Gramscian Political Ecology and ‘Lively Capital’: An Analysis of Animals in the Tourism Industry

Megan Whitney, Human Geography, York University


Governance and Resource Management


This paper will develop a conceptual framework to understand how animals are embedded in capitalist social relations and how they are “valued” in Thailand’s market for wildlife tourism. In Thailand, the elephant trekking industry has become the subject of contentious debates concerning animal welfare, ethical approaches to tourism, competing economic interests, and the conservation of a national icon. Initially proposed as a transition for unemployed mahouts and their elephants following Thailand’s 1989 logging ban, investigations into elephant tourism have exposed distressing conditions for elephants, connections to illegal wildlife trading, and poor work conditions.

My paper will analyze the relationship between labour justice and animal welfare. To do this, I will draw from political-ecological readings of Gramsci’s theory of hegemony and the concept of “lively capital” to examine the ethical and political dimensions of “value,” and how this can deepen understandings of animals as labourers and commodities in tourism. My paper will put Gramsci’s theory into conversation with feminist and decolonial scholars to examine the gendered and racialized dimensions of labour organization. Next, I will link these perspectives to ecological readings of Marx’s theories of value and labour to understand the circumstances of animals in tourism. The objectives of this paper are to understand the gendered and racialized dimensions of selling encounters with animals, the relationships between human and non-human workers, and to analyze how regimes of labour are organized to extract value from encounters with animals.

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CCSEAS Conference 2021 |