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Constructing the animal worlds of inner-city
Los Angeles
Jennifer Wolch, Alec Brownlow and Unna Lassiter
Metropolitan populations of the United States are becoming increasingly diverse.
This growing urban demographic diversity is due to high levels of immigration from
Latin America, Asia and other parts of the world over the last two decades, as well as
to longstanding patterns of rural to urban migration among native-born African-
Americans and Hispanic Americans. One seldom-noticed aspect of this rising
diversity relates to nature—society relationships. How do urban immigrants think
about nature, and how, if at all, do their attitudes change with duration of residence
in US cities? Are these attitudes different from those held by native-born urban
residents, who themselves are differentiated by race/ethnicity, class and gender? And
do variations in nature—society relations play any discernible role in precipitating
urban social conflict so prevalent in metropolitan areas today?
Such issues are critical to forging pathways towards human—animal coexistence
and strategies for sharing space in an era of rapid urbanisation and related habitat
loss/fragmentation, species endangerment and escalating conflicts along the human
—animal borderlands of the metropolis. 1 Long-entrenched dualisms between nature
and culture, and city and country, are breaking down both on the level of
epistemology (especially due to the influence of feminist, post-colonialist and
postmodern perspectives), and on the concrete level of everyday urban management
of human—animal relations and city space. Traditional, anthropocentric urban
theory is inadequate to the task of conceptualising the city as part of nature, or of
animals as urban residents (much less providing policy prescriptions). Rather, we
need a 'transspecies urban theory' that can make sense not only of cities as spaces of
political-economic power and cultural difference, but also as places characterised by
particular constellations of animals. For it is within this transspecies urban context
that finely differentiated attitudes towards animals are shaped and expressed in the
form of human—animal relations played out with particular consequences for both
people and animals.
The desire to flesh out such a new, less anthropocentric urban theory provides the
motive and context for our current investigations. This research seeks to clarify
relationships between cultural background, linked to race/ethnicity or national
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