“I wanna be like you”: Animal geography and ‘The Jungle Book’ (2016)

Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham

The 'man cub'; not quite man, not quite wolf Source: Wikimedia Commons

The ‘man cub’; not quite man, not quite wolf
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Last month saw the release of Disney’s live action re-make of the well-loved classic, The Jungle Book.  Directed by Jon Favreau, the much-anticipated film has enjoyed tremendous early success in both the UK and America, topping the box office charts and breaking ticket-sales records. This modern twist on Rudyard Kipling’s iconic tale, is not only thoroughly entertaining, but also demonstrates some of the main themes explored by animal geographers, as well as those that Bear (2011) (yes, his name really is that apt!) has identified as being under-developed within the discipline.

The most prominent theme that runs throughout the film is the oft-debated, long-standing human-animal binary, placing nature in opposition to culture. Physically, the humans and animals are separated, the human village being distinct from the rest of the jungle. Each have their own place, geographically defined, keeping them separate rather than in constant competition for survival. The cognitive difference between humans and animals is much more heavily emphasised throughout the film. Man’s capacity for rational thought is widely cited as the main distinguishing feature between humans and animals. Let’s start with “man’s red flower”, the phrase used by the animals to describe ‘fire’. The ‘red flower’ stands for man’s superior intelligence and more civilised state; only humans know the secret of how to make it, and its devastating effects are feared by the animals, reinforcing human control over the jungle. Even King Louie, King of the Apes and “jungle V.I.P.”, is aware of the power this ability gives man. As he sings “I wanna be like you”, we are reminded, yet again, of the abyss that remains between man and beast, not only because he “desires man’s red fire”, but also because he wants to “walk like” and “talk like” humans too.

Mowgli’s character also serves to remind us of human-animal difference. His presence in the jungle, a boy living with the wolf pack, turns heads amongst the animals; he is, as geographers would put it, ‘out of place’. Even the wolves who raised Mowgli, and his trusty panther friend Bagheera, scorn some of his innately human ways of problem-solving, which they call ‘tricks’. Mowgli’s presence where he does not ‘belong’ is the reason that he becomes hunted by Shere Khan, and driven out of the jungle by the tiger. On his journey to the man village, Mowgli meets arguably the most loved animal in this story, Baloo the bear, who, after rescuing him from death by python (Kaa, to be precise), soon develops a close bond with him. Mowgli’s distinctly ‘human’ traits are further emphasised, Baloo exploiting his ‘tricks’ in order to help him harvest honey using a complex system of pulleys that only a man could make.

Mowgli and Baloo at Orlando Disney World Source: Wikimedia Commons

Mowgli and Baloo at Orlando Disney World
Source: Wikimedia Commons

After learning that Shere Khan was responsible for his father’s death, and that the tiger has also killed Akela, the leader of the wolf pack, taking charge of the jungle, Mowgli returns to confront Shere Kahn. Taking a burning branch with him from the man village, Mowgli pursues Shere Khan in order to save his wolf family and the rest of the jungle animals from his tyrannous reign. However, his act only further reinforces man’s superiority, as he inadvertently sets fire to the jungle, the fear in the animals’ eyes being a very poignant reminder that Mowgli is, despite his upbringing, a human. Even though, by slaying Shere Khan he helps the other animals, the film still emphasises that man – in this case, Mowgli – and animals are habitually in conflict, a conflict that is often resolved through hunting, slaughter, and the expression of human superiority.

Whilst Mowgli’s character creates a clear division between humans and animals, he also serves to blur the distinction, something which animal geographers argue is becoming more and more common. Being raised by wolves, Mowgli grows up to be one of the pack. He develops wolf-like behavioural traits and, as animal geographers would call it, undergoes a process of ‘becoming wolf’ through close cohabitation. This Deleuzian notion of ‘becoming’ is one which animal geographers have explored in order to explain close human-animal relationships that transcend the boundaries of ‘man’ and ‘beast’. Even the language used by the animals to describe Mowgli – ‘man cub’ – shows the ambiguous nature of his character, not quite man, but not quite wolf. Through living with the animals Mowgli learns to be sensitive to their needs, and develops a close understanding that animal geographers, such as Bear (2011), argue is so difficult to achieve.

Finally, The Jungle Book, also provides an insight into, what animal geographers argue, is an under-developed theme in animal geography, the individuality of animals. Bear (2011) stresses that most animal geography studies focus on groups of animals or whole species, rather than the individual. In his study of Angelica the octopus and her affective relationships with visitors to her aquarium, he poses that more can be learnt about human-animal relationships by studying individual animals, studies of groups of animals homogenising and concealing the individual. In The Jungle Book, whilst we still have groups of animals – such as the pack of wolves and the almost mythical herd of elephants – there are many characters who tell their own individual stories. Baloo the bear, Bagheera the panther, Shere Khan the tiger, and King Louie the gigantopithecus, each express their individuality and have different relationships with Mowgli and the other animals. This, in turn, affects the audience’s response to them; Baloo appears comical yet kind, Bagheera is brave and loyal, Shere Khan is cruel yet vulnerable, and King Louie is powerful and greedy. Interpret them as you will, but, whilst fictional and highly anthropomorphised, it is through these individual stories that the audience form an understanding of the human-animal relationships at play in the film.

Both as a thrilling piece of cinema, and as a demonstration of animal geography’s wider relevance, The Jungle Book is well-worth a watch!

 

books_iconBear, C. (2011) “Being Angelica? Exploring individual animal geographies”, Area, 43(3):297-304.

60-world2The Jungle Book 2016 IMDB listing http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3040964/

Mapping forest futures together: the Great Bear to the Congo

By Amita Bhakta, Loughborough University

Pachyelasma_tessmannii00

Photo credit: Burt Wursten available via CC-BY-SA-3.0

The world’s forests are arguably among the most precious natural resources we have. Forests help our efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change and are often referred to as a marker of sustainability. When we think of sustainability, the symbolism of the tree itself as a giver of oxygen, life, and the planting of trees often spring to mind. But, a question we continue to ask ourselves, is who should bear the responsibility of protecting and sustaining our forests, and how best should we do it as a diverse world of different peoples, all with different beliefs, values and understandings of nature (which on many occasions, come into conflict)?

For one such example, Clapp et al (2016) take us into the realms of British Colombia’s Great Bear Forest in Canada. They explain how by bringing together aboriginal peoples of the forest and their local knowledges and environmental interests, and mapping these with the interests of governments of different levels and environmental groups, can be a way forward for promoting sustainability. But, they argue, there remains a lot of work to be done to bind these interests together more coherently.

The BBC recently gave an account that illustrates the gap remaining in forest conservation by bringing people together. Over in the Congo, the BBC report, tensions have arisen between armed ‘eco-guards’ brought into the basin, and the local indigenous peoples seeking to live their lives in the way they wish to, and according to their values of the forest as their home. As eco-guards wade in and take the role of the indigenous peoples as ‘custodians’ of the forest, we must acknowledge but also question the fact that the conflicting interests of the two parties. For example, indigenous people’s homes can become lost to the conservation activities of other groups such as NGO’s and governmental bodies. As Clapp et al (2016) explain, resource remapping remains to be experimental; and it looks like for the forests across the globe, they will continue to do so until we all, as a population of different people, come together to find mutual values for our trees, forests, and planet as a whole.

References

books_icon Clapp A, Hayter R, Affolderbach J and Guzman L (2016) ‘Institutional thickening and innovation: reflections on the remapping of the Great Bear Rainforest’  Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers doi: 10.1111/tran.12119

60-world2 Kinver M 2016 ‘Conservation efforts ‘failing African rainforests’’ BBC Online

The Helping Hand Through History

By Morag Rose, University of Sheffield

Samuel_Crompton_memorial_statue,_Bolton_-_geograph.org.uk_-_980458 (3)

Samuel Crompton memorial statue, Bolton. Image Credit: Kenneth Allen CC BY-SA 2.0  via Wikimedia Commons

The impact of austerity, welfare cuts and the retreat of the state means voluntary organisations play an increasingly important role in the lives of many people. For example, The Trussell Trust have reported that use of food banks is at a record levels and the recently published UK Civil Society Almanac 2016 provides further evidence of the impact of the third sector. There are many important questions raised by this but in this post I will focus on volunteers. Individuals volunteer for many reasons, including altruism, and in turn often benefit from the experience of volunteering.

Francesca Moore offers a fascinating historical insight with  ‘” A Band of Public-Spirited Women”: Middle-Class Female Philanthropy and Citizenship in Bolton, Lancashire before 1918’, a paper recently published in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers.  Archive material contributes to her group biography of the eponymous women. Moore uses a Foucauldian analysis of power to consider what voluntary work meant for them and wider society. Philanthropy has moral, political, spiritual, philosophical, social and cultural dimensions, and she also explores what citizenship can mean for those without a vote or other legal rights.

The philanthropists Moore studies primarily focused on ‘poverty, child welfare, infant health, prostitution and drunkenness. These social issues were often understood at the time as a form of personal inadequacy, or moral failure, which rendered them solvable by behavioural change’ (2016: 153). This resonates with many current debates about entrenched inequality, unemployment and obesity amongst others.  After the Boer War (1899-1902) there were widespread concerns about falling birth rates and an unfit population so philanthropists fought for moral and physical health. A focus on children’s welfare illustrates a concern for the future not just of individuals but of the nation. Moore suggests ‘women philanthropists engaged in what could be termed race work through infant welfare clinics, improving the quality and vitality of the population…. Biopolitical concerns were addressed in a bottom-up fashion… (as) a biopolitical patriotism’. (2016:157). As a disabled person I am deeply concerned eugenics still lurks behind much contemporary rhetoric about welfare and we must beware of its pernicious influence.

It is clear class was an important constituent of the philanthropic relationship. The work the women engaged in was also profoundly gendered, being considered maternal and caring.  Such endeavours were one of many ways women challenged and transcended the divide between private and public spheres. The divide between “citizen” and “other” is also blurred and complex. Philanthropy demonstrated an ability to contribute to civic society and staked a claim for full citizenship. These women campaigned for, and influenced, social policy in many areas. Many of Moore’s sample were active in the Suffrage movement and their philanthropy was, at least in part, a way of demonstrating they had earned the vote. Moore’s study ends in 1918 when the First World War had changed the landscape and The Representation of The People Act gave women over 30 the right to vote. Today in Bolton something of the legacy of those “public-spirited women” lives on.  The Greater Manchester for Voluntary Organisation (GMCVO) profiles a thriving and diverse voluntary sector which continues to provide valuable support services to many people.

References

60-world2 GMCVO online at https://www.gmcvo.org.uk/

books_icon Moore, F. 2016 “A band of public-spirited women:” middle-class female philanthropy and citizenship in Bolton, Lancashire before 1918 in Transactions of The Institute of British Geographers 41 pp 149-162. doi: 10.1111/tran.12114

60-world2 NCVO 2016 UK Civic Society Almanac  online at https://data.ncvo.org.uk/

60-world2 The Trussell Trust online at https://www.trusselltrust.org/2016/04/15/foodbank-use-remains-record-high/

The Rhythm of the Night: Nocturnal Geographies

Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The clocks have gone forward, the nights are getting lighter, and, as ever, there’s geography to be found in it all! Shaw’s (2015) paper considers the ways in which geographers and social scientists have engaged with the night as a ‘space-time’, illuminating some interesting approaches that geographers have used to theorise the ways in which we use the night.

This year is actually the 100th anniversary of ‘Daylight Saving Time’ (DST). DST was originally proposed by Benjamin Franklin in 1784, who argued the economic benefits of reducing the need for artificial lighting – then by candles – and making increased use of natural light. This idea was proposed in Britain by William Willett in 1907, who suggested moving the clocks forwards 20 minutes on each of the four Sundays in April and backwards on Sundays in September (Macphail, 2016 [online]). The first official clock-changing plan was introduced in Germany, in April 1916, and Britain followed suit, in May that year, passing the Summer Time Act of 1916. The first official day of British Summer Time was May 21st 1916 (Macphail, 2016 [online]). At the height of World War One, it was believed that by changing the clocks it would take the pressure off the economy and reduce domestic coal consumption (Macphail, 2016 [online]). However, in 1940, during World War Two, the clocks in Britain were not put back at the end of Summer and, until July 1945, Britain was two hours ahead of GMT, operating on British Double Summer Time (Telegraph, 2016 [online]).

 

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

There are strong arguments both for and against DST. As well as suggesting that it saves energy and money, others argue that it increases tourism and encourages people to exercise outdoors (Staufenberg, 2016 [online]). From a geographer’s point of view, therefore, it changes the ways in which we use space and time, leading to a more ‘productive’ use of natural daylight. Critics, however, argue that there is no conclusive proof that DST saves energy; whilst reducing lighting use, it may, in fact, increase our use of other electrical appliances and fuel. Thus, from an environmental point of view, Daylight Saving Time remains enigmatic.

Particular opposition to DST comes from Scotland and parts of northern England. In 2011, year-round daylight savings was suggested in Parliament but was not taken up (Telegraph, 2016 [online]). A YouGov poll that year showed that 53% of people in Britain supported permanently moving the clocks forward an hour (Telegraph, 2016 [online]). The Scottish, however, complained that they would be plunged into darkness in the mornings and, indeed, so would anyone north of Manchester (Telegraph, 2016 [online]). Others have suggested the clocks change at Hadrian’s Wall and not at Calais (Telegraph, 2016 [online]), showing the highly geographical nature of this debate.

As well as causing mild confusion and tiredness, some anti-DST arguments concentrate on potential negative impacts on the ways in which we use time and space. For instance, it has been suggested that darker mornings pose dangers to children walking to school, along with increasing car accidents and crime rates (Staufenberg, 2016 [online]). Farmers are also largely against the darker mornings, having less daylight to get their morning tasks completed.

Whilst these arguments consider the ways in which we use daylight, Shaw’s (2015) paper discusses our conception of the night as a time-space, and how this affects our use of it. He argues that ways in which geographers understand the night are changing. Previously conceptualised as a frontier, creating a binary between night and day, or light and dark, the night used to be an empty unknown, inhabited by people looking to escape surveillance. The frontier metaphor, therefore, has often framed the night as dangerous and alluring, difficult to control, but providing possibilities for adventure. In contrast, Shaw (2015) argues that the frontier metaphor is being broken down. Capitalist society, he argues, has gradually expanded spatially and temporally, with diurnal activities expanding into the night. Nocturnal capitalism, Shaw (2015) states, has spread globally, with 24/7 opening, next-day delivery services, online shopping, and international business juggling with time-zones. For some, the night is a ‘contact zone’, a space of interaction, characterised by hybrid spaces such as 24-hour supermarkets and night clubs (Shaw, 2015). Such ‘twentyfoursevening’, therefore, blurs day and night, leading geographers to suggest that they are no longer binary opposites. The night, therefore, is a complex and fragmented time-space (Shaw, 2015).

Nocturnal infrastructure has also been at the centre of geographical concerns, interest being in the electrification and lighting of urban areas, and the ways in which light and dark affect the exploration, creation, and experience of space (Shaw, 2015). The use of artificial lighting, it was originally hoped, would counter forms of alienation, reduce crime, and increase safety. Micro-scale lighting of individual houses and communities is a further example of this, although there is limited evidence that street lighting does, in fact, have these intended consequences. As Shaw (2015) indicates, many alternative lifestyles have arisen that are lived and performed during night time, including graffiti artists, protestors, and political radicals. The contact-zone, thus, becomes a space for source of resistance. However, with the proliferation of sexual violence, prostitution, crime, drug-taking, and drinking culture during the night, the contact-zone is also a time-space to be survived, but also considered by some as a space of freedom.

The night, then, is far from black and white. Geographers have begun to approach it as a multifaceted space-time, rather than the binary opposite of daytime. By only studying daytime activities, we can only ever understand half of humanity, especially in a time when nocturnal capitalism is booming. As a subject of geographical research in its own right, it is hoped that by studying our use of the night, geographers can shed new light on the ways in which we use time and space.

 

books_iconShaw, R. (2015). “Night as Fragmenting Frontier: Understanding the Night that Remains in an era of 24/7”, Geography Compass, 9(12):637-647.

60-world2Macphail, C. (2016). “When do the clocks go forward in 2016? And why do we change to BST and should we?” The Telegraph Online. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/12174975/When-do-the-clocks-go-forward-A-countdown-to-BST-and-Daylight-Saving-Time-March-2016.html

60-world2Staufenberg, J. (2016). “Daylight Saving Time: What is it and why do we have it?”, The Independent Online. Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/daylight-saving-time-what-is-it-and-why-do-we-have-it-a6907621.html

60-world2The Telegraph. (2016). “Who uses Daylight Saving Time?”, The Telegraph Online. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/12174975/When-do-the-clocks-go-forward-A-countdown-to-BST-and-Daylight-Saving-Time-March-2016.html

X Marks The Spot: Chemtrails, Conspiracies & Discourse Analysis

By Morag Rose, University of Sheffield 

Sfc.contrail.1.26.01

NASA photograph of aircraft contrails, take from I-95 in Northern Virginia, January 26, 2001 by NASA scientist Louis Ngyyen.

The X-Files recently returned to television after a fourteen year absence. The Guardian provides a useful guide to the new series, which had mixed reviews and was accused of Islamophobia and Transphobia. As ever the show explores a range of paranormal phenomenon, folklore and contemporary conspiracy theories.  These may seem strange subjects for geographers to take an interest in but such stories are an integral part of society. For an exemplar, see Pile (2005) on phantasmagorias and the role dreams, magic, vampires and ghosts play in modern city life.

In an article published in The Geographical Journal, Rose Cairns explores the online world of “chemtrail” conspiracy narratives and asks what they can tell us about the international politics of geoengineering. Conspiracy theories are not new, and Cairns provides historical examples of the role they play in making sense of the world.  She highlights “the instability of the distinction between ‘paranoid’ and ‘normal’ views”, suggesting “moral outrage at the idea of global elites controlling the weather” should not simply be dismissed as irrational (2016:70). The reaction is provoked by many things including our emotional and visceral connections to the weather.

Geoengineering is often discussed as a possible intervention against climate change.  Perhaps fears around chemtrails can be seen as embodying a wider mistrust with authority, mainstream media and science which is seen as elitist and opaque. Belief is connected to scepticism about climate change and may indicate a failure to convey research in clear and understandable ways. As public engagement is perceived to be an increasingly important facet of academic communication, perhaps we should encourage conversations with those who provide alternative viewpoints. Cairns recognised this may be difficult when arguments are polarised and emotional.

Discourse analysis can draw contradictory narratives into a bigger picture that explains how and why belief systems develop within a society. You don’t have to agree with something to find it interesting, and it’s often illuminating to try and understand radically different perspectives. Cairns has been attacked for her work by “truthers” but we all need to keep questioning. We also need to refrain from dismissing anything that deviates from the hegemony simply because it sounds unbelievable to us. Just last week a former aide to President Nixon was quoted as saying, with regards to another alleged cover-up:  “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the (Vietnam) war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities…and vilify them night after night on the evening news” (Baum, 2016).

It is tempting to finish with a glib Mulder and Scully slogan that “the truth is out there” but reality is so often more complex and fantastic than fiction.

References

60-world2 Baum D 2016 Legalize It All: How to Win The War on Drugs Harpers March 2016 online at https://harpers.org/archive/2016/04/legalize-it-all/ (accessed 22.2.2016)

books_icon Cairns R  2016 Climates of Suspicion: “Chemtrail” Conspiracy Narratives and The International Politics of Geoengineering  The Geographical Journal 182: 1 pp 70-84 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/geoj.12116/abstract

books_icon Pile S 2005  Real Cities Modernity, Space and the Phantasmagorias of Modern Life London: Sage Publications Ltd

60-world2 The Guardian  The X-Files Episode by Episode http://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/series/the-x-files-episode-by-episode (accessed 22.2.2016)

Piped dreams? Understanding the need for and values of informal community based water supply

By Amita Bhakta, Loughborough University

Fig1

Image credit: Rod Shaw, WEDC 2015

It’s a hot, sunny day. Feeling thirsty? More than likely, you can go to the kitchen, turn on the tap and, there we have it, a glass of clear water, safe for consumption. But what if there was no tap, no pipe, no clean water? And should we assume that a piped supply of water is always the answer?

With World Water Day taking place this week, we’re reminded of the immense challenges we still face in providing adequate drinking water for all. As the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals emphasise, this remains a critical concern across many developing countries. In their paper in The Geographical Journal, Liddle et al (2016) highlight the importance of multi-faceted approaches to ensure that community based water supplies can be effectively provided and maintained in the longer run. That is to say, a mix of both formal and informal water supplies are needed in a community context.

Liddle et al (2016) discuss in great depth the reasons why people in Zambia turn to informal sources, they cite: intermittent water supply as the pipes previously put in place by the colonial powers struggle to meet demand; finance as individuals in Ndola spend 45% of their income on water; and the ever present problem of poor water quality unfit for people to drink.

But it is about more than these issues, the less formal, more intangible values of water held by the local users is important. The clue is in the name, World Water Day should be about the various perceptions about water around the world, and incorporation of technical solutions for the supply of water that meets local social values.

Further to that, it’s also vital that we learn from each other. Indigenous knowledges are a vital part of the way in which we can combat our environmental challenges, and if we’re to meet the Sustainable Development Goals, to ensure that everybody can drink safe water easily, we still need to sit, listen and learn at the grassroots. After all, until the formal sector can listen to those in need, to these ‘informal’ users, water supply issues cannot be understood, nor can they be resolved without their support. The grassroots too need to listen and see which technological solutions are best for them, and an effort on both parts is needed. ‘Piped’ dreams may remain distant for many, but these knowledges can indeed pave the way for different, holistic solutions to become a reality.

books_icon Liddle E, Meger S and Nel E 2016 The importance of community-based informal water supply systems in the developing world and the need for formal sector support The Geographical Journal 181 85-96

60-world2 Shaw, R 2015 ‘Woman holding a bucket of water on her head’ Drawing Water:  A Resource Book of Illustrations on Water and Sanitation in Low-income Countries Loughborough: WEDC, Loughborough University

60-world2 Wheeler A 2016 World Water Day 2016: How access to clean water can change lives, jobs and entire societies International Business Times

 

Babies made in Mexico: Understanding the rise and fall of surrogacy markets

By Carolin Schurr, University of St. Gallen, Switzerland and Martin Müller, University of Zürich, Switzerland

Fig 1

Fig. 1: The global baby business of surrogacy. Image credit © Carolin Schurr

Surrogacy – the term brings to mind stories from the yellow press. Images of celebrities such as Nicole Kidman, Sarah Jessica Parker, Elton John and Ricky Martin who smile into the camera with their cute babies. They have all become parents thanks to surrogate mothers.

While media focus on the individual stories of joy or drama surrounding surrogacy, we know very little about the networks of people, technology, money, and infrastructure that make reproduction work at a distance in transnational surrogacy markets. In short, what holds the market of surrogacy together and why does it fall apart?

When Latour and Deleuze meet in a Mexican fertility clinic
Based on Carolin Schurr’s long term ethnographic research on the surrogacy industry, our paper ‘Assemblage thinking and actor-network theory: conjunctions, disjunctions, cross-fertilisations’, published in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, engages with this question. The paper argues that bringing assemblage thinking and actor-network theory (ANT) into dialogue offers novel ways to understand how (surrogacy) markets are assembled across space and why the complex networks of human and non-human actors constituting (surrogacy) markets may fall apart, only to reassemble in new ways. Suggesting three cross-fertilizations between assemblage thinking and actor-network theory, the paper exemplifies along the empirical case study of the transnational surrogacy market how geographers’ work can benefit from differentiating between the two approaches more carefully and thinking systematically in what ways they complement each other.

First, we argue that the empirical toolbox of ANT helps explain how the socio-technical networks of surrogacy markets are stabilized. Or in other words, how surrogacy agencies such as ‘My Baby’ manage that Manuel and Rodrigo from Spain, who want a baby and have the money, meet the oocyte of Anita – an egg donor in Sweden –, the womb of Benita – a young mother of two from Chiapas – and Dr. José in Cancún – whose clinic is equipped with the state-of-the-art medical technology from the United States. But not only do they need to meet, they need to meet at the right time, under the right circumstances. But how does ‘My Baby’ manage to control this global enterprise? It manages to govern at a distance by enrolling the necessary elements in relations and holding them stable for a while with the help of technological devices that facilitate the control and surveillance of the different actors involved.

Second, the paper shows that ANT has increasingly embraced multiplicities and fluidities – central to assemblage thinking – as constitutive elements characterising networks. Surrogacy agencies such as ‘My Baby’ could not survive in the constantly changing legal landscape without network fluidity. ‘My Baby’ foresaw the dramatic changes in India’s surrogacy business when the government passed a new bill in 2012 that restricted surrogacy to heterosexual, married couples. Opening up a new branch in Thailand just in time made it possible for them to continue to respond to the demand of their gay clientele. When the military government in Thailand shut down surrogacy businesses after the Baby Gammy scandal, ‘My Baby’ had just set up a new fertility clinic and surrogacy agency in Mexico (Fig. 2) that has since turned into the latest hotspot for gay surrogacy. The final outcome – the baby – needs to be held constant, but the associations that bring it about have shifted all the time.

 

Fig 2

Fig. 1: The global baby business of surrogacy. Image credit © Carolin Schurr

Third, we suggest that ANT can benefit from the attention to affect in bringing socio-material relations into being, which is so central in assemblage thinking. The role of desire is key here. Deleuze and Guattari understand it as much more than an individualised feeling of wanting to have something. For them, desire is the distributed production of wishes in an arrangement of humans and things. So it is not only the intended parents’ desire for a baby that is central for the global assisted reproduction assemblage to emerge. This assemblage is produced as much by the hetero-normative imperative of the ‘happy family’ that pervades most societies as it is by the pictures that agencies such as ‘My Baby’ and clinics use to visualize the ‘little prince’ as the crowning glory at the end of parents’ travails (Fig. 3). The desire for profit is the key rationale for agencies and clinics to become enrolled in the assemblage. The desire for wealth and a better life for themselves and their children enroll egg donors and surrogate mothers. In short, desire, in multiple forms, is the central force binding the human and non-human elements of surrogacy together: intended parents, egg donors, surrogates, IVF professionals, airplanes, time schedules, petri-dishes, hormonal drugs and so on.

fig 3

Fig. 1: The global baby business of surrogacy. Image credit © Carolin Schurr

Cross-fertilizations: ANT and assemblage thinking
For geographers engaged in empirical work, a cross-fertilisation between ANT and assemblage thinking offers the best of both worlds. It brings the tried-and-tested ANT toolbox of concepts to the study of the emergence of order and disorder in a more-than-human world. It sharpens our sense of different kinds of change in socio-material relations that is central to the new fragile markets of bodily commodification. And it does so in a mode that is attentive to the distributed, bodily capacities of humans and non-humans alike.

The price we need to pay for this is a small one, we think. Just as transnational surrogacy markets have challenged the national boundaries of traditional forms of kinship and family-making, cross-fertilizing ANT and assemblage thinking challenges us to leave behind some cherished certainties as we abandon the safe territories of our conceptual homelands.

About the authors:

Carolin Schurr is Assistant Professor of Transcultural Studies at the University of St Gallen, Switzerland and Martin Müller is Swiss National Science Foundation Professor at the University of Zurich.

60-world2 BBC 2015 Thailand bans commercial surrogacy for foreigners

60-world2 Bhowmick N 2013 Why people are angry about India’s new surrogacy rules Time

60-world2 Daily Mail 2011 Nicole Kidman reveals why she kept surrogacy baby a secret at Screen Actors Guild Awards

60-world2 Groskop V 2009 What is the truth behind Sarah Jessica Parker’s use of a surrogate?  The Guardian

books_icon Müller M 2015 Assemblages and actor-networks: Rethinking socio-material power, politics and space Geography Compass 9 27-41  (open access)

books_icon Müller M and Schurr C 2016 Assemblage thinking and actor-network theory: conjunctions, disjunctions and cross-fertilisations Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers  doi: 10.1111/tran.12117 (open access)

60-world2 Pidd H 2010 Elton John and David Furnish have Christmas baby The Guardian 

books_icon Schurr C 2014 Leaps and bounds in Mexico’s reproductive tourism international Journal of Media Travel