Caught in Comparisons: How political economy remakes the bodies of fish​

How can anthropology and the humanities better contribute to conversations about environmental change? This talk offers comparison as one tool. Unfolding within histories of colonization and geopolitics, comparisons embed themselves in and shape material forms, pulling the tensions of modernity, nationhood, and empire into the stuff of the world. This talk explores the landscape-making force of comparisons, i.e. how they reach out to physically reshape more-than-human ecologies along with human lives. By focusing on salmon fisheries in Hokkaido, Japan, this talk explores how the transnational comparisons of fishermen, scientists, government officials, indigenous people, and environmental activists have reconfigured not only global salmon markets and rural fishing communities, but also the flow of rivers and the bodies of fish. How, it asks, have the comparisons of nation-building and landscape development come to shape the flesh and bones of salmon, an animal central to this island’s economy, ecology, and history? Attending to practices of comparison, this talk argues, is a key method for better understanding how relations of political economy become an evolutionary force.

Heather Anne Swanson is an Associate Professor in the Anthropology Department at Aarhus University, as well as Co-Director of the AU Centre for Environmental Humanities (CEH). Swanson is a co-editor of two recent books, Domestication Gone Wild: Politics and Practice of Multispecies Relations (Duke UP, 2018) and Arts of Living on a Damaged Plant (Minnesota UP, 2017). She has written widely about environmental issues (especially fisheries management), interdisciplinary collaboration, and more-than-human methods in the humanities and social sciences.