College of Liberal Arts

Guest Speaker: Nayanika Mathur on "A Petition to Kill: Efficacious Appeals Against Big Cats in India"

Friday Dec 7, 2018 12:00 PM - 1:00 PM | RLP 1.302D, UT Austin campus

In a political culture that experiences inordinately high levels of petitioning, what makes for a successful petition? This talk studies petitions that have been efficacious in their appeals to capture or kill big cats in India. The rates of success for any appeal against big cats are low in contemporary India, given the stringent legal regime that is geared almost exclusively towards the protection of the charismatic and endangered big cats as well as the hegemonic position occupied by wildlife conservationism. Furthermore, not only is it difficult to petition against cossetted big cats, but it is also not an easy task for any petition to be heard and acquiesced to. Through an ethnography of efficacious petitions, this talk makes three related interventions. First, and in the process of attending to the rarity of a handful of efficacious petitions, this talk argues for expanding our conceptualization of what, in practice, a petition is. It does so by outlining the changing forms of efficacious petitions, which can range from a telephone call, a register entry, a WhatsApp message from a smart phone, to the more conventional paper-based petition. Beyond its ever-evolving medium, this talk then demonstrates the criticality of folding petitioning into a wider process that involves planning, performance, perseverance, repetition, and the capacity to elicit visceral responses. Finally, through an ethnographic foregrounding of human-big cat encounters, it demonstrates how an acceptance and elaboration of animal agency enriches the study of politico-legal processes.

Dr. Nayanika Mathur is an Anthropologist of South Asia with wide-ranging research and teaching interests in the anthropology of politics, development, environment, law, human-animal studies, and research methods. She was educated at the Universities of Delhi (B.A. and M.A.) and Cambridge (MPhil and PhD). She has held postdoctoral research fellowships awarded by the Leverhulme Trust and the British Academy at Cambridge’s Centre for the Research in Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH).

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