Animals, Angelenos and the Arbitrary

Altrudi, Soledad and Christopher Kelty. 2022. “Animals, Angelenos and the Arbitrary: Analyzing Human-Wildlife Entanglement in Los Angeles” Environmental Humanities 14(3):522-542. Environmental Humanities (PDF)

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Multispecies entanglement has been a major research focus in environmental humanities, allowing a re-thinking of the ontological and ethical possibilities for theory. But entanglement is more often simply noted (and implicitly lauded) than it is analyzed, often as a way to gesture towards the need for more-than-human ethics or theory beyond nature/culture. In this paper we present the results of two years of fieldwork and analysis of entanglements of multiple species of animals in Los Angeles, and the precise ways in which that entanglement takes shape. We offer a four-fold framework to understand how entanglement works—spatial, emotional, behavioral, and political—and articulate the role of private property and forms of technical control practiced by individual residents, emotional commitments (from inciting fear, to expressing frustration), actions like feeding or killing animals, and the involvement of multiple overlapping jurisdictions of animal control in the city. Fundamentally, we also suggest the concept of arbitrariness as the key through which to read the urban matrix that unfolds: drawing on philosophical ideas of arbitrary domination, as well as works exploring the relation of settler colonialism, racism, and justice, we argue that this arbitrariness produces a form of domination that serves neither humans nor animals well, and that the challenge of reducing this arbitrariness, even it if it means restricting human freedom or introducing new forms of control over animals, may be necessary for a more-than-human city to be just.