Dissertation Manuscript Outline: Human-Javelina Relations in Texas

Humans and Javelinas: Something Something… I need a title

This study is motivated by the broad pressing question: How do we live in a world full of difference? More specifically, how do our relationships with other beings shape our identities and the course of our shared futures? As we experience increasing precarity associated with defining characteristics of the Anthropocene, such as climate change (Gibson and Venkateswar 2015; McGill et al. 2015), a loss of habitat (Corales, De Assis Montag, and Dunck 2022; Johnson et al. 2017), scarcity (Lane 2019; McAfee 2016), conflict (Krauss 2015; Latour 2015), and species invasions (Helmreich 2005; Pfeiffer and Voeks 2008), all living things have to come to terms with future uncertainty. Humans and the other beings with whom we share the world are all at the mercy of these effects, and as Donna Haraway (2016) argues, instead of turning our eyes to the future for solutions, we should be truly present with those we experience these troubles. Melanie Challenger identifies three kinds of responses to crises associated with the Anthropocene: 1) pessimists who see this period as the brink of destruction, 2) optimists who believe things will get better and we can problem-solve our way out of the troubles, and 3) futurists who turn to technology for the solution, to escape Earth altogether (2021: 16-17). I am forever optimistic, but instead of hoping we can think ourselves out of the problem, I look for hope in the moments when we already engage our fellow denizens as co-producers of a brighter future. I take seriously the position that our future and that of all other species are shaped by the more-than-human relations we cultivate (Fijn and Kavesh 2021; Haraway 2016; Tschakert 2022; Tschakert et al. 2020). Whether it is our relations with the domestic plants and animals we use for food and companionship, the disease entities that infect us, or the wild species that flit in and out of our lives, we are deeply entangled with others.

I have chosen collared peccaries, locally known as javelinas, as the focal species to investigate the complexities of a more-than-human relationship and offer insight into possible futures where humans and other animals can continue to survive in a precarious world. Javelinas are widely distributed throughout the Americas, ranging from northern Argentina to the southwestern United States. The research takes place in Texas, representing the northernmost extent of javelinas’ range. Within Texas, they inhabit the state’s southern, western, and central areas, predominantly in arid regions. Despite the harsh conditions, these areas showcase a remarkable diversity of habitats, presenting an array of challenges that javelinas must navigate and adapt to in order to thrive. In these regions, their lives become entangled with those of the humans with whom they share these spaces.

From the grand desert vistas of Big Bend National Park, where javelinas and tourists share campgrounds and hiking trails, to a state wildlife management area in the dry scrublands of South Texas where people enter a lottery for the opportunity to hunt and kill javelinas, this study investigates several ways that human-javelina relations bubble to the surface. While the national park and wildlife management area illustrate conventional ways that humans and other animals come into contact with and relate to one another—as unstructured short-term encounters—a private ranch in the Texas Hill Country, northwest of San Antonio, provides an alternative vision of human-javelina relations. At the ranch, my primary interlocutor, Roger, and his wife and canine companion, Willie, have daily encounters with javelinas. Unlike the encounters at the other key sites in the study, Roger has cultivated a long-term, affective relationship with the group of javelinas with whom he shares the property.

Chapter 1: Dirty Pigs, Weedy Pests, and Other Contested Actors

The interactions between humans and javelinas are complex and multifaceted, involving a wide range of non-human actors that play significant roles in shaping these relationships. From feral hogs to prickly pear cacti to Ashe juniper trees, the presence of these contested actors has profound implications for human-javelina relations, both directly and indirectly. By exploring the ways in which other non-human actors figure into human-javelina relations, this chapter aims to shed light on the complex dynamics at play in these relationships and provide a foundation for understanding how external factors contribute to human-javelina relations in Texas, particularly as the subsequent chapters delve more into the specificity of intimate contact between humans and javelinas.

First, I investigate how the presence of feral hogs—an introduced and ecologically problematic species—in Texas both creates challenges for javelinas due to their physical similarities and how hogs define javelinas by providing a contrasting example of non-native wildlife. Next, I explore Texan and javelina relationships to prickly pear cacti (Opuntia sp.) and Ashe juniper (Juniperus ashei), locally called mountain cedar. These plants are ecologically valuable for javelinas in Texas, but many Texans view them as undesirable flora that taints the ideal Texas landscape. Opposing ideas about prickly pear and mountain cedar lead to competing interests and, thus, indirect conflict between landowners and javelinas. Then, I investigate the role of policy, hunting, and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Division in mediating human-javelina relations. Javelinas are recognized as a protected species under state law, and hunting is regulated to balance conservation with the interests of hunters. Finally, I consider how javelinas and the stories Texans tell about them shape and reinforce the diverse perspectives that impact human interactions.  

Chapter 2: Encounters

Chapter two describes intimate encounters between humans and javelinas across several settings. Faier and Rofel define encounters as “everyday engagements across difference” and focus on the relational dynamics of contact between subjects (2016: 364). It is in encounters that human-javelina relations take shape and transform from abstract potentialities to material realities. Describing different ways that humans and javelinas participate in encounters in Texas provides a foundation for further analysis of the affects and effects that follow: fear, hate, love, violence, and avoidance. 

First, I describe the typical encounter between tourists at Big Bend National Park and many of the groups living there. I then juxtapose these encounters to those just north of the national park, around the Davis Mountains. Despite the relative proximity of these areas, encounters differ significantly and are affected both by human and javelina expectations of such circumstances. Next, I describe encounters between javelinas and hunters. I pay special attention to how a public hunt at a wildlife management area in South Texas structures encounters. As Texas lands are more than 90% privately owned, javelina hunts often occur at sites where the Texas Parks and Wildlife Division or private property owners structure hunts. Finally, I describe encounters between Roger, his dog Willie, and the javelinas living on his property. At this site, they have daily encounters, often several times a day, where Roger feeds the javelinas, and the javelinas actively approach him, sometimes in unexpected ways.

Chapter 3: Multispecies Politics

Chapter three analyzes how human-javelina encounters take the shapes they do. I consider encounters as “engagements across difference” (Faier and Rofel 2014), where humans and javelinas must negotiate individual interactions. I conceptualize the negotiation of encounters as an intimate multispecies politics. Multispecies politics takes different forms at various sites as the expectations of humans and javelinas differ.

First, I consider the classical example of hunting, where the competing interests of hunters and javelinas are negotiated. Next, I analyze how tourists at Big Bend National Park and resident javelinas negotiate encounters in high-traffic areas such as campgrounds, service stations, and hiking trails. Finally, I investigate how encounters between Roger and the resident javelina group are negotiated on a daily basis, resulting in a unique relationship that provides insights into a possible future for sharing a world with a diverse set of beings. I argue that the multispecies relationships that occur on Roger’s property result from the intimate negotiations of the encounters between Roger and the resident group of collared peccaries that live on his property. Additionally, I argue that the consistent conviviality between Roger and the peccaries emerges from creating, negotiating, and renegotiating boundaries and requires mutual sensing and interpreting of one another: multispecies politics.

Chapter 4: Community

In Chapter 4, I consider the effects of successful multispecies politics, when the assemblage of beings that make up sites become more than the sum of its parts. Anna Tsing (2015) points out that “assemblage” avoids the fixity and boundaries that come along with other concepts. However, She asks, “what happens when gatherings become happenings?” (Tsing 2015: 23). In the case of Roger’s property, I ask what happens when encounters are continually successfully negotiated and become intimate, affective relationships. I argue that multispecies communities form in the wake of successful negotiations of space. Following Iris Marion Young (2013), I consider the role that difference plays in defining a community. Additionally, multispecies communities are defined by those who are included and excluded from participation and come with a set of expectations and a quasi-moral order that is maintained through the actions of the participants.

Chapter Five: Negotiating Landscapes

In the final chapter, I explore how landscapes are made through encounters and the relations that are constituted. Tim Ingold (1993) defines landscapes as dynamic and evolving networks of relations between living and non-living entities. Following this definition, landscapes come into being as an effect of the processes and relations that make them up. Throughout Texas, landscapes are informed by the encounters and relations between humans and wildlife, and human-javelina encounters are key examples of this. Each primary research site, Big Bend National Park, Daughtry Wildlife Management Area (WMA), and Roger’s ranch, are all partially defined by the human-javelina interactions that occur there. These sites come to have a particular meaning, and activity is shaped by these encounters.

First, I look at Big Bend National Park. Tourists visiting the site actively seek out javelinas, who oblige by allowing a large degree of engagement. In areas where javelinas are accustomed to human presence, they willingly venture into areas with human activity and do not readily retreat. Humans expect to encounter wildlife in the park, which is one aspect that attracts them to visit. Javelinas seem to understand that humans pose little danger and so participate in human ends as they feed. Next, I consider how the presence of javelinas at Daughtry WMA makes javelinas hunts possible. Since there is no designated hunting season for javelinas, hunters are able to engage with nature in a way that is familiar to them. Wildlife management areas like Daughtry WMA make this sort of human-environment interaction possible, and javelinas serve as a catalyst. Finally, I investigate Roger’s ranch to understand how, through Roger’s intentional design of the property to attract wildlife, and the javelinas’ willingness to participate makes the property an excellent example of a multispecies future where humans and other animals can have more convivial relations. Roger’s property subverts the traditional modernist dichotomy of nature and society derided by Bruno Latour in We Have Never Been Modern (1993). Instead, Roger and the javelinas demonstrate that humans and other animals can find ways to live alongside one another in meaningful ways, and that other animals are meaningful agents in human lives.

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