Paper $27.50 ISBN: 9780226358161 Published August 2016
Cloth $82.50 ISBN: 9780226358024 Published August 2016
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Imagining Extinction

The Cultural Meanings of Endangered Species

Ursula K. Heise

Imagining Extinction

Ursula K. Heise

288 pages | 3 color plates, 13 halftones, 2 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2016
Paper $27.50 ISBN: 9780226358161 Published August 2016
Cloth $82.50 ISBN: 9780226358024 Published August 2016
E-book $10.00 to $27.50 About E-books ISBN: 9780226358338 Published August 2016
We are currently facing the sixth mass extinction of species in the history of life on Earth, biologists claim—the first one caused by humans. Activists, filmmakers, writers, and artists are seeking to bring the crisis to the public’s attention through stories and images that use the strategies of elegy, tragedy, epic, and even comedy. Imagining Extinction is the first book to examine the cultural frameworks shaping these narratives and images.

Ursula K. Heise argues that understanding these stories and symbols is indispensable for any effective advocacy on behalf of endangered species. More than that, she shows how biodiversity conservation, even and especially in its scientific and legal dimensions, is shaped by cultural assumptions about what is valuable in nature and what is not. These assumptions are hardwired into even seemingly neutral tools such as biodiversity databases and laws for the protection of endangered species. Heise shows that the conflicts and convergences of biodiversity conservation with animal welfare advocacy, environmental justice, and discussions about the Anthropocene open up a new vision of multispecies justice. Ultimately, Imagining Extinction demonstrates that biodiversity, endangered species, and extinction are not only scientific questions but issues of histories, cultures, and values.
List of Illustrations
Introduction: From the End of Nature to the Beginning of the Anthropocene
1 Lost Dogs, Last Birds, and Listed Species: Elegy and Comedy in Conservation Stories
2 From Arks to Database, Epic, and Biodiversity
3 The Legal Lives of Endangered Species: Biodiversity Laws and Culture
4 Mass Extinction and Mass Slaughter: Biodiversity, Violence, and the Dangers of Domestication
5 Biodiversity, Environmental Justice, and Multispecies Communities
6 Multispecies Fictions for the Anthropocene
Coda: The Hug of the Polar Bear
Works Cited
Review Quotes
“[An] important, scholarly book. . . . Recommended.”
“Timely and nuanced.”
"Ursula Heise, who takes the time to unravel the philosophical contradictions that riddle the field with landmines. She’s very good at asking difficult questions. . . . Her book breaks interesting ground, examining the role of archives and databases as cultural mechanisms for establishing meaning as important as science fiction, ethnography, and theories of justice. All of these are woven together in the book, producing some refreshing new ways of thinking about our predicament."
Clint Wilson III | Cultures of Energy
"A nuanced re-visioning of extinction discourse, inflected powerfully by literary traditions ranging from elegy to epic. . . . Bound by temporal division, suggests Heise, only the human imagination can seemingly inspire the kind of social and political action championed by environmentalists and scientists alike. . . .  Imagining Extinction persuasively advocates for the centrality of the literary, the anthropological, the historical, and the psychological in coding and recoding our present considerations of extinction and the Anthropocene. Repeatedly, Heise draws our attention to 'the stories we tell about ourselves.' Perhaps this, after all, is the humanities’ calling. Writing and rewriting stories about who we are, where we are, why we are. And yet, in the same way that I do not want the humanities reduced to a single function, I would also not want to reduce Heise’s Imagining Extinction to a single application. Self-consciously, the text seems crafted in order to lend itself to alliances far beyond a single discourse or discipline. Extinction, after all, is by its present definition uncontained and uncontainable."
"As a framework, multispecies justice attends to the ways in which cultural, socio-political, economic, and historical differences have shaped our thinking about human and non-human communities, as well as our relations to biological and ecological differences. The hope–as Heise’s work indicates--is that it may serve as a starting point for telling different stories and imagining a better future."
The Quarterly Review of Biology
“This ambitious study covers extensive intellectual ground. The author’s goal is not to understand what endangered species and extinction mean biologically but to move toward understanding what they do (and perhaps to learn what they could eventually come to) mean culturally—or, in her words, ‘how they mean culturally.’ That distinction does not and should not be taken as an indication that this book does not represent relevant reading for biologists. It does, although it is equally relevant for anyone concerned about biodiversity and the environment.”
Lawrence Buell, Harvard University
“Heise is the leading ecocritic of her generation. Any serious-minded person with a concern for the longstanding but accelerating plight of endangered nonhuman species—and how to make sense of its history and possible futures as an urgent cultural predicament—is certain to profit from reading Imagining Extinction.”
Nicole Shukin, University of Victoria
Imagining Extinction shows Heise working at the height of her powers, traversing a formidable range of charged ecological-cultural issues that include mass species extinctions and rapid loss of biodiversity; global climate change; narrative ‘templates’ that structure how cultures care about, and tell stories about, other species; the rise of biodiversity databases; biodiversity laws; and animal rights. This book is elegantly written, cogently organized, and comprehensively researched.”

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