Introduced ‘invasive’ species have been routinely identified for removal in the belief that they damage or otherwise compromise the natural purity or integrity of ecosystems. However, diverse literatures within both the natural and social sciences over the past few decades have questioned some of the assumptions underpinning these beliefs.
In contrast to the relatively static and human exclusive constructions of nature in the past, many authors now emphasize a nature characterised by indeterminacy, flux, interconnectedness, and hybridity. In consequence, discursive moves toward more reconciliatory approaches to the understanding of introduced species have become increasingly common.
Noting these developments, this thesis investigates whether changing discourses of nativism and authenticity are influencing the reconciliation of introduced species into socio-environmental systems in New Zealand. Recognising its efficacy for exploring discourses of ‘nature’ and ‘the environment,’ I employed biopolitical theory, along with concepts from the wider constructionist literature.
Biopolitics focuses attention on the expression of power over life itself and its attendant consequences. It highlights the discursive means through which ‘exceptions,’ such as introduced species, are delineated and removed. An analysis grounded in a biopolitical framework asks not only why death is considered necessary, but also why this death in particular is justifiable.
It thus offers a powerful means of exploring contestation over the supposed place or role of introduced species within constructions of an appropriate nature. I employed a critical discourse approach to interviewing, documentary research, and observations to investigate three case studies on introduced game species in New Zealand’s North Island.
Introduced game species were selected because they do not fit with common understandings of introduced wildlife in New Zealand, often being both demonstrably ‘damaging’ to native ecosystems and valued.
As such, they provided a vehicle for exploring both the types of discourse that may be necessary to reconcile introduced species more generally and how effects might be discursively rationalised. I found that species, whether native or introduced, were reconciled primarily as a factor of their perceived contribution to the national identity and economy. Species that were not considered useful were marginalised or ignored.
Despite the optimistic contributions of many authors arguing for the reconciliation of introduced species, I show that any broadscale reconciliation – at least in terms of a compassionate reconsideration – may be unlikely in New Zealand. As evidence, I show that notions of ecological balance and human-exclusivity remain popular in constructions of nature in New Zealand.
These beliefs necessarily exclude human introductions and, perhaps more notably, construct a belonging for humans in New Zealand as guardians or ‘archivists’ of native wildlife. Furthermore, a positioning of humans as ‘moral predators’ against a foreign invasion of introduced species reconciles peoples’ own place in nature.
Though often accepted as inaccurate, rhetorics of warfare work by suppressing nascent doubts about the need to kill introduced species. I show that human tensions with certain introduced species are only reinforced by the truth discourses of science, which further promote moral predation, and the economics of pest management, which have created an important industry out of introduced species’ removal. Together, these findings suggest that any reconciliation of introduced species, though intellectually compelling, is unlikely to be advanced on any broad-scale in New Zealand until alternative human roles within nature are identified and propagated.