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American Perceptions of Immigrant and Invasive Species: Strangers on the Land

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Sometimes by accident and sometimes on purpose, humans have transported plants and animals to new habitats around the world. Arriving in ever-increasing numbers to American soil, recent invaders have competed with, preyed on, hybridized with, and carried diseases to native species, transforming our ecosystems and creating anxiety among environmentalists and the general pub Sometimes by accident and sometimes on purpose, humans have transported plants and animals to new habitats around the world. Arriving in ever-increasing numbers to American soil, recent invaders have competed with, preyed on, hybridized with, and carried diseases to native species, transforming our ecosystems and creating anxiety among environmentalists and the general public. But is American anxiety over this crisis of ecological identity a recent phenomenon? Charting shifting attitudes to alien species since the 1850s, Peter Coates brings to light the rich cultural and historical aspects of this story by situating the history of immigrant flora and fauna within the wider context of human immigration. Through an illuminating series of particular invasions, including the English sparrow and the eucalyptus tree, what he finds is that we have always perceived plants and animals in relation to ourselves and the polities to which we belong. Setting the saga of human relations with the environment in the broad context of scientific, social, and cultural history, this thought-provoking book demonstrates how profoundly notions of nationality and debates over race and immigration have shaped American understandings of the natural world.


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Sometimes by accident and sometimes on purpose, humans have transported plants and animals to new habitats around the world. Arriving in ever-increasing numbers to American soil, recent invaders have competed with, preyed on, hybridized with, and carried diseases to native species, transforming our ecosystems and creating anxiety among environmentalists and the general pub Sometimes by accident and sometimes on purpose, humans have transported plants and animals to new habitats around the world. Arriving in ever-increasing numbers to American soil, recent invaders have competed with, preyed on, hybridized with, and carried diseases to native species, transforming our ecosystems and creating anxiety among environmentalists and the general public. But is American anxiety over this crisis of ecological identity a recent phenomenon? Charting shifting attitudes to alien species since the 1850s, Peter Coates brings to light the rich cultural and historical aspects of this story by situating the history of immigrant flora and fauna within the wider context of human immigration. Through an illuminating series of particular invasions, including the English sparrow and the eucalyptus tree, what he finds is that we have always perceived plants and animals in relation to ourselves and the polities to which we belong. Setting the saga of human relations with the environment in the broad context of scientific, social, and cultural history, this thought-provoking book demonstrates how profoundly notions of nationality and debates over race and immigration have shaped American understandings of the natural world.

30 review for American Perceptions of Immigrant and Invasive Species: Strangers on the Land

  1. 5 out of 5

    sdw

    “The United States is having a problem with aliens. Not illegal immigrants or space invaders, but plants and animals that reach the shores and stay.” – National Safety Council’s Environmental Health Center What does the popular and scientific discourse about invasive species tell us about U.S. attitudes about immigration? Does the nativism of ecologists and environmentalists predisposed to “native plants” reflect a deep xenophobic anxiety about national identity? These are the questions that Pete “The United States is having a problem with aliens. Not illegal immigrants or space invaders, but plants and animals that reach the shores and stay.” – National Safety Council’s Environmental Health Center What does the popular and scientific discourse about invasive species tell us about U.S. attitudes about immigration? Does the nativism of ecologists and environmentalists predisposed to “native plants” reflect a deep xenophobic anxiety about national identity? These are the questions that Peter Coates attempts to answer in American Perceptions of Immigration and Invasive Species: Strangers in the Land.” As Coates explains, “By studying the language we use to convey our attitudes to non-native species, I confront the charge of nativism that today’s defenders of nonnatives routinely level at those who bemoan the impact of certain species of foreign flora and fauna on their native counterparts.” Ultimately, Coates argument is that there is a “danger” in “drawing convenient yet glib parallels between attitudes to human immigrants and the floral and faunal varieties. Botanical cosmopolitans were not necessarily cultural pluralists.” As he explains, “Even at a time of widespread antipathy toward certain immigrant groups, there are limits to the meaningful association between opposition to plant pests and prejudice against people.” The book contains in-depth discussions of many debates about invasive species, and I greatly enjoyed reading the case studies that inform his conclusions. I enjoyed his discussions of the English sparrow and the Eucalyptus Tree as much as his discussion of T.C. Boyle’s The Tortilla Curtain. I agree with UC Press that “this thought-provoking book demonstrates how profoundly notions of nationality and debates over race and immigration have shaped American understandings of the natural world.” While I appreciate Coates’s case studies, I found his overall argument unsatisfying. In emphasizing the lack of a one-to-one correspondence between anti-immigrant zealots and native species advocates, he fails to deal adequately with the discourse around purity that continues to haunt notions of U.S. Wildness and Wilderness. He fails to grapple with the relationship of knowledge to power or the importance of examining the genealogies of knowledge. Nuance is necessary. Yet, it also matters that we still speak through a xenophobic frame to understand and interpret the threat of invasive species, even if many of the native plants advocates may themselves support comprehensive immigration reform. I also found Coates’s argument lacking in regards to the contemporary environmental movement and the history of immigration. When Coates declares, “In the mid-1970s, immigration – legal and illegal –reemerged as a subject of large-scale public controversy for the first time since the 1920s,” I wondered if he knew about Operation Wetback or how he might explain Japanese internment. He rightly points out the direct connection between many environmentalists and anti-immigrant hate. He explains that the anti-immigrant organization Federation for American Immigration Reform’s (FAIR) founders included John Tanton, Garrett Harden and Paul Ehrlich. Yet he writes these connections off by explaining, “these are maverick groups and unrepresentative individual voices.” I agree with Coates that not all environmentalists are anti-immigrant nativists. Many environmentalists critique these ideas. Earth First!’s participation in the No Borders campaign and the Sierra Club’s work against the Border Wall would be a prime example. Yet, the question of immigration is a central ideological dividing point in the environmental movement. The Greening of Hate is an important force to contend with, not to be so easily dismissed. When Coates explains, “Most American environmental organizations, large and small, have not debated the issues…The exception is the Sierra Club.. .” I feel like he’s grasping at straws. The debates within the Sierra Club (and the statement the club membership took in siding against anti-immigrant hate) exemplify the debates within the environmental movement. To dismiss them as the exception is dangerous. So where do we go from here? Despite my critique of Coates’s book, I do think he offers us a compelling way forward and a new contribution to this discussion. Throughout the text, Coates reminds us that native plant enthusiasts are pluralists. Invasive species can be seen not only as “hordes” reminiscent of “yellow peril” but also as colonizers conducting another round of genocide on a beleaguered continent. Those resisting invasive species resist the homogenizing forces of globalization and the global domination of a few species at the expense of the indigenous many. I thought this was a far more compelling reason for Coates to argue that we need to decouple our analysis of environmentalists’ war on immigrants from our analysis of environmentalists’ war on invasive species. This suggests the possibilities of a more progressive constellation of ideologies that also informs popular knowledge of native species.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    The book's structure, focusing at length on a few particular but varied case studies, gives a useful sense of how issues and attitudes changed in real time. A more comprehensive approach, one that tried to cover every single controversial species or invasion, might not have accomplished that as well. I'm especially provoked by Coates' premise that superficially similar anti-foreigner rhetoric between the arenas of human immigration and plant/animal immigration doesn't necessarily or always mean The book's structure, focusing at length on a few particular but varied case studies, gives a useful sense of how issues and attitudes changed in real time. A more comprehensive approach, one that tried to cover every single controversial species or invasion, might not have accomplished that as well. I'm especially provoked by Coates' premise that superficially similar anti-foreigner rhetoric between the arenas of human immigration and plant/animal immigration doesn't necessarily or always mean there is a connection. I went into the book assuming they were more closely tied, but was persuaded otherwise, or at least that the relationship needs to be considered on a case by case basis.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Scott

    Smashing! The thesis links human xenophobia to the perceptions of invasive plants and animals.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Wang

  5. 4 out of 5

    Marion

  6. 5 out of 5

    Brian

  7. 5 out of 5

    Boyd

  8. 4 out of 5

    Sonja

  9. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Azaryahu

  10. 5 out of 5

    Marta

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kim Forsythe

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jared

  14. 5 out of 5

    Cindy

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ashli

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jeremy

  17. 4 out of 5

    Leah

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    Lan Dinh

  19. 5 out of 5

    Paige

  20. 5 out of 5

    Anita

  21. 4 out of 5

    Matt Bango

  22. 4 out of 5

    Lynn

  23. 4 out of 5

    ficulyus

  24. 5 out of 5

    Steven McKay

  25. 5 out of 5

    Zeke

  26. 5 out of 5

    Steph

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jay Corrales

  28. 4 out of 5

    Deborah Flores

  29. 5 out of 5

    Javier Montes

  30. 4 out of 5

    Amy

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