept of ‘encounter value’ to account for the different forms of human-elephant encounters and how they contribute to the political economies of biodiversity conservation. The thesis then draws from a multi-sited ethnography examining both encounters and spaces of elephant conservation. It shows how elephants help forge connections across difference and the ways their geographies are reconfigured by global networks of conservation. The third empirical section has an implicit spatial dimension. It is concerned with writing a ‘more-than-human’ geography of landscapes, examining how humans and elephants cohabit with and against the grain of political design. Finally, the thesis examines politics as an ecology of relations, showing how human-elephant relations as well as social and political outcomes may be mediated by materials. Modes of enquiry between these papers overlap. They offer critical insights into three themes that interface between political ecology and more-than-human geography. First, the thesis contributes to conceptualizing modes of human-animal encounters in a symmetrical fashion. It explicates the role of nonhuman agency as an organizing force in political economies of conservation. Second, it posits new understandings of the spaces of animals. This is developed in two ways: landscapes as dwelt, political achievements and as fluid spaces emerging through international networks of environmental governance. Third, the thesis ecologizes politics and goes beyond the humanist frameworks of political ecology. It fosters novel conversations between more-than-human geography and the postcolonial critique of political ecology in the context of human-elephant relationships. Taken together, the thesis offers up a concerted, symmetrical and novel approach to the study people’s relations with animals.
Supervisor: Jepson, Paul Sponsor: University of Oxford Clarendon Fund ; Felix Scholarship ; Harold Hygham Wingate Foundation
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Biodiversity ; Technologies of politics and ecology ; Environmental change ; political ecology ; human geography ; postcolonialism ; posthumanism ; India ; Asian elephant