Imagining Extinction: The Cultural Meanings Of Endangered Species

Paperback | August 10, 2016

byUrsula K. Heise

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We are currently facing the sixth mass extinction of species in the history of life on Earth, biologists claim—the first one caused by humans. Activists, filmmakers, writers, and artists are seeking to bring the crisis to the public’s attention through stories and images that use the strategies of elegy, tragedy, epic, and even comedy. Imagining Extinction is the first book to examine the cultural frameworks shaping these narratives and images.

Ursula K. Heise argues that understanding these stories and symbols is indispensable for any effective advocacy on behalf of endangered species. More than that, she shows how biodiversity conservation, even and especially in its scientific and legal dimensions, is shaped by cultural assumptions about what is valuable in nature and what is not. These assumptions are hardwired into even seemingly neutral tools such as biodiversity databases and laws for the protection of endangered species. Heise shows that the conflicts and convergences of biodiversity conservation with animal welfare advocacy, environmental justice, and discussions about the Anthropocene open up a new vision of multispecies justice. Ultimately, Imagining Extinction demonstrates that biodiversity, endangered species, and extinction are not only scientific questions but issues of histories, cultures, and values.

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We are currently facing the sixth mass extinction of species in the history of life on Earth, biologists claim—the first one caused by humans. Activists, filmmakers, writers, and artists are seeking to bring the crisis to the public’s attention through stories and images that use the strategies of elegy, tragedy, epic, and even comedy....

Ursula K. Heise is the Marcia H. Howard Chair in Literary Studies in the Department of English and the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her books include Chronoschisms: Time, Narrative, and Postmodernism and Sense of Place and Sense of Planet: The Environmental Imagination of...

other books by Ursula K. Heise

Sense of Place and Sense of Planet: The Environmental Imagination of the Global
Sense of Place and Sense of Planet: The Environmental I...

Kobo ebook|Sep 29 2008

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:288 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.9 inPublished:August 10, 2016Publisher:University of Chicago PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:022635816X

ISBN - 13:9780226358161

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Extra Content

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Introduction: From the End of Nature to the Beginning of the Anthropocene
1 Lost Dogs, Last Birds, and Listed Species: Elegy and Comedy in Conservation Stories
2 From Arks to ARKive.org: Database, Epic, and Biodiversity
3 The Legal Lives of Endangered Species: Biodiversity Laws and Culture
4 Mass Extinction and Mass Slaughter: Biodiversity, Violence, and the Dangers of Domestication
5 Biodiversity, Environmental Justice, and Multispecies Communities
6 Multispecies Fictions for the Anthropocene
Coda: The Hug of the Polar Bear
Works Cited
Index

Editorial Reviews

"A nuanced re-visioning of extinction discourse, inflected powerfully by literary traditions ranging from elegy to epic. . . . Bound by temporal division, suggests Heise, only the human imagination can seemingly inspire the kind of social and political action championed by environmentalists and scientists alike. . . .  Imagining Extinction persuasively advocates for the centrality of the literary, the anthropological, the historical, and the psychological in coding and recoding our present considerations of extinction and the Anthropocene. Repeatedly, Heise draws our attention to 'the stories we tell about ourselves.' Perhaps this, after all, is the humanities’ calling. Writing and rewriting stories about who we are, where we are, why we are. And yet, in the same way that I do not want the humanities reduced to a single function, I would also not want to reduce Heise’s Imagining Extinction to a single application. Self-consciously, the text seems crafted in order to lend itself to alliances far beyond a single discourse or discipline. Extinction, after all, is by its present definition uncontained and uncontainable."