Ursula Münster: "Weedy Belongings: Living with Postcolonial Species (invasive lantana, teak, and elephants) in South India"
The Departmental Seminar Series features Ursula Münster, Associate Professor of environmental humanities at the University of Oslo.
This paper explores the co-constituted histories of Lantana camara, colonial teak and disturbed elephants in South India. I argue that in the disturbed landscapes of the Anthropocene, questions of belonging are replaced by questions of survival: how to live together (well) with “postcolonial species”, such as invasive weeds, teak monocultures, or traumatized elephants?
Conservationists consider Lantana camara as one of the most invasive species on this planet. Its seeds have travelled with colonialists from the Americas, and then spread from British botanical gardens all across South Asia. Colonialism facilitated lantana's dispersal: Logging for railways and shipbuilding, and the planting of teak plantations enabled its success. Today, lantana is an integral part of South India’s protected landscapes. Pesticides, fires, chemicals and weeding could not eradicate it. Toxic to herbivores, the plant reproduces rapidly, overgrowing a diversity of grasses. Foresters hold lantana responsible for fatal elephant attacks: its thickets rise high and elephants unexpectedly encounter humans, and kill them. This paper argues that in times of the Anthropocene, questions about rightful belonging don’t help. Rather, lantana’s multispecies relationships point towards questions about the mutual co-constitution of people, plants, and wild elephants. What can we learn from connectivity across time, space and species boundaries? If weeds are here to stay, how can we learn "to live and die well with each other in a thick present" (Haraway)?