Photo Elicitation


“We like to tell stories about city trees. The stories shape our thinking, but more materially they shape our management of the trees. The meanings we find in these stories influence the choices we make when we plant trees in the city, they alter the ways that we trim and control the trees, and, finally, they inform our decisions to fell them”

(Dean 2015:162)


Trees are all around us, they are part of our daily lives and play a massive role in the environment. The following blog post is about the act of photo elicitation. Photo elicitation  refers to the act of inserting photographs into a research interview. The photo elicitation will consist of four narratives, mainly trees that provide a service, trees that illustrate power, trees that are part of a places heritage, and lastly trees that are unruly.

1: Narrative of service

Providing services to the human residents, i.e.: shade, food, wood.

Fig tree


Growing up my mother had a fig tree growing in the backyard. This tree provided us with fabulous juicy figs, and as a child, I refused to eat the horrible looking fruit. Once my mother sent me out to pick some of these strange looking fruit, and I refused. Today I love figs and happily steal some from my moms fig tree.


Jene, 16

When I spoke to my little sister about the fig tree, and how it provided a service to our family, by giving us fruit, she immediately had a story of her own. Her story wasn’t about figs specifically, but what she called ‘wild figs’ known as prickly pears. I remembered this story well, because I was there. Jene and I together- with grins on our faces- recalled the time we visited a family member in Warmbad. We were kids and didn’t know much about these ‘wild figs’, only that our dad would bring them home on occasion.

My sister and I, and our two cousins, set out to go for a walk on my uncles farm. We were bored to death in the house, and wanted to get away from all the ‘adults’. It wasn’t far until we saw these funny looking fruits. Our cousins didn’t recognise them, but my sister and I knowingly informed them that our dad brings them home and eats them. Our cousins features scrunched up and they said ew! Who would eat that. We explained to them that you cut them open and eat them, like figs. Our little hands closed around the fruits, picking them from the cactus. Lets just say our day ended with our hands full of butter and our moms trying to pick the almost microscopic thorns from the prickly pears out of our hands with tweezers.

2: Narrative of power

Human control of nature; aesthetic purposes; symbols of race, class and status

Sheena’s Gold 

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When we were little, my parents and all of my sisters would visit our gran in her house by the sea in George, Glentana. My gran was quite the gardener, and had one of the most beautiful gardens in the neighbourhood. She fashioned all her Sheena’s Gold trees in beautiful perfect spheres, and had a variety of different trees and flowers in her garden. We used to call the garden a fairy garden, the moss on the stepping stones, little water features and beautifully fashioned trees was our favourite place to play.

Gran Marieta 70

When I showed my grandmother the picture of one of the trees in her garden, and explained that these well fashioned trees can be seen as a status symbol, she agreed and said that she took great pride in her garden. She secretly loved it when her friends admired her garden and complemented her on how neat and beautiful her skills with a gardening scissor is.

3: Narrative of heritage

Prominent community landmarks; trees associated with a historic person,place, event or period; a tree associated with local folklore, myths, legends, or traditions; trees tocommemorate historical events.

To my compatriots, I have no hesitation in saying that each one of us is as intimately attached to the soil of this beautiful country as are the famous jacaranda trees of Pretoria and the mimosa trees of the bushveld. – Nelson Mandela

The Jacaranda tree

As a child I found myself staring in wonder at the beautiful Jacaranda trees in full bloom that lined the streets of Pretoria. As my mom drove us through town, performing some or other errand, my sisters and I would stare. I found them magical, imagining them to be the perfect homes for local bugs and butterflies. The Jacaranda tree, today , is still a big part of of Pretoria’s culture. The striking purple flowered tree has become a prominent landmark of the city -Pretoria was even nicknamed Jacaranda City.  On occasion Nelson Mandela would mention the trees in one of his speeches, signifying how the Jacaranda tree is a prominent part of Pretorian culture and history.

Claudia, 20

A fellow student at the University of Pretoria was the next person I interviewed. She thought this topic was strange, and dubbed me a tree hugger. I explained to her what this project was all about and why we were conducting the ‘research’, and she smiled, starting to tell me about her brother’s experience with the Jacaranda. He was in his third and final year of studies, and a friend told him that the Jacaranda had a myth attached to it. Her brother, always the curious one, was intrigued. His friend explained to him that if he walked underneath a Jacaranda tree, and a blossom fell on his head, he will pass his final end year exams. When the trees were in bloom, he walked a specific rout back to res everyday, and hoped for a blossom. On one occasion a blossom landed on his shoulder. He exclaimed to his friend the next day that he would at least pass his end year exams. His friend just laughed and they both got their degrees. Maybe the Jacaranda really has some sort of sacred power.

4: Counter narratives: the unruly tree

The above narratives subordinate trees to human needs; we need to move beyond narrowly anthropocentric narratives and consider the unruly tree in the urban landscape.

Wild Pear tree

The Wild Pear tree was a tree in our backyard for as long as I can remember. We grew up with he tree, and we would climb the tree’s bent and unruly limbs. The tree was here before our house was, and the people that built our house built a beautiful stone wall around the tree. Me and my friends would carve words into the tree and we also built ‘fairy houses’ around the tree.

My mom Melene 47

When I showed my mom this photo of the Wild Pear tree, she sighed in frustration. She told me the way those tiny white blossoms cause her eyes to feel thick, and how she’s sure these flowers are what causes the elegiac reaction. She also tells me all about the sticky leaves that fall from the tree in fall, and that there are masses of them and they sticks to everything, even our dogs. The stick to our two fluffy Schnauzers and bring these leaves into our house. My mom also comments that the tree is growing out of control now because its limbs are growing in every direction and that it is blocking the sun and making our house cold in the winter.


It is evident that, with the help of photographs, one obtains a better interaction from the person being interviewed. It encourages dialogue and generated useful data like evoking feelings and memories from people.


  1. Dean, J. 2015. The unruly tree: stories from the archives, in Urban forests, trees, and greenspace: a political ecology perspective, edited by LA Sandberg, A Bardekjian & S Butt. New York: Routledge:162-175.Tinkler, P. 2013. Using photographs in social and historical research. London: SAGE.

Slow violence



Defining slow violence

Acts of violence are continuously being reported across news outlets and mass media as we speak. Reporters jump at the glimpse of the phenomenon. Domestic violence, violence against animals, ethical groups, women, men, genders, sexuality, the environment. Violence is being carefully documented and reported.

Violence |ˈvʌɪəl(ə)nsnoun [ mass noun ] 

Behaviour involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something: violence erupted in protest marches | domestic violence against women | the fear of physical violence. screen violence.

However, sometimes the most obvious violences escape our attention. What about the violence that is slowly creeping up on us? The violence that is escaping our attention, for now. Slow violence can be described as a violence that happens slowly and not in our immediate sight. Rob Nixon describes slow violence as “a violence of delayed destruction that is dispersed across time and space, an attritional violence that is typically not viewed as violence at all”(Nixon 2011:2). Nixon argues that people need to engage with slow violence,  and realise it’s importance.


Deforestation – An act of slow violence

Deforestation is an environmental issue that wipes out most of the Earths natural forests, and is this an act of slow violence. Deforestation can be described as clearing Earth’s forests on such a scale that it damages to the quality of the natural earth and land. According to National Geographic, forests still cover about 30 percent of the world’s land area, but “swaths the size of Panama” are lost each and every year.

Research has shown that agriculture and logging businesses are the biggest contributors to deforestation, and that some go these operations act illegally in order to cut down more trees for more wood.The biggest environmental effect that deforestation causes is the loss of the habitats for countless species that call these forests their sanctuaries and homes.





Nixon, R. 2011. Slow violence and the environmentalism of the poor. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Society, National. “Deforestation Facts, Deforestation Information, Effects Of Deforestation – National Geographic”. National Geographic. N.p., 2016. Web. 11 May 2016.

Companion Species


“Dogs are about the inescapable, contradictory story of relationships, co-constructive relationships in which none of the partners pre-exist the relating, and the relating is never done once and for all.”

Donna Haraway

Our pets are part of our daily lives. They love us unconditionally, and we love them. We’re constantly comparing them to ourselves, bragging about their intelligent actions, that they have ‘human personalities’ – take after a certein person-and that they “talk” to us. Sometimes the question arises, however, that maybe we should be more like them. Our pets are Loyal, grateful, reliable and full of love, but are we? Despite our obvious differences, we can’t deny our companionship and connection with these special beings.

To writer Donna Haraway, pets signify a co-constructive relationship. She wrote her second manifesto on human/animal relations, the Companion Species Manifesto, which she articulated is a “kinship” claim. In this manifesto she writes that we as humans have a strong kinship with our pets. We have a mutual understanding, a connection, an “alliance” even. (Haraway 2007:8-9). That’s right, of how many stories have we heard where mans best friend saves man. Many. It is undeniable that we have differences, but we may also share a level of understanding deeper than one might think.

In the Companion Species Manifesto Haraway speaks of human/animal territories not yet explored. She speaks of the bond between humans and their pets, and explains the “constitutive, historical and protean relationship” of dogs with human beings (Haraway 2007:12).“The relationship is not especially nice; it is full of waist, cruelty, indifference, ignorance, and loss, as well as of joy, imvention, labor, intelligence, and play.” What Harrowy underlines is important. Animals signify love and joy but are sometimes to the heart ache of us all on the receiving end of angry and violent owners.

After reading Haraway’s manifesto I decided to further explore her concepts, especially her revelations that our pets are our companions. My exploration takes the form of a photo essay in which I documanted the inspiring stories and personal narratives of relations between pets and humans.

A warrior who needed saving

The first story is about a Great Dane and her proud owner Ulrike. I’ve seen Ulrike and the beautiful giant Xena posing on Facebook together a few times, and I would always admire the sense of camaraderie between them. Happiness and connection radiates from them, the bond between these two is clear. After receiving this theme for my next blog post Immediately asked Ulrike to tell me all about her and Xena.

Xena and Ulrike

It turned out that their story wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Xena (Greek warrior), was an abused dog until she was saved. She didn’t have a home until Ulrike and her father adopted her in 2007 from the people who found her, but didn’t have enough space for her. Ulrike is the type of person who has a huge heart, and it didn’t surprise me that it was big enough to fit a Great Dane into her life and home. Ulrike gave Xena the love and respect she needed, which turned her into the ‘warrior’ she is today. The story Ulrike wrote me was sad and at the same time the most beautiful thing ever, I decided to include the story below.

Haar naam is Xena (Greek Warrior), sy is n Harlekyn (swart en wit kolle) Great Dane en sy was mishandel, hulle het haar met kabels geslaan en verwurg, hulle het haar skaars kos gegee en het haar probeer verdrink , toe ons haar gekry het was sy verskriklik bang vir mense. Ek en my pa het haar gaan haal by mense wat haar gered het maar hul het nie plek gehad het vir haar nie so toe red ons haar in 2007. Sy was vir 2 jaar mishandel vandat sy n puppy was. Sy was bang vir my maar ek het dag en nag elke dag vir haar kos gegee en lekkernye wat vir honde gemaak is. So het ons n bond gebou en sy vertrou my met haar lewe en ek vertrou haar. Van 2007 af slaap sy elke aand saam my in my kamer. Somtyds slaap sy op my bed. In die winter is sy my warmwater bottel, nou dat sy 11 is (wat bitter oud is vir n Great Dane) slaap sy saam my op my bed elke aand , sy kry die voorreg omdat sy so oud is en sy kry vinnig koud. Toe die woord selfie ontdek was, is sy my model. Sy is baie fotogenies en is mal oor die aandag. -Ulrike 

What an inspiring story. As seen above, Xena is quite the model, and I hope to see many more pictures of her and Ulrike on Facebook. Inspiring stories like these need to be out there so that more people become aware of and open their arms to animals that have gone through suffering. Today Xena is a happy dog, and a constant fixture in Ulrike’s life, she’s not just a pet, she’s a loyal companion.

Cat mysteries

Nina and Bindi

This is a portrait of Bindi and the extremely cat crazy Nina. Nina and her mom Irene have always loved cats, and their mysterious presence around the house. Cats are hugely part of superstition and ‘magic’, and being a fantasy fiction fan, I understand the charm. Her mom found Bindi at a shopping centre, un-cared for and fending for herself. Somebody had just dumped her there. Once again sometimes feee36614e36846aa01c274bff4d7421animals are on the receiving end of ignorant (stupid) human beings.

Despite her abandonment, Bindi is still a lovely cat. Nina describes Bindi as a ‘darling’ and says that Bindi purrs the moment anybody comes near. Like I wrote before, the family keeps many cats around their house, their house acting as a safe haven for them, and this relates to Haraway’s concept that these animals are indeed our companions. Sometimes we don’t see them or hear them, but the fact that they are there, and they are with us constantly, living with us, experiencing things with us and really a part of our lives are why these animals are so important to us. Imagine how empty you’d feel without your pet. When one you go on holiday, you miss them. You miss the companionship.

That fluffy thing is an animal

Suzanne and Nala

Say hello to the most ignorant dog on the planet. Nala is my miniature schnauzer and she was the first schnauzer in the house, we later adopted Caity, also a schnauzer. Nala, unlike her sister Caity, is the most anti-social dog ever. Most people say she has the mentality of a cat -on her own mission, my dad says she’s just stupid, my gran says she’s a lap dog, and I think she’s the best fluffy being ever. She sleeps at the foot of my bed each night, and noisily alerts me each time she here’s something outside, quite vigorously for such a small dog. When I put on my running shoes, she immediately recognises the pair of neon nikes and bails for the door. Outside I’d find her staring so hard at the gate as if it’s going to open at her demand. She loves running, and since I live on a farm she insists that she goes with me. Sometimes I don’t take her, after she’s had a bath, and I would come home to a Nala that’s made it her life mission to ignore me, but at night I would hear her scratch on my bedroom door to summon my presence since I was sleeping in her bed. . .She might be ignorant, feisty, and down right a brat, but I love her to death.

Down the rabbit hole

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Mr. Rabbit and Jene

Last but not least is my baby sister’s white rabbit. She named him Mr. Rabbit, and he formed a big part of her childhood. He was still a baby in the picture but grew up to be a really fat bunny. She would decorate him with bows and spoil him with the “juiciest lettuce” she could find. It must not be taken lightly how important the bonds between children and their animals are. I would say its essential for a child growing up to love and be loved by an animal, to gain the sense of companionship and friendship associated with pets.

From all the stories above one can’t deny the special bonds and companionship we have with our pets. They mean something to us, always joyful, always loyal. Our constant companions. We mustn’t undermine them, and we mustn’t take their presences lightly, because, maybe, they are essential to our well being as humans.

“Until one has loved an animal a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”

Anatole France



Caraway, D. 2007. The Companion Species Manifesto: dogs, people, and significant otherness. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press.




Stewardship of the Natural Environment


“When all the world appears to be in a tumult, and nature itself is feeling the assault of climate change, the seasons retain their essential rhythm. Yes, fall gives us a premonition of winter, but then, winter, will be forced to relent, once again, to the new beginnings of soft greens, longer light, and the sweet air of spring.”

– Madeleine M. Kunin

In order to get in touch with nature, and experience the valuable and unique natural environments that are being conserved in South Africa, I decided to make visits to various green spaces and reserves as much as possible.


Our trip to Clarens.

The Golden Gate

My first visit consisted of a trip to the charming town of Clarens.Clarens is a small town situated on the foothills of the Maluti Mountains in the Free State. I decided a unique green space or nature reserve to visit was the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, situated in Clarens. During my visit, I kept a journal and made observations about the specific site and identified the fauna and flora of the area as well as my personal experience.

“I felt the distinct feeling of being able to breath. My surroundings felt so pure and untouched by civilisation. It was places like these that attracted people from all over South Africa to come and see. The surrounding Maluti Mountains didn’t elicit a feeling of angst, but a feeling of wonder and awe and freedom. I didn’t spot any animals except for two ponies grazing on the grass close to the main gate. The Golden Gate was in truth, actually just that. “

Above are some words I wrote in my journal articulating how I experienced the nature reserve. It was truly an experience like no other. I believe in the value these nature reserves hold in the community and the environment because it preserves how beautiful nature once was all over in certain places of South Africa, before urbanisation. It serves  as a special beacon, a representation of beauty that is purely natural, not man made.


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Golden Gate Highlands National Park.

While I was there I looked up Animals that rome the beautiful scenic reserve, and they include the black wildebeest, eland, blesbok, springbok and Burchell’s zebra, as well as the rare bearded vulture spotted in rare cases among the beautiful sculpted cliffs. The reserve is mostly highveld and montane grassland flora and is known for its veriaty of grass species. The reserve as sixty different grass species and also many different types of herbs and bulbs, each of which has it’s own flowering time which means that veld flowers can be seen across the reserve throughout the summer, not just a certain time in the summer. I noticed many of these flower while I was visiting, including the well known purple and white veld flower on the side of the road throughout the Free State. The reserve has Afromontane forests and Altitude Austro-Afro alpine grassland. Some of the trees that grown in the park include the ouhout, the Lombardi poplars and weeping willow. These trees serve as homes for 117 species, including beetles and various other bugs.

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Veld flowers.


“Golden Gate Highlands National Park”. Wikipedia. N.p., 2016. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.

“Sanparks | Golden Gate Highlands National Park – Sanparks – Official Website”. South African National Parks. N.p., 2016. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.





The Soundscapes of the Anthropocene


The Anthropocene

“Climate change has brought into sharp focus the capability of contemporary human civilization to influence the environment at the scale of the Earth as a single, evolving planetary system. Following the discovery of the ozone hole over Antarctica, with its undeniably anthropogenic cause, the realization that the emission of large quantities of a colourless, odourless gas such as carbon dioxide (CO2) can affect the energy balance at the Earth’s surface has reinforced the concern that human activity can adversely affect the broad range of ecosystem services that support human (and other) life [1,2] and could eventually lead to a ‘crisis in the biosphere’ ([3], cited in Grinevald [4]). But climate change is only the tip of the iceberg. In addition to the carbon cycle, humans are (i) significantly altering several other biogeochemical, or element cycles, such as nitrogen, phosphorus and sulphur, that are fundamental to life on the Earth; (ii) strongly modifying the terrestrial water cycle by intercepting river flow from uplands to the sea and, through land-cover change, altering the water vapour flow from the land to the atmosphere; and (iii) likely driving the sixth major extinction event in Earth history [5]. Taken together, these trends are strong evidence that humankind, our own species, has become so large and active that it now rivals some of the great forces of Nature in its impact on the functioning of the Earth system.”

Will Steffen in The Anthropocene: conceptual and historical perspectives.

We are living in a new age. We are living in a time where we can see our own effects and signature on Earth . Landscapes are changing all around us, because of us. We are creating dams, mining   natural resources, exploiting fossil fuels, deforesting, bombing. Earth as we know it is changing. We are the change age. We have the power to alter our world in a way that greatly transcends the power of nature (Waters 2016:2622-1). The consequence? Mass extinction. Man has possessed Earth, but are we able to deal with the obligations? Osborn Jr. says it well “It is man’s earth now. One wonders what obligations may accompany this infinite possession”. One can just imagine.

The Anthropocene is a term coined by Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer, where Stoermer explained that it refers to a ‘geological age of our own making’.It can be explained as a new geological epoch or era in Earth history (Steffen 2011:1) The Industrial Revolution can be seen as a major benefactor of the Anthropocene, and suggestions have been made that the age started the year AD 1800, 50 years after the beginning of the Industrial Revolution (Steffen 2011:849). The Anthropocene is thus a new geological epoch in which geological, ecological, and anthropological processes and conditions are altered by human activities. The ‘Anthropocene’ makes it possible for us to understand the human dominance of Earth together with terms like ‘the great acceleration’, ‘thresholds’ and ‘tipping points’ (Gisili 2013:7).

These daily human activities are putting fauna and flora as well as various ecosystems under threat. Humans are alienating themselves from nature, and by doing so nature is slowly suffering. “The Earth is fast becoming an unfit home for its noblest inhabitant” articulates George P. Marsh in Man and Nature. The conditions of coral reefs, forests, biodiversity and populations of vertebrates are decreasing (Steffen 2011:856). Entire ecosystems and animal populations are collapsing (Gisili 2013:9). Research shows an increasing rate of vertebrate extinctions in the Anthropocene. “Species assemblages and relative abundances have been altered worldwide”(Waters 2016:2622-8), extensive transglobal species invasion such as fishing in the sea is becoming a problem.


“Less boats, more fish” Greenpeace’s message to over 600 global tuna industry officials meeting in Bangkok.

Research has however shown an increase in protected areas, conservation actions like the above gathering, and protected forest areas. South Africa is especially rich in beautiful national parks such as the Golden Gate National Park in the Free State, and the Table Mountain National Park in Cape Town. However, the level of response to these issues are not enough to stop the decline of biodiversity.

The Soundscape of the Anthropocene

To better understand the effects of this new age we are in, I made a soundscape of the Anthropocene by keeping a sound journal in which I recorded the sounds that I am surrounded with. For a period of two days, every time I entered a new space, place or journey I listened attentively to the sounds that were around me. For the first time realisation struck to what is so clearly and distinctly happening to the environment around us.

Inside my house I listened attentively, and could hear the distinct sound of my computer running. My cellphone would chime now and then, alerting me that I had a message, capturing my utmost attention through just a vibration. In my room I could here the fan working. Other sounds included my printer, my moms fax machine, and my little sister whisking ingredients together for her next great hospitality project. In the afternoon my mom usually starts cooking and switches her oven on, and the sounds would be drowned out by my dad watching National Geographic on television.

I live in a rural area, 30 kilometers away from the city, so the distinct sound of birds and bugs outside is a refreshing change from the urban city of Pretoria, where nature is drowned out by cars, motorcycles, construction workers and of course the constant horns of taxis alerting pedestrians of their services.These are the sounds I hear in the city. They are human made sounds, very rarely that of nature. Nature would usually be disrupted by an airplane whizzing by, music playing somewhere.

On my way to the Arts Department, I hear the busy buzz of Lynwood road on my way over the bridge leading me to the University of Pretoria’s main campus. People talking, people walking, hurrying to class- most strolling and lounging on the grass, scattered in groups. A weed eater buzzing nearby, and some type of construction noise near my building. Inside the building, inside my class, once again the sound of the fan running is our constant companion. The data projector would silently run, and the lecturer would continue with his lecture, or put on music to stimulate our creative minds.

In shopping centres there lives a jumble of sounds including elevators, escalators, trollies, fans, and radios. People walking and talking are the only natural things in this epitome of consumerism we call shopping centres. It did not escape my notice that the sounds of man made machines- with the exception of my home- are consistent. These dominant sounds can be seen as a soundscape of the anthropocene as it represents contemporary human activities, the same activities that are contributing to the geological changes happening on Earth. These activities form part of the Great Acceleration (Steffen 2011:849). The sound of the motor vehicle is consistent in our daily lives, Seffen (2011:849) states that “The number of motor vehicles rose from only 40 million at the end of the war to about 700 million by 1996,and continues to rise steadily.”

People need to stop passively ignoring these signs, because clearly pressing snooze on life is the easier option for people than pro-action. This illustrated the human condition.


Listening to Birds in the Anthropocene

In Listening to Birds in the Anthropocene: The Anxious Semiotics of Sound in a Human-Dominated World by Andrew Whitehouse, Whitehouse sets out to explore the relationship of humans with birds, and the companionship thereof. Whitehouse articulates that listening to birds can ‘ground’ a person and that the absence thereof can cause anxious feelings (Whitehouse 2015:53).

In enlightenment of Whitehouse’s argument, I set out to listen to birds for two days, to understand what it is like to listen to birds in the Anthropocene. I made the observation that in rural areas there was a smaller biodiversity of birds, where in rural areas lived a wider variety of birds. In Pretoria the jumble of the sounds of civilisation drowns out the sounds of birds, and I found it hard to even hear birds sing. In urbanised areas such as this it’s easy to understand that “humans have profoundly influenced the mix of sounds that can be heard” (Whitehouse 2015:53-54).

I live on the boarder of the Denokeng Game Reserve, just outside of Pretoria, and one of the few game reserves situated next to an urbanised area. Listening to the sounds of birds at home is no hardship. Our area has a wide veriaty of birds including the Hadida, King Fisher, Guinea Fowl, Kwevoel, Indian Myna, and a veriaty of owls. In contrast to my urban experience trying to listen to the sounds of birds, most of the bird species sounds are from a large number of bird species. This serves as proof that the Anthropocene is responsible for the dwindling biodiversity swell as the loss of ecosystems.

After an interview with my grandparents and parents, I further observed that my understanding of urban/rural experience in relation to the birds that live there are very different from that of older generations, which serves as further proof that the Anthropocene is responsible for our loss of biodiversity. My Grandmother speaks of species that she had a relationship with that my little sister doesn’t even recognise.It is therefor important that we understand that with the changes we are making to the world, we are also changing something as small but valuable as our children’s experience and companionship with the animals around them.


Gisli, P et al. 2013. Reconceptualizing the ‘Anthropos’ in the Anthropocene: integrating the social sciences and humanities in global environmental change research. Environmental Science & Policy 28:3-13.

Steffen, W et al. 2011. The Anthropocene: conceptual and historical perspectives. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 369:842-867.

Waters, CN et al. 2016. The Anthropocene is functionally and stratigraphically distinct from the Holocene. Science 351(6269):[sp].

Whitehouse, A. 2015. Listening to birds in the Anthropocene: the anxious semiotics of sound in a human-dominated world. Environmental Humanities 6:53-71.

Environmental Humanities and the Media


Photo courtesy of Bill Bishop/Sinocism China Newsletter

The Great Acceleration refers to “human technologies, powers and consumption in the last 70 years that has operated as a key driver of Global Change. These human advances have come with an alteration of the planet’s carbon and nitrogen cycles, rapidly rising species extinction rates and the generation of atmospheric greenhouse gases, which in turn are catalysts for adverse weather patterns and increased ocean acidification, the consequences of which will condition life on the planet for centuries to come. At the same time nuclear bombs have enabled us both to destroy human lives and to leave enduring markers on the planet” (Holm 2015:980)

In the 21st century, the world is dominated by mass media. Regardless of where we are in the world, we can easily access the internet through our personal electronic devices. Everyday we are presented with newspapers, magazines, books and countless other non-electronic means for accessing information. The media therefore serves as an important instrument to keep the world informed about important events happening across the globe, including environmental concerns.

In South Africa, the media has the responsibility to inform South Africans of environmental  concerns, and create an awareness of these concerns. The media is helpful as it provides us with facts, and accurate predictions of the biogeographic of environmental change. However eliciting environmental awareness in the public does not almays lead to action (Holm 2015:4). We are all aware consuming large amounts of sugar isn’t good for our health. Do we all immediately cut the sugar from our diets? Do we quit smoking? No. This mostly attributes to mass media casting environmental issues in a “Negative light, focusing primarily on stories of catastrophes  and political shortcomings rather than solutions” (Grant & Lawhon 2014:43).

This gives the media the ability to sway and control public opinion. We often react to the media in a passive way because who wants to be around all the”negativity” concerning environmental issues right? This is the underlying problem. Therefore it is our responsibility as active environmental humanitarians to critique the media’s method of reporting environmental concerns.

The following table presents an Environmental Humanities analysis of three articles dealing with the environmental issue of air pollution. By doing this analysis one can carefully and clearly observe how the media directs our attention and moulds our opinions. Air pollution is a very serious environmental issue in not only South Africa, but also the rest of the world. Air pollution has been proven a serious cause of health issues ranging from the elderly to unborn babies.

 Live Science 

Air Pollution Kills More than 3 Million People Globally Every Year

(Charles 2015:1)

Mail & Gaurdian

Asthma risk for children if pregnant moms breathe bad air

(Kings 2016:1)

NBC News

Air pollution causes lung cancer, worsens heart failure,studies find

(Maggie 2013:1)

Who and what are the drivers of change?

Live Science is reporting findings of a study by Jos Lelieveld, an atmospheric scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany. The Mail & Guardian is reporting findings of the University of British Columbia in Canada. NBC News reports findings of Dr. Ole Raaschou-Nielsen of the Danish Cancer Society Research Centre, Nicholas Mills of the University of Edinburgh in Britain, and the American Heart Association.

What is happening?

Due to fires in peoples homes, agriculture, and power plants that make use of fossil fuels, our air is increasingly becoming more polluted. Air pollution is causing premature death on a great scale, especially in urban areas and heavily populated countries like Asia. Reducing air pollution can greatly improve human health. Due to traffic and industrial facilities there has been a decrease in ambient nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide levels. As we inhale air we also take harmful substances into our lungs. This can causes a higher risk of asthma in young children when pregnant moms are exposed to air pollution. Air pollution causes diseases like lung cancer, and increases the risk of heart failure.

What can be done?

Brazil reduced it’s deforestation rates, which contributed to cleaner air. This can be done in other countries in the world. More local research can be done on the effect of air pollution on asthma. The main culprits in South Africa are gold and coal mines and evidence has been found on the effect of air pollution on asthma which may help people understand the dangers of it. Further solutions regarding air pollution  not mentioned. This is not mentioned in the article.

How to get it done?

Intensive air-quality-control measures will be needed. By reducing agricultural emissions air quality will improve. This is not mentioned in the article. This is not mentioned in the article.

What are the means to do it?

Governments would need to implement these measures. This is not mentioned in the article. This is not mentioned in the article.

As seen in the above analysis, news reporters struggle to report environmental problems accompanied with solutions. Yes, air pollution has an effect on public health and plays an important role in asthma in young children, but why are no solutions mentioned? We are presented with all the facts, but the media makes it easy for us to turn the page.

All these drivers of change above convey a distinct awareness of the effects of the Great Acceleration. They each recognise that because of previous disregard for environmental concerns we are now facing consequences like air pollution.

The New Human Condition refers to how we choose to cope with our responsibilities and consequences of environmental concern (Holm 2015:983).  The absence of solutions in the above articles relates to the ” New Human Condition” in the sense that we respond in alarmism and despair, not action. The first article provides us with a thorough explanation and reason for the events that are happening, and takes the responsibility of the consequence head on in articulating possible solutions. However, the next two articles explain the problem quite thoroughly, articulates all the shocking and heartbreaking  facts, but do not articulate any type of solution, except for more local research into the problem.

The given solutions, especially for the first article, are attainable. The given solutions engage with the corporate/ business sector in the sense of deforestation companies. Businesses that promote solar energy in the place of energy generated from coal mines in South Africa. The proposed solutions and means stem from collaborative processes of research, stakeholder engagement and public participation. However, the solutions are not translated into practical means that can easily be achieved by the public, as it is still very broad.


Grant, S & Lawhon, M. 2014. Reporting on rhinos: analysis of the newspaper coverage of        rhino poaching. Southern African Journal of Environmental Education 30:39-52.

Holm, P et al. 2015. Humanities for the Environment- A manifesto for research and action.    Humanities 4:977-992

Kings, S. 2016. Asthma risk for children if pregnant moms breathe bad air. The Mail & Guardian. February: 1

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Maggie, F. 2013. NBC News. [O]. Available:

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