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Aesthetics of loss: biodiversity, banal violence and biotic subjects

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


Journal publication date10/2012
JournalTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers
Number of pages15
Original languageEnglish


As we take stock of biodiversity loss, part of the challenge has been to ‘make present’ those barely visible sites of life and death that characterize this extinction event. In this act of making present is the question of how non-human beings come into being through representational acts. While there are numerous attempts in conservational practices to bring to the fore the relational ties between beings to stress care or affinity across human-non-human worlds, the difficult relations of loss and violence are often excluded from the scene. But, in giving up on violence, which is so clearly part of the relation in biodiversity loss, what do we forego? If, as Judith Butler suggests, grief itself can be made into a resource for politics, which rather than rendering inaction instead cements a commitment to identification, and thus gives itself to relation, might violence lead us somewhere other than into the dark night? Rather, this paper suggests that we consider violence as a constitutive part of our relation to the diversity and dynamism of life on earth. Two things crucially change when we allow violence to be part of the frame; firstly, we begin to understand some of the risks associated with our conceptualisation of relations and the framing of subjects; secondly, by shifting the visual and conceptual frame we begin to address how non-human populations are indirectly targeted and thus can begin to reconstitute our relations in ways that eschew this violence. I argue that an engagement with economies of loss challenges us to reconfigure our understandings of relations beyond our social to our worldly sensibilities. In conclusion the paper suggests that relational approaches to biodiversity loss must be attentive to the ties that are uncovered through violence as much as those made through care.

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