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(Un)ethical geographies of human—non-
human relations
Encounters, collectives and spaces
Owain Jones
The aim of this chapter is to draw out considerations on how ethical relations
between humans and non-humans (and in this instance, animals) are deeply
uneven, and on how this unevenness has distinct spatial dimensions which require a
geographical sensibility within any study addressing them. As Casey (1998: ix)
asserts, 'nothing we do is unplaced…. How could we fail to recognise this primal
fact?' Human—non-human relations are inevitably embedded in the complex
spatialities of the world. The myriad encounters which make up human—non-
human relations shape and are shaped by this spatiality in an incredibly rich (in
ontological terms) series of 'spatial formations'. Any consideration of human—non-
human relations has to confront this geography of the spaces and places of encounter.
In particular, my focus is on the ethical implications which may follow from looking
at the world in this way.
My starting-point is that all these (emplaced) encounters have an ethical
'resonance' or 'freight', even if they do not fall within the compass of ethics in terms
of either formalised systems of thought or more messy emotional/moral 'systems' of
judgement. There is hence a spatiality of ethics which shadows the spatiality of
encounter, forming a terrain of ethical events which is as variable as the terrain of
the earth itself. In normative ethical terms, or from moral/emotional positions, this
presents a field of encounters which range from the ethical to the unethical, or from
the cruel to the compassionate, but also include whole sequences of encounters
which are lost to these particular gazes. I suggest that by trying to take seriously this
geography of (un)ethical encounters, we deal with the world as practice in a way
which might be more inclusive, incisive and embedded than are abstracted,
universalised systems of thought. Such an approach opens up a vast array of
questions, some of which revolve around notions of moving towards the irreducible
ontology of 'non-representational theory' (Thrift 1999), while still being able to
describe, even to prescribe upon, the world in ways which (might) make a
difference. Here my aim is to set out in more detail the notion of a geography of
(un)ethical relations, and to develop a number of themes which seem to be
important within it.
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