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Cougar-human entanglements on Vancouver Island : relational agency and space Collard, Rosemary-Claire Magdeleine Solange

Abstract

Vancouver Island is home to what is estimated to be the densest cougar population in North America. Over the last century and a half, cougar and human residents of the Island have not co-existed peacefully. From government-sponsored bounty hunts of cougars to cougar attacks on children, encounters between humans and cougars, although rare, have been violent and often lethal. In this thesis, work in Actor Network theory, feminist science studies, and posthuman geographies, specifically concerning themes of agency and space, is brought to bear on cougar-human relationships on Vancouver Island. The thesis focuses on two sites and processes within cougars and humans are drawn into obvious entanglements: cougar-human “conflict” in the southern Island town of Sooke in the mid-late twentieth century, and contemporary cougar science on the west coast of the Island in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. The case studies examine what it means to be entangled with cougars, and what these entanglements reveal about the production and maintenance of species boundaries, nonhuman agency, and the generation of science and knowledge. In this project, I am interested in the sensual exchange between cougars and humans who are knotted in encounter and how networks of multiple species and technological mediators develop around these exchanges. Theorists in animal geographies, hybrid, posthuman, or “more-than-human” geographies, science and technology studies, and feminist science studies, have begun to bring attention to the multiple ways human and animal lives are intertwined. Too often, this research and writing retains a residual anthropocentric focus, and the animals of the story are backgrounded in troubling ways, reproducing the privileging of human subjects over that of animals. My research seeks to foreground cougars and how they matter to the production of knowledge and the constitution of natural-cultural space on Vancouver Island.

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