The Corridor Talk project held its first workshop and AGM on 9 November, hosted by the Rachel Carson Center in Munich. The workshop was held online as the COVID crisis made travel impossible. All six members of the Corridor Talk team were present.
Report by Graham Huggan
Chair: Prof Graham Huggan (University of Leeds)
Participants: Corridor Talk project team
International advisory board: Prof Irus Braverman (University of Buffalo); Assoc. Prof Sabine Höhler (KTH Stockholm); Prof Jamie Lorimer (Oxford University)
The main purpose of the AGM was to obtain feedback and advice at a relatively early stage of the project (nine months in) from the three members of its international advisory board. Consequently the meeting focused on the following three pre-distributed sets of questions: (1) What is your sense of what the team has done so far? What are the main strengths and weaknesses of the project? (2) What might the project need to reconsider, for example, in light of the COVID crisis? (3) What are the best ways of bringing out the connections between the three sub-projects, and of maximizing the project’s collaboration with the participating national parks?
The ensuing discussion covered a lot of ground, and advisory board members not only made a series of helpful comments in relation to the prompts given above, but also asked a number of pointed questions to clarify the project’s conceptual apparatus and methodological aims. For example, in response to Braverman, Co-PI Huggan explained how the project had come into being and what its main research objectives were, namely (1) to ask what humanities approaches might have to add to contemporary and historical conservation debates, (2) to gauge the effectiveness of these approaches in contributing to the conservation of European transboundary national parks, and (3) to enquire into the ways that humans and animals move in and across these parks, and to reflect on the implications of these different forms of mobility, which explicitly or implicitly challenge the territorial boundaries on which the parks are historically based. Huggan and other CT colleagues explained that the choice of parks, while to some extent revolving around the location and expertise of the project team, was down to the fact that all they were all transboundary entities, and that this allowed the team to focus on boundary issues and the cross-cultural/cross-species questions these issues raised. While the case studies are specific, they have the potential to magnify issues that affect conservation practice across Europe and present new approaches to understanding conflicts. Höhler pointed out that the relationship between boundaries and mobilities (the project’s other key term) effectively meant that the project was organized around considerations of space rather than, as the original project proposal had implied, considerations of species, and without suggesting a wholesale readjustment she suggested that members of the team might want to reconsider the ‘single-species’ approach adopted in the three individual work packages (sandpiper, bark beetle, brown bear). Lorimer concurred with this, adding that one of the project’s likely strengths lay in its proposed reconfiguration of space, not least in light of the changing conditions and circumstances produced by COVID. This represents an opportunity – already picked up on in the project – to reflect on what human ‘mobility’ might mean when it is restricted, and on the historical limits of national parks as a form of contained space.
Some consideration was given in the subsequent discussion to possible shortcomings of method. The advisory board was largely satisfied that the project’s methods, especially the use of immersive AV material (work package 2), were suitable to its aims; Höhler advising that the Covid-related immobility provided an opportunity to work on theoretical and conceptual models that could bring the different approaches together. Höhler suggested that ‘invasion’ might not be the best term to use given its emotive connotations, but conceded that the work package in question (work package 3) was explicitly designed to question its own vocabulary, and that some of the work already produced by the project had questioned it further (e.g. with regard to invasive species). Some doubts were raised by all three members of the advisory board, Braverman especially, as to whether the four main sites chosen for study lent themselves to meaningful comparison. It was pointed out in response that the project had a fourth work package designed to look at overlaps and crossovers, and that it was too early to tell what might turn out to be common ground. In the last part of the discussion it was suggested that the question of visitor behaviour in the parks, particularly when critically viewed, would need to be gauged against the fact that improving infrastructure was granting access to visitors who had previously been excluded from them, and that the larger issue of access might at one level be used to cast doubt on the very validity of national parks. Are national parks anachronistic, Braverman asked, and have the historical ideas of protection bound up in them been in part designed to shore up the authority of mobile social elites? This was a provocative note on which to end, but an appropriate one, showing that the project has a social relevance beyond its immediate concerns with human and animal movement in some of Europe’s best-known national parks.