Emily Howard

Thinking like a Wolf: Animal Agency in the Biopolitical Apparatus and in Popular Imagination

By, Emily Howard, Lecturer of Politics and International Affairs at Northern Arizona University


In “Thinking like a Mountain,” Aldo Leopold described killing a wolf. Leopold realized that the wolf was part of the mountain, and had a stronger claim to live than he had a justification for killing her. After wolves were nearly eradicated, conservationists called for their restoration. Wolves now hold the attention of ranchers, hunters, scientists, public agencies, and a curious public. As stakeholders in the wolf population have proliferated, so too have technologies and cultural constructions to help humans understand the place of wolves in the environment. Conservationists have utilized techniques of biopolitical management towards wolf protection, and the emergent information encourages viewing wolves on an individual and pack level, rather than as a species. This is evident in recent popular attention to charismatic wolves, like 06 Female and OR7, who have contributed to viewing wolves as individuals with relationships,struggles, and desires. Following individual wolves and their packs challenges governing and imagining wolves as a species. As their stories flow through photography, radio telemetry, and tracking wolves are understood as agents in their cultural and political construction. How does the focus on individual wolves impact conservation biopolitics? My theoretical framework engages Foucauldian biopolitics and environmentality, the nexus of animal studies and humanism in Donna Haraway and Nicole Shukin, and the stories of O6 Female and OR7.


I am a lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Affairs at Northern Arizona University. I am interested in the biopolitical management of wolves, and how conservation efforts move between an individual and species-level approach to learning about and promoting wolf-friendly public policies. Additionally, I look at the ways in which wolves exercise agency in the apparatuses meant to encourage their proliferation while simultaneously controlling their movement and behavior. My research is generally focused on land-use conflicts, environmental and social justice concerns bound up in those conflicts, and how social movements respond to these environmental issues. Broadly, I am concerned with how responsibility is constructed and mobilized in environmental movements, particularly responsibility to other animals.