Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Gathering the Kalahari: Tracking Landscapes in Motion
by du Plessis, Pierre L., Ph.D., University of California, Santa Cruz, 2018, 330; 10829741
Abstract (Summary)

At a time when human environmental disturbance is challenging livability on the planet—for humans and nonhumans alike—it is important to find better methods for engaging with the liveliness of landscapes, the relations with which they hang together, and the various ways they are interrupted. This dissertation explores the practices of tracking and gathering as methods for studying such issues facing Kalahari Desert landscapes in Botswana. These ecologically important landscapes are increasingly encroached upon and fragmented by the growing cattle economy and the proliferation of extractive industries into the desert. These trends have led to dramatic declines in wildlife populations and growing desertification of the already arid region. The Kalahari is home to small communities of people, many of whom are former hunter-gatherers whose rights to land and access to wildlife are increasingly inhibited. The government has banned hunting, largely in response to conservationists’ concerns about wildlife. In addition, gathering is increasingly regulated, and cattle colonize areas that are significant for wildlife and San communities. In this context, rather than treating tracking and gathering as objects of study, I take these practices seriously as methods for noticing and theorizing more-than-human landscapes, their transformations, and contingent histories to address challenges facing people and their environments in the Kalahari and beyond.

By focusing on the relational forms of noticing landscapes with San trackers and gatherers, I describe landscapes as always in motion, emergent more-than-human places where assemblages gather, histories are made, and politics enacted. This is in direct contrast to theoretical moves that treat landscapes as background on which histories and politics occur. My dissertation enacts tracking and gathering as a methodology. Beginning with an extension of the concept of tracks and following their movements out to their relations with other landscape actors in each chapter, I emphasize that landscapes are not merely contexts for politics and histories. Rather, landscapes do histories and politics, in spite of efforts to hold these landscapes still as underutilized expanses of resources.

The dissertation itself unfolds, moving out through the landscape by tracking these emergent relations. I argue that tracking is a relational practice of becoming-familiar-with these multiple entanglements of emergent landscapes. The practice of gathering involves much of the same kinds of attention to landscape movements and their coordinations as with tracking. Here, I employ gathering in its double meaning: the practice of collecting and of coming together. The tracks of gathered truffles then lead to the worlds of grass and termites that, in turn, allow for a reflection on Kalahari rangeland ecology and the political economy of the cattle industry. Finally, the dissertation zooms out to the desert’s geomorphology, tracking the movements of geological processes as they gather with the movements of humans and nonhumans to form lively landscape features over the longue duree. Tracking and gathering are methods that allow for an elaboration of these more-than-human landscapes-in-motion, together with their social, political, and economic histories and speculative futures.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Tsing, Anna L.
Commitee: Fernando, Mayanthi, Mathews, Andrew
School: University of California, Santa Cruz
Department: Anthropology
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 79/12(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Cultural anthropology, Sub Saharan Africa Studies
Keywords: Anthropocene, Gathering, Kalahari, Landscapes, Multispecies, Tracking
Publication Number: 10829741
ISBN: 978-0-438-24960-8
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