Rewilding Scotland's Highlands: Life, Death and the Labour of Nonhumans

  • Matthew Mcmullen

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis is based on 12-months of ethnographic research with conservationists and rewilders in the Scottish Highlands. At a time of escalating ecological crisis, rewilding is developing as a form of conservationism thought to be redressing denuded and damaged natures, whilst returning freedom and autonomy to nonhuman worlds. In the Highlands, rewilding has concentrated on the cultivation of wild native wood land, with a range of nonhuman beings made a part of its work. It is through an attention to this work that this study attempts to develop an understanding of rewilding's relationships with these nonhumans. Contributing to a body of ethnographic literature on this form of conservation, this thesis is attentive to the nonhuman ethics and politics of a particular set of rewilding projects. It makes the case for a nonhuman anthropology, not through the study of intimate relationships, but an attention to the structure and organisation of rewilding's work. Specifically, it attends to rewilding's production of wild habitats through its infrastructural interventions, the management and culling of deer, the wild labour of nonhuman beings and disturbance regimes. This study understands rewilding, as a way of (re)organising nature, which is forging a particular set of human-nonhuman relationships. It suggests that rewilding is (a) making nonhumans the object and subject of its work, and (b) bringing wildness into being through the work of infrastructures, and relationships of substitution, nonhuman labour and surrogacy: attempts to rearrange natures through the tempering, removal and contribution of different forms of work: both human and nonhuman. Approached in this way, this study aggregates an interest, not only with these particular enactments of rewilding, but how these natures are brought into being - and the human-nonhuman relationships which are being worked, and grown, into the nascent wilds of Scotland's Highlands.
Date of Award1 Aug 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorNoel Castree (Supervisor) & Soumhya Venkatesan (Supervisor)

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