Multispecies storytelling: more-than-human narratives about landscape

Lead Research Organisation: Edge Hill University
Department Name: Creative Arts

Abstract

This network will examine what multispecies storytelling can contribute to participatory decision-making and landscape valuation in community settings. Multispecies approaches have emerged as significant interdisciplinary bridges between the natural sciences and arts and humanities. Research in this area takes place across environmental humanities subject areas and encompasses a rich and diverse set of methodologies and political and ethical emphases. What connects these approaches and characterises them as 'multispecies' is a commitment to non-anthropocentric ways of thinking about nature. Multispecies perspectives are being used to critically address the urgent challenges of climate change and the Anthropocene and they have direct relevance to questions of landscape and land use.

Traditional landscape use and valuation frameworks have focused on the benefits of nature for people. Narratives of landscape mediate knowledge, inform public understanding, and contribute to the meanings and values assigned to place and space. The use of narrative to capture individual interactions and engagements with place is well established and storytelling practices have proved to be an effective method to elicit and explore the non-monetary values people attach to nature. Narratives can help to build consensus where contested values, ideas, and beliefs are attributed to specific places. Rather than assigning abstract values to nature as a monolithic entity, narratives of a specific place engage with the actual relations humans have with nature. Where decisions about land use and climate change strategies take account of localised effects and risks, a pragmatic narrative approach emphasises meaningful interactions between humans and nature, can help us to focus on what is significant, and, in doing so, inform policy.

Multispecies storytelling draws on narrative as a method but reorients the approach to look at nature through a more-than-human lens. Rethinking our relations with other species invites the production of new narratives through storytelling practices that can reshape understanding and knowledge of landscape value, heritage, and aesthetics. This project will use multispecies approaches to think about who speaks on behalf of nature, enlarge a group of stakeholders to include species other than humans, and use forms of storytelling to contribute to local participatory valuation and decision-making processes about land use.

The project is a collaboration between the Centre for Human Animal Studies, Edge Hill University and University of East Anglia which is home to the Nature Writing Archive at the British Archive for Contemporary Writing. The network will bring together scholars working across creative and critical multispecies approaches to address the twin issues of landscape valuation and local empowerment. The project will partner with a community farm located in an area that is subject to competing interests arising from climate change effects, adaptation and risk planning, and the needs of diverse communities.

Planned Impact

This project will use multispecies storytelling practices to identify and express the aesthetic and heritage values of land and landscape. The main beneficiaries of the impact will be Burscough Community Farm and its users. The community farm users include asylum seekers, GP referrals, home schoolers, students and long term unemployed, small growers of fresh produce and organisers of community food hubs. This research will benefit these diverse groups of community farm users and farmers by recognizing their importance as coproducers of knowledge about land and landscape. The project also goes beyond human stakeholder groups and acknowledges that other species shape the landscape and have interests in its use. Species other than humans are considered stakeholders in this project and through multispecies storytelling both human and more-than-human stakeholders are given a voice. This is intended to support local community empowerment and inform future decision-making processes that rely on understanding the non-monetary values attached to farmed land and landscape.

As noted in the case for support, this farm, and the land it uses, is to be reviewed and assessed by the local council in 2019 and 2020 to identify priority risks and climate change vulnerabilities. As such, the activities and outputs of this network arise from, and will inform, existing ongoing policy debates about land and the environment. As a partner in this network the research and outcomes of the network will be of use to the farm. This will have impact as exploring multispecies narratives will enable to farm to engage with its local (human) community in newer and innovative ways, as well as equipping it with materials it can employ in debates with local communities and policy-makers. Impact will be ensured through the involvement of the farm from the outset, which will be able to inform the decisions made about the content of the networking activities.


To achieve this, the following impact objectives will be met:
1. Community farm users from diverse groups and farmers will be involved in the coproduction of knowledge about the multispecies heritage and aesthetics of farmland and the farmed landscape.
2. Through workshops and creative practice, stakeholders will identify and articulate the various non-monetary values that are attached to land and landscape. These values might for example have aesthetic, spiritual, health and wellbeing, cultural and social meanings attached to them.
3. To address the varied and often contested values attached to land and landscape, the project will use coproduction of knowledge and creative works and co-curation as routes to find consensus amongst stakeholders.
4. To feed into wider debates about landscape use, local residents, local and county council representatives will be invited to attend the exhibition.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Multisensory multispecies storytelling to engage disadvantaged groups in changing landscapes
Amount £81,018 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/T012293/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2020 
End 07/2022
 
Description 'Multispecies storytelling' (Worldly Togetherness Conference) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Delivery of a conference paper by PI and Co-I about the network project to an international academic audience.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL http://www.vegansociology.com/IAVS2020Program.pdf
 
Description Multispecies Heritage 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact An online international conference which examined the heritage aspect of multispecies relationships. The event featured poetry readings and creative works as well as traditional papers. The conference enabled the network to expand beyond the national group and engage with an international multidisciplinary audience of academics, postgraduate students and included a range of creative practitioners with backgrounds in poetry, photography and fine art. Over half of the presentations were given by postgraduate students.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://sites.edgehill.ac.uk/multispeciesstorytelling/events/
 
Description Multispecies Storytelling Introductory video 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A short 5 minute video for the Landscape Decision YouTube channel to introduce the project and outline the objectives. Researchers from two other Landscape Decision projects made contact to request further information about the network.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-gHtU3YYt4&list=PLrlZ6FipN5mlo3kj8f-eKGVcc9Mfa2576&index=2
 
Description Multispecies Storytelling YouTube Channel 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Creation of a Multispecies Storytelling YouTube channel to host video content from events
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC903-fRSFaOxJqf9BtMmztQ
 
Description Website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Creation of a website designed to engage with a wide variety of audiences
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://sites.edgehill.ac.uk/multispeciesstorytelling/
 
Description Who speaks on behalf of nature? 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The event brought together 25 participants from academia, business and a community farm group to consider who is enabled to speak on behalf of nature and which narratives are privileged or ignored as a consequence. The event sparked discussion and led to the production of two creative pieces of work (piece of creative writing and a digital collage) by the community farm participants.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://sites.edgehill.ac.uk/multispeciesstorytelling/gallery/