Walking Backwards into a Multispecies World
Ethical Considerations from Ethnographic Fieldwork in Biosecurity
In the Māori world, people move backwards into the future. The past is on the horizon, we can see it, we know it. The future remains uncertain, we must sharpen our senses and proceed with caution. This article contends that a change of perspective is the most powerful tool to identify multiple ethical implications when conducting research in settings characterized by unfolding processes that weave together human interventions and non-human agency. Walking backwards and based on ethnographic fieldwork in Māori lands, scientific laboratories, research nurseries, and healthy and declining forest in the upper North Island of New Zealand, this paper reflects on the ethical issues that arise from meeting in the field with scientists, Indigenous experts, lethal microorganisms, and giant ancient trees, while also considering the evidence of past multispecies encounters and the uncertainty of future ones. Aware that most of the terrestrial biomass remains outside the field of vision of institutional review boards, this article argues for the adoption of a broader conception of ethics, not as a human construct associated with the production of knowledge, but rather as an essential component of all interdependencies that make life possible on Earth.
Bell, Kirsten. 2014. “Resisting Commensurability: Against Informed Consent as an Anthropological Virtue”. American-Anthropologist 116, no. 3: 511-522.
Celermajer, Danielle, David Schlosberg, Lauren Rickards, Makere Stewart-Harawira, Mathias Thaler, Petra Tschakert, Blanche Verlie and Christine Winter. 2020. “Multispecies Justice: Theories, Challenges, and a Research Agenda for Environmental Politics”. Environmental Politics. https://doi.org/10.1080/09644016.2020.1827608.
Claus, Anja. 2018. “An Ethical Journey into Deep Time.” Minding-Nature 11, no. 1. https://www.humansandnature.org/an-ethical-journey-into-deep-time.
Collard, Rosemary-Claire. 2015. “Ethics in Research Beyond the Human.” In The Routledge Handbook of Political Ecology, edited by Gavin Bridge, Tom Perreault and James McCarthy, 127-139. London: Routledge.
Dooren, Thom van, Eben Kirksey and Ursula Münster. 2016. “Multispecies Studies: Cultivating Arts of Attentiveness.” Environmental Humanities 8, no. 1: 1-23. https://doi.org/10.1215/22011919-3527695.
Dyer, Sarah and David Demeritt. 2009. “Un-ethical Review? Why it is Wrong to Apply the Medical Model of Research Governance to Human Geography.” Progress in Human Geography 33, no. 1: 46-64. https://doi.org/10.1177/0309132508090475.
Easton, Brian. 2004. What was a Pound Worth? http://www.eastonbh.ac.nz/2004/03/what_was_a_pound_worth/
Forssén, Annika, Irene Hetlevik, Eivind Meland, and Roger Strand. 2011. “Rethinking Scientific Responsibility.” Journal of Medical Ethics 37, no. 5: 299-302. https://doi.org/10.1136/jme.2010.038828.
Gadgil, Peter. 1974. “Phytophthora heveae, a Pathogen of Kauri.” New Zealand Journal of Forestry Science 4, no. 1: 59-63. https://www.cabi.org/ISC/abstract/19740616133.
Greenhough, Beth, and Emma Roe. 2011. “Ethics, Space, and Somatic Sensibilities: Comparing Relationships Between Scientific Researchers and their Human and Animal Experimental Subjects.” Society and Space 29: 47-66. https://doi.org/10.1068/d17109.
Hall, Matthew. 2009. “Plant Autonomy and Human-Plant Ethics.” Environmental-Ethics 31, no. 2: 169-181. https://doi.org/10.5840/enviroethics200931218.
Haraway, Donna. 2008. When Species Meet. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Hejnol, Andreas. 2017. “Ladders, Trees, Complexity, and other Metaphors in Evolutionary Thinking.” In Arts of living on a damaged planet: Ghosts and monsters of the Anthropocene, edited by Anna Tsing, Heather Swanson, Elianne Gan and Nils Bubandt. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Hill, Lee, Nick Waipara, Rebecca Stanley and Christina Hammon. 2017. Kauri Dieback Report 2017: An Investigation into the Distribution of Kauri Dieback, and Implications for its Future Management, within the Waitākere Ranges Regional Park. Auckland: Auckland City Council. https://ourauckland.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/media/16649/kauri-dieback-waitakere-ranges-report.pdf.
Horner, Ian, and Ellena Hough. 2014. “Pathogenicity of four Phytophthora Species on Kauri: In Vitro and Glasshouse Trials.” New Zealand Plant Protection 67: 54-59. https://doi.org/10.30843/nzpp.2014.67.5722.
Hudson, Maui, Moe Milne, Paul Reynolds, Khyla Russell and Barry Smith. 2010. Te Ara Tika: Guidelines for Māori Research Ethics: A Framework for Researchers and Ethics Committee Members. Auckland: Health Research Council (on behalf of the Pūtaiora Writing Group). https://www.hrc.govt.nz/resources/te-ara-tika-guidelines-Māori-research-ethics-0.
Hustak, Carla, and Natasha Myers. 2012. “Involutionary Momentum: Affective Ecologies and the Sciences of Plant/Insect Encounters.” Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 23, no. 3: 74-118. https://doi.org/10.1215/10407391-1892907.
Kimmerer, Robin Wall. 2014. Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions.
Lambert, Simon, Nick Waipara, Amanda Black, Melanie Mark-Shadbolt, and Waitangi Wood. 2018. “Indigenous Biosecurity: Māori Responses to Kauri Dieback and Myrtle Rust in Aotearoa New Zealand.” In The Human Dimensions of Forest and Tree Health: Global Perspectives, edited by Julie Urquhart, Mariella Marzano and Clive Potter, 109-137. Cham: Palgrave-Macmillan. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-76956-1_5
Lévinas, Emmanuel. 1987. Collected Philosophical Papers. Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoof Publishers.
Lewis-Jones, Kay. 2019. “Holding the Wild in the Seed: Place, Escape and Liminality at the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership.” Anthropology Today 35, no. 2: 3-7. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-8322.12492
Margulis, Lynn. 1999. The Symbiotic Planet: A New look at Evolution. London: Phoenix.
McLauchlan, Laura. 2019. “A Multispecies Collective Planting Trees: Tending to Life and Making Meaning Outside of the Conservation Heroic.” Cultural Studies Review 25, no. 1: 135-153. https://doi.org/10.5130/csr.v24i1.6415.
Ngatae, Ngāriki. 2020. Te Wao Nui. Loading Docs: Aotearoa/New Zealand. https://loadingdocs.net/tewaonui/
Orwin, Joanna. 2007. “Kauri Forest: How and Where Kauri Grows”. In Te Ara. https://teara.govt.nz/en/kauri-forest/page-1
Owens, John, Glenda Catalano, Sheila Morris and Jenny Aitken-Christie. 1995. “The Reproductive Biology of Kauri (Agathis australis). I. Pollination and Pre-fertilization Development.” International Journal of Plant Sciences 156, no. 3: 257-269. https://doi.org/10.1086/297248.
Pratt, Mary-Louise. (1991) “Arts of the Contact Zone.” Profession 91: 33–40.
Reed, Alfred, and Tudor Collins. 1967. New Zealand's Forest King: The Kauri. Wellington: Reed.
Reed, Alfred. 1956. The Story of Northland. Wellington: Reed.
Reed, Alfred. 1953. The Story of the Kauri. Wellington: Reed.
Roberts, Mere. 2013. “Ways of Seeing: Whakapapa.” Sites. Sociology. Anthropology. Cultural Studies. 10, no. 1: 93-120. https://doi.org/10.11157/sites-vol10iss1id236.
Roberts, Mere. 2005. “Walking Backwards into the Future: Māori Views on Genetically Modified Organisms”. WINHEC: International Journal of Indigenous Education Scholarship, no. 1: 49-60. https://journals.uvic.ca/index.php/winhec/article/view/19255.
Roberts, Mere and Peter Wills. 1998. “Understanding Māori Epistemology. A Scientific Perspective”. In Tribal Epistemologies. Essays in the Philosophy of Anthropology, edited by Helmut Wautischer, 43-77. London: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429431517
Rose, Debora Bird, Thom van Dooren, Matthew Chrulew, Stuart Cookec, Matthew Kearnes, and Emily O’Gormand. 2012. “Thinking through the Environment: Unsettling the Humanities.” Environmental Humanities 1, no. 1: 1–5. https://doi.org/10.1215/22011919-3609940
Royal, Te Ahukaramū Charles. 2009. Mātauranga Māori: An Introduction. Porirua: Mauriora-ki-te-Ao/Living-Universe
Royal, Te Ahukaramū Charles. 2005. “Māori Creation Traditions”, In Te Ara. https://teara.govt.nz/en/Māori-creation-traditions/page-3.
Scott, Lawrence; Elaine Burgess; Chris Pairama; Amanda Black; Wayne Patrick; Ian Mitchell; Nigel Perry and Monica Gerth. 2019. “Mātauranga-guided Screening of New Zealand Native Plants Reveals Flavonoids from Kānuka (Kunzea robusta) with anti-Phytophthora Activity.” Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand. 49, no. 1: 137-154. https://doi.org/10.1080/03036758.2019.1648303.
Shiva, Vandana. 1992. “Biodiversity, Biotechnology, and Profits”. In Biodiversity: Social and Ecological Perspectives, edited by Vandana Shiva, Patrick Anderson, Heffa Schücking, Andrew Gray, Larry Lohman, and David Cooper. 43-58. London: Zed Books.
Simpson, Bob. 2011. “Ethical Moments: Future Directions for Ethical Review and Ethnography”. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 17, no. 2: 377-393.
Sleeboom-Faulkner, Margaret, Bob Simpson, Elena Burgos-Martinez, and James McMurray. 2017. “The Formalisation of Social-Science Research Ethics: How Did we get There?” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 7, no. 1: 71-79.
Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. 2002. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous peoples. London: ZED Books.
Smyth, Marie and Emma Williamson. 2004. Researchers and their ‘Subjects’: Ethics, power, Knowledge and Consent. Bristol: Policy.
Stewart-Harawira, Makere. 2013. “Challenging Knowledge Capitalism: Indigenous Research in the 21st Century.” Socialist Studies 9, no. 1: 39-51. https://doi.org/10.18740/S43S3V.
Tauri, Juan Marcellus. 2018. “Research Ethics, Informed Consent and the Disempowerment of First Nation Peoples.” Research-Ethics 14, no. 3: 1-14. https://doi.org/10.1177/1747016117739935.
Tauri, Juan-Marcellus. 2014. “Resisting Condescending Research Ethics in Aotearoa New Zealand.” Alter-Native: An International Journal of Indigenous Peoples 10, no. 2: 134-150. https://doi.org/10.1177/117718011401000204.
Tolich, Martin and Barry Smith. 2015. The Politicisation of Ethics Review in New Zealand. Auckland: Dunmore.
Tsing, Anna. 2014. “More-than-human Sociality: A Call for Critical Description.” In Anthropology and Nature, edited by Kirsten Hastrup, 37-52. New York, NY: Routledge.
Watene, Krushil. 2016. “Valuing Nature: Māori Philosophy and the Capability approach.” Oxford Development Studies 44, no. 3: 287-296. https://doi.org/10.1080/13600818.2015.1124077.
Wehi, Priscilla, Jacqueline Beggs, and Tara McAllister. 2019. “Ka Mua, ka Muri: The Inclusion of Mātauranga Māori in New Zealand Ecology”. New Zealand Journal of Ecology 43, no. 3: 1-8 https://doi.org/https://dx.doi.org/10.20417/nzjecol.43.40.
Wilson, Edward. 1993. “Biophilia and the Conservation Ethics”. In The Biophilia Hypothesis, edited by Stephen Kelly and Edward Wilson. Washington, DC: Island Press.
Wilson, Edward. 1984. Biophilia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Winter, Christine. 2019. “Does Time Colonise Intergenerational Environmental Justice Theory?” Environmental-Politics 29, no. 2: 278-296. https://doi.org/10.1080/09644016.2019.1569745.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Authors agree to publish their articles in ACME under the Creative Commons "Attribution/Non-Commercial/No Derivative Works" Canada licence. To read and review the agreement, click here. In line with fair attribution and proper permissions, note any copyrights of materials cited in your paper. Do not use materials that are not fair use without express written consent.