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Fellow Seminar

21 May 2020

Dr. Svetoslava Toncheva will present online via Zoom her research proposal on the topic: "Living with or versus Nature? - Mitigation of Human-Bear Conflicts as a Bridge towards "Politics of Conviviality" on 21 May 2020, at 16:30h.


Seminar Presentation 1

Various conflicts concerning wildlife and large predators such as the brown bear (Ursus arctos), in particular, are rising both globally and in Europe and Bulgaria in particular. Its conservation is, therefore, ‘a significant challenge in landscapes which are as densely populated and heavily modified as those found in much of Europe' (Temple, Terry, 2007).

Considering the multiple problems that accompany contemporary conservation, the current project undertakes the calls of leading conservation experts for new effective and legitimate conservation of large predators that requires humans and predators to cohabit the same space (Turnhout et al. 2013). As the dualistic approach in conservation has proven to further separate humans and nature and enhance existing conflicts, cohabitation or conviviality (Latin: convivere) is seen as a way of addressing the contemporary social and conservation contexts as well as the root causes of the conflicts. The concept of conviviality is namely seen as conservation model that would overcome the prevailing dichotomies between nature and culture, natural and social scientific approaches, etc. (Büscher, Fletcher 2019) and contribute to mitigation of conflicts and more successful and just co-existence of humans and nature.

The present project aims to explore, in this relation, the human-bear conflicts observed in various settlements in the Rodopi Mountains, Bulgaria, where people and bears coexist, sharing the same living space. In the context of the above outlined reasons, the case offers intriguing opportunity to explore the root causes for the conflicts, the mutual adaptation of humans and bears to "living together" (Boonman-Berson et al., 2016) as well as research on better ways to manage the conflicts and boost the conservation efforts of the brown bear.

Seminar Presentation 2

(Abstract for the fellow seminar to be held on 21th May 2020 at CAS)

The seminar is going to present the findings (up to date) of the above outlined research project dedicated on the conservation of the brown bear in Bulgaria. First, it will focus on more detailed discussion of the current conservation debates (the so called „Anthropocene" conservation debate) and the critiques towards the contemporary efforts to preserve the nature in the era of the capitalist development and the failure to halt biodiversity loss on a planetary scale. It will present the radical proposals now on the table and specifically the development of the so called convivial conservation approach being developed at present at the University of Wageningen, the Netherlands, where I was able to accomplish my specialization in the framework of the project and discuss various issues with the very founders of the approach.

Further, the presentation will shortly focus critically on the Bulgarian environmental policy and the conservation of the brown bear in particular. I will discuss the problems accompanying the preservation of the species which involve various institutions as well as the issue of the compensatory mechanisms involved that, so far, seem not to succeed in preventing human-bear conflicts in the regions where both coexist and share the same living space.

Central in the presentation will be the results of the fieldwork research which took place in 3 settlements in Rodopi Mountains, an example of more intense human-bear conflict in the area - the villages of Arda, Gorna Arda and Mogilitsa (the region of Smolyan, Western Rodopi Mountains). The area is characterized by continuous encounters between humans and bears, leading to various conflicts that include both damages on livestock and beehives as well as occasional descends of bears in the villages themselves, causing a sense of fear among the population and general negative attitudes towards the bears.

The research, based on both qualitative and quantitative anthropological methods, includes the perspectives of various actors (local authorities, diverse social group - farmers, hunters, etc. and experts) as well as innovative approach based on natural-scientific methodology (interviews with biologists) which aim to include the bears as relevant actors in the system of relations.

The conclusion of the presentation will present preliminary analysis of the collected materials and attempt to connect those to the outlined conservation debates and the convivial conservation in particular. It will propose possible mitigation measures in support of better cohabitation models that accommodate the needs of both humans and bears.

Svetoslava Toncheva is assistant professor at the Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Studies, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. She holds a PhD in anthropology (2012) and has specialized at Friedrich-Schiller University, Jena, Germany (Institute of Slavonic Studies) and Wageningen University (Forest and Nature Conservation), Netherlands. Her major interests are addressed towards the fields of religion and environment, most recently the problematic relationship between humans and nature.






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