Where Are The Wild Things: A Pilot Study on Human Perceptions of Wild Spaces and Species in Dynamic Arctic Landscapes

Where Are The Wild Things: A Pilot Study on Human Perceptions of Wild Spaces and Species in Dynamic Arctic Landscapes

To date, modern, post-industrial societies have largely made animals invisible from everyday social worlds. For example, contact between humans and non-human animals most often takes place in mediated or highly regulated situations (e.g. through traditional documentary film, or as domesticated pets, or in zoos, or farms). And yet, functioning and positive human and animal relations have always been fundamental to a sustainable planetary society. Over time and across many cultures and peoples, humans and animals have formed diverse, enduring and symbiotic relationships, and animals have long been used to tell us about what it means to be human. Indeed, humans and animals share most spaces on the planet, crossing paths with each other and creating shared places, environments and communities. Despite this potential for symbiosis, scholars and conservationists argue that one key driver of biodiversity loss is an absence of human empathy towards animals. This project aims to find ways to build empathy by better understanding the differences in how humans and animals perceive the landscape.

This pilot project will experiment with creative ethnographic methods to investigate how human empathy with others can be understood, analysed, depicted and created. In it, we plan to test novel audio-visual methods for understanding both human responses to biodiversity as well as empathetic relationships with wild species in the European Arctic. Project fieldwork will take place along a gradient of wildness in Oulanka National Park (Northern Finland), where we will map out both a human walking path and an animal foraging track through participatory mapping exercises co-designed with local groups in order to capture perceptions and emotional responses to wild spaces and species. The walks will be filmed from both human and non-human points of view, using a trio of technologies: 360-degree, immersive VR cameras, trail and animal-attached video and ecoacoustic methods (producing e.g. soundscapes of Finnish Arctic landscapes). Out of this footage, a short, mixed-media film will be produced from the perspective of multiple species. The aim of both the film and analysis of data collected is to better understand how barriers to creating humans’ understanding and empathy of nonhumans can be overcome using visual methods that communicate differences in perceptions and perspectives. We hope that this will help clarify ways in which empathetic co-habitation between species can be fostered and developed. In addition to the films, the scholarship produced will be used to put together a large grant application for EU funding that will expand the current project to include multiple fieldsites, local partners and distribution channels.

The project is funded by the University of Oulu / Academy of Finland, Arctic Cluster Initiative 4 (Arci4), and involves scholars and research students from Cultural Anthropology.

 

Last updated: 2.10.2018