Walking Backwards into a Multispecies World

Ethical Considerations from Ethnographic Fieldwork in Biosecurity

  • Maria Blanca Ayala University of Canterbury
Keywords: Ethics, Māori, biosecurity, institutional review boards, multispecies research


In the Māori world, people move backwards into the future. The past is on the horizon, we can see it, we know it. The future remains uncertain, we must sharpen our senses and proceed with caution. This article contends that a change of perspective is the most powerful tool to identify multiple ethical implications when conducting research in settings characterized by unfolding processes that weave together human interventions and non-human agency. Walking backwards and based on ethnographic fieldwork in Māori lands, scientific laboratories, research nurseries, and healthy and declining forest in the upper North Island of New Zealand, this paper reflects on the ethical issues that arise from meeting in the field with scientists, Indigenous experts, lethal microorganisms, and giant ancient trees, while also considering the evidence of past multispecies encounters and the uncertainty of future ones. Aware that most of the terrestrial biomass remains outside the field of vision of institutional review boards, this article argues for the adoption of a broader conception of ethics, not as a human construct associated with the production of knowledge, but rather as an essential component of all interdependencies that make life possible on Earth.


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How to Cite
Ayala, M. (2022). Walking Backwards into a Multispecies World. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, 21(2), 188-204. Retrieved from https://acme-journal.org/index.php/acme/article/view/2026