After fifteen weeks of reading, analyzing, critiquing and implementing "Environment" is a word so embedded in environmental discourse and scholarship that it has effectively disappeared. We all know what the environment is—or do we? And what do our unexamined assumptions about environment mean for how we approach environmental issues? A careful examination of the word might lead us to... More concepts and theories, our work has culminated into a preliminary framework for our senior capstones. We have established an idea of our framing question and now must begin to build the top of our hourglass. To do so we need to understand what concepts and theories will be guiding our work, otherwise we risk having more of a never ending spider web than an hourglass.
At the heart of my framework is my framing question: To what extent should popular opinion influence conservation decisions? With my question I wanted to express some of the broad topics of my area of interest, without explicitly stating them. I have come to view the issue of bat conservation as a unique case study of conserving despised species. Human society recognizes charismatic species for their cute faces or humanistic characteristics. Charismatic species now represent many conservation efforts and rake in donations (Courchamp, Ducarme & Luque, 2013). While this appears to be a good fundraising tactic, I want to study how it affects despised species like bats. This comes at an especially turbulent time as bats were likely the conduit for the spillover of COVID-19.
This project is meant to build a bridge between ENVS Theories and writing our senior thesis. Next semester, I will expand upon this framework, but so far I have boiled it down to four main elements. Below, I expand on what they are and why I found them significant to my framework.
Conservation – In our study of conservation, it has broadly been defined as “actions that are intended to establish, improve or maintain good relations with nature” (Sandbrook, 2015, 565). This is extremely broad and reflects the broad opinions held about conservation. There are debates about why, what, where, and how to conserve (Sandbrook, 2018, 18-19). In my thesis I will have to define how I believe conservation should be enacted in the case of bats in (likely) Southeast Asia. It will take a lot more research to narrow down what this concept means to me, but a likely place to start is the debate between old and new conservation (Holmes, Sandbrook, and Fisher, 2017).
Urban Ecology – Coming from a biology background I am used to studying relationships between organisms and their habitat. As humans have shifted their habitats, the field of urban ecology has formed, or “the study of ecological patterns and processes in towns and cities” (Francis, 2018, 471). Bats have increasingly come into closer contact with humans. Urban ecology allows the study of bats and their relationship to humans rather than their habitat. This element also plays in with conservation, because for me, it shows how typical conservation efforts do not currently work for all species.
Charismatic & Despised Species – I first came across the concept of charismatic species when we wrote our first post on our areas of interest. There is debate and confusion over the usefulness and definition of this term. Mainly that, “this arbitrary prioritization represents a major concern to many scientists as there is an important risk to bias the view we have of ecosystems, hence the way we act for their conservation” (Courchamp, Ducarme & Luque, 2013, 4). I figured the reverse of charismatic species would be despised species, or organisms that are not popular in the public eye or used as a rallying point for conservation efforts.
Globalization – As zoonotic diseases have become more commonplace and spillover events increased in occurrence, bats have become more notorious. Throughout history, lore has given bats a bad connotation. Due to recent events, the stigmas have worsened to the point that even academic literature is negatively biased (López, Adrià, and Llamazares, 2018). However, I question the validity of perceiving bats as merely vectors of disease. Bats have been around for 50 million years, their immune systems adapting to carry viruses with little inflammatory response. It is processes such as globalization, urbanization, deforestation, etc. that have disturbed the habitats of bats and brought us closer to them. By doing so we have increased the likelihood of disease transmission.
This process really helped me focus on what exactly I wanted my research to culminate into, and how to use bats as my case study. I feel that I was doing so much reading and thinking this semester that at times it felt like the connections were never ending and I was going to end up with an incoherent mess. Mapping out my framework gave me direction and more confidence in my eventual thesis. It has also gotten me excited to read over break and begin to determine my methodology. My preliminary situated context is in Southeast Asia and I hope to solidify that as I read.
- Courchamp, Franck, Ducarme, Frederic, & Luque, Gloria M. 2013. “What are ‘charismatic species’ for conservation biologists?” BioSciences Master Reviews.
- Francis, Robert A., 2018. “Urban ecology.” In Companion to Environmental Studies, edited by Noel Castree, Mike Hulme, & Jim Proctor, 471-476. New York: Routledge.
- Holmes, George, Sandbrook, Chris, and Fisher, Janet A. 2017. “Understanding Conservationists’ Perspectives on the New-conservation Debate.” Conservation Biology, 31, 353-63.
- López, Baucells, Adrià, Ricardo Rocha, and Llamazares, Álvaro Fernández. 2018. “When Bats Go Viral: Negative Framings in Virological Research Imperil Bat Conservation.” Mammal Review 48, 62–66. doi:10.1111/mam.12110.
- Sandbrook, Chris. 2015. “What is conservation?” Oryx, 49, 565-566.
- Sandbrook, Chris. 2018. “Conservation.” In Companion to Environmental Studies, edited by Noel Castree, Mike Hulme, & Jim Proctor, 258-262. New York: Routledge.