Photo Elicitation

Theme 5: Photo Elicitation


When conducting an interview, introducing photographs can be advantageous to the process (Tinkler 2013:173). This is a result of the interviewee feeling less bombarded and challenged by a large amount of questions. Photographs assist in communication strategies and encourage meaningful conversations (Tinkler 2013:174). The interviewee and interviewer share a common goal to stimulate signification and identify outlooks and alternative views which are derived from the photograph, which constructs an understanding between them. A photograph is a personal approach to communication and stirs up memories and feelings, which assists the interviewee to generate and express individual opinions with less difficulty.

The tree as a narrative of service IMG_20160511_155144
Figure 1: A benevolent pine cone tree at Bracken High school

Trees generously assist our society by supplying filtered fresh air and appreciated shade  (Dean 2015: 162). When I was in high school, there was a row of trees that surrounded the outskirts of our school. After a long and strenuous hockey practice, the team would gather under the pine cone trees to cool down, socialise and relax. We did not realise at the time that these trees played a crucial role in the team building process. Today these trees signify a sisterhood that was built and a bond that is shared between a group of people.

The tree as a narrative of power and status


Eastern red cedar

Figure 2: Easter Red Cedar trees of Alberton

Mankind has ‘domesticated’ and ‘disciplined’ trees to affirm human authority over nature (Dean 2015:163). In the suburban area of Alberton, the backyards contain crafted, well-trimmed Eastern Red Cedar trees. These trees are a symbol of affluence and clearly show mans dominance over nature.

The tree as a narrative of heritage biggest boabab tree in the world
Figure 3: The Sunland Baobab tree which houses a bar in Modjadjiskloof

Trees act as historical and notable sights (Dean 2015:164). The Baobab tree has played an extraordinary cultural , spiritual and medicinal purpose in Africa. This particular Baobab tree, the Sunland ‘Big Baobab’, resides in Modjadjiskloof in Limpopo Province, South Africa and is recognised worldwide for being the widest of its species in the world. Africa is symbolised by these remarkable trees and this Baobab tree in particular is carbon dated to over 1 700 years old and has made the front page of the Wall Street Journal.

The counter-narrative of the unruly treeIMG-20160511-WA0021

Figure 4: The Mulberry tree that grows  in our backyard

This Mulberry tree’s branches and roots began to uproot the infrastructure of the walls of our house, breaking and tearing down the  walls. One would think that the foundation and substance of the wall would hinder the growth of the tree however this tree is triumphant and has conquered man-made constructions symbolising it’s disregard toward human control.

Interview 1: Sindy Chetty Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 6.31.18 AMThe tree as a narrative of service 

Growing up as a young child on a farm in Kwazulu Natal, Sindy was surrounded by an abundance of different plantations. Her father cultivated litchis, bananas, sugarcane etc. This particular story focuses on the experiences she shared with the Litchi trees. The Litchi trees provided huge areas of shade all year round, which was beneficial because of the hot weather conditions in KwaZulu Natal.

On hot summer days when the labourers and the family worked in the plantations, these trees would provide valuable shade. In addition, these plantations produced the juiciest and most delicious litchis. Sindy explains how the additional income from selling these litchis was beneficial for the family especially since litchi season was during the festive season. Therefore, trees are also a service to the community, because they became a source of income. Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 6.34.22 AM


Figure 4: Sindy’s father cultivating litchis on the farm

The tree as a narrative of power and status jacaranda trees

Figure 5: The Jacaranda trees at the University of Pretoria

Sindy speaks about how the capital city of Pretoria is known  as the Jacaranda City  because of all the purple blossom-bedecked trees which line up the streets. However, the Jacaranda tree is not indigenous to South Africa and is an alien invasive species originating from parts of Central and South America. Jacaranda trees were introduced in South Africa in 1880 for ornamental and decorative purposes. These Jacarandas are a symbol of affluence and symbolise man’s power and control over nature.

The tree as a narrative of heritage


Figure 6: The pompom tree in Cape Town

Cindy recalls holidays in Cape town and how the pompom tree was a prevalent sight on the streets. The pompom tree is one of the most popular and adored indigenous trees, strong enough to be used as a street tree and small enough to be grown and maintained in most people’s gardens. During December, the tree looks like an enormous ball of pink candy floss, as the tree changes completely into a cloud pink balls. It is indigenous to the eastern part of South Africa where it grows on the borders of forests and forested hill slopes.

The counter-narrative of the unruly tree 


Figure 7: A Milkwood tree

The milkwood is a short -growing, conifer tree. Milkwoods are found chiefly along the coast from the Cape Peninsula to northern Zululand. Sindy speaks about the  White Milkwood tree and how the small, yellowy-green leaves emit an abnormal sour odour from January to July. She explains that when she used to walk past them,  she would have to hold her breath because of the strong odour emitted.

Interview 2: Chris Chetty

Figure 8: The Bougenvilla treeScreen Shot 2016-05-12 at 7.44.00 AM

Th tree as a narrative of service

Chris Chetty grew up with a Bougenvilla tree in his backyard. This tree grew so tall that it’s height extended the roof of the house. He recalls memories of how he would climb this tree with his siblings in order to get onto the roof.  He explains how this tree provided privacy for their family’s home and how this tree not only served him, but in addition supplied a protected, safe and secure habitat for the birds that would nest in the tree.

The tree as a narrative of power and status

palm trees

Figure 9: The palm trees along the Durban sea front

Chris Chetty explains how palm trees along the coast of Durban became an affirmation of class and aristocracy. Many property owners on the coastal regions of Durban introduce palm trees because they feel they are an awe-inspiring feature which connote a ‘paradise lifestyle’ and will ultimately attract more hoilday-makers . These trees certainly connote wealth and are becoming more popular for their ornamental and decorative purposes.

The tree as a narrative of heritage  Marula Tree

Figure 10 : The Marula Tree

When questioned about a tree that symbolises South Africa’s heritage, Chris referred to the Marula tree. The fruits of the marula tree are used in the liqueur Amarula.  Giraffes, rhinoceroses and elephants all feed off the marula tree. On a commercial level the fruit of the marula tree is harvested from the trees by members of rural communities on whose land the trees grow. The harvest and sale of fruit only occurs during two to three months but is a source of income to poor rural people.

In addition, the alcoholic distilled beverage (maroela mampoer) is  made from the fruit and it is attributed in the stories of the South African writer Herman Charles Bosman. Therefore we can conclude that the marula tree is significant and prevalent in many South African cultures and it definitely is a symbol of South Africa’s heritage.

The counter-narrative of the unruly tree  Oak TRee

Figure 11: The “Spitting Oaks” of Gauteng

Chris explains how during the late summer and autumn period, the  English Oak trees begin producing a sticky substance which drips onto cars, paving and patios where these trees occur. He explains how this becomes problematic when he goes out golfing at the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club.

Interview 3: Tashlyn Chetty
The tree as a narrative of service

Tashlyn speaks about a mulberry tree that she would walk past on her way home from school. She explains how this tree awakens memories of her long walks home from school with her friends. She explains how this tree was situated half way between her school and her house and how it became a ‘halfway stop’ . This tree provided the juiciest mulberries that would provide her with energy before she would continue with her journey back home.  She remembers walking home with sticky and stained red fingers from the amount of mulberries she would eat . Ultimately, this tree served as a memory in Tashlyn’s childhood.

The tree as a narrative of power and status 

Tashlyn attends the University of Witwatersrand and mentions how the university spends a tremendous amount of money on the upkeep and maintenance of the gardens. During the season of Autumn, she noticed that every morning on her way to class, there would be gardeners using rakes and brooms to clear away the leaves that have fallen off the trees. This narrative illustrates how mankind feel the need to govern nature and and how at the sight of any forms of  disorderliness such as fallen leaves, it has to be uncluttered and made orderly according to man’s vision.

The tree as a narrative of heritage

acacia tree

Figure 12: The Acacia Tree

Tashlyn mentions the Acacia tree being a distinctive part of South Africa’s heritage. These thorn trees are locally dominant and are an essential food source for herbivores. Acacias are shaped progressively by grazing animals of increasing height, such as gazelle, gerenuk and giraffe. Tashlyn explains that it is a beautiful sight watching so many animals feed off one tree. She feels that it symbolises some form of connectedness and unity in the veld that can be linked to the cultural pride of our nation.

The counter-narrative of the unruly tree 

Tashlyn recalls the bulky and sturdy roots of a tree which uprooted parts of a local tennis court. This resulted in cracks and uneven surfaces which made it almost impossible to play tennis. Many of the player’s feet would get stuck and jammed in these cracks while playing which resulted in injuries such as sprained ankles.


Photographs assist the progress of dialogue when conducting an interview because there is an exchange of power from the interviewer to the interviewee, who is now empowered to make sense of and respond to something concrete that is presented to him/her. Photographs are an effective and strong instrument used to provoke experiences, emotions and memories, which generate more extensive reactions in comparison to a verbal interview.

Sources consulted

Dean, J. 2015. e unruly tree: stories from the archives, in Urban forests, trees,and greenspace: a political ecology perspective, edited by LA Sandberg, A Bardekji- an & S Butt. New York: Routledge:162-175.

Tinkler, P. 2013. Using photographs in social and historical research. London: SAGE.


Slow Violence

The following article depicts a photo essay based on Rob Nixon’s notion of ‘slow violence’. Nixon (2011:3) argues that a major problem in raising awareness of slow violence is representational: “how to devise arresting stories, images, and symbols adequate to the pervasive but elusive violence of delayed effects”. This article identifies land conversion as an environmental concern that can be regarded as a form of ‘slow violence’. In addition, it utilises images, narrative and symbols that can increase the public’s awareness of land conversion and habitat destruction.

When Nixon refers to slow violence, he is referring to a violence that occurs over time and that is not visible, a violence of slowed destruction that is scattered across time and space, a violence that is not considered as violence at all (Nixon 2011:2). Violence is commonly accepted as an occurrence that is instantaneous in time and volatile in space. One needs to immerse itself in a various types of violence, a violence that is not immediate, but rather accumulative (Nixon 2011:2).

Habitats and land have been converted and utilised for housing residential developments, roads, business parks, shopping centres, parking spaces and industrial sites (Alonzo 2016:[sp]). Hatfield, Pretoria is currently experiencing large amounts of developments in infrastructure and there is an increase in construction of buildings. These recent developments are due to the increasing demand for student accommodation in the area. These residential developments will soon accommodate hundreds of students who are seeking to reside near the University of Pretoria. Common activities that take place at these construction sites include excavation (digging and hollowing out of the earth) and building of large concrete structures and substructures. 

A hole that destroys versus a hole that rejuvenates

As mentioned above, excavation is a frequent activity that occurs during the process of construction (Alonzo 2016:[sp]).Excavation is the process of breaking down and degrading the earth, rock or other organic materials with machinery, equipment or explosives (Alonzo 2016:[sp]). It involves unearthing and tunnelling underground. Extremely large machinery and equipment is used to push its way through the fauna and flora to create levelled open land so that an area can be transformed into a residential building (Alonzo 2016:[sp]). Heavy machinery is used to clear large areas of trees, crush grasses and pack the ground tightly. This process is not only eliminating trees and other plant life, but it is destroying the habitat of a diverse number of species (Alonzo 2016:[sp]). The animals must relocate if they are to survive at all (Alonzo 2016:[sp]). Plants must habituate to the compressed land and find alternative ways to disperse their seeds (Alonzo 2016:[sp]).

In opposition to the image of digging away at the earth to fragment and degrade the environment is an image of digging a hole to plant a tree which will in the future support many life forms and ecosystems. Planting a tree supports various life forms as oppose to destroying it . The digging away of earth to plant a tree has many environmental benefits. For example, trees improve our air quality by filtering harmful dust and pollutants such as ozone, carbon monoxide, and sulphur dioxide from the air we breathe (Benefits of planting trees 2015:[sp]). Trees give off oxygen that we need to breathe. Many species of wildlife depend on trees for habitat (Benefits of planting trees 2015:[sp]).

A comparison can be made between the notion of digging a hole that offers benefits to human and plant life and digging a hole that causes destruction. On the one hand, humankind is digging away at the Earth and destroying the environment. Humans are destroying the habitats of many other species for the convenience of our own. On the other hand , humankind is digging away at the earth to plant trees which provides new life and supports various life forms and ecosystems. 

Image 1: A construction site in Hatfield

Agents of destruction versus agents of growth and life 

Most construction sites make use of tower cranes. Tower cranes ascend high into the sky and can reach out just as far. The construction crew use the tower crane to hoist and transport steel, concrete, large tools and a range of other building materials. Tower cranes transport building materials efficiently and quickly, ultimately reducing the duration of construction and enabling buildings to be built much faster. Tower cranes are one of the many machinery types that allow for land conversion to take place much faster and are ultimately agents of destruction.

In opposition to the notion of tower cranes being an agent of destruction and a means of transporting harmful materials, which proves detrimental to the environment , is the idea of bees transporting pollen and being supporters of various life forms. Furthermore, a comparison can be made between the importance of a tower crane to the construction process during transportation of building materials and a bee as a transporter of pollen during pollination. 

Pollination is essential for plants to reproduce, and many plants depend on bees as pollinators (Benjamin 2015:[sp]). Most crops grown for their fruits (including vegetables such as squash, cucumber, tomato and eggplant), nuts, seeds, fibre (such as cotton), and hay (alfalfa grown to feed livestock), require pollination by bees (Benjamin 2015:[sp]). Bees also play a crucial role in preserving and establishing natural plant communities and providing production of seeds in most flowering plants (Benjamin 2015:[sp]).

Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 8.19.34 PM
Image 2: Tower cranes: Agents of destruction

Homes of destruction versus homes of nourishment

Recent residential and economic developments in Hatfield have lead to an increase in the area’s population. Because of the large number of residents in the area, there is a level high energy consumption, solid waste generation, global greenhouse gas emissions, external and internal pollution, environmental damage and resource depletion (Melchert 2007:[sp]). People and their living spaces have become producers of waste and destroyers of the natural environment.

Contrasting to this image of an environment that is deteriorated and contaminated is an image of an environment that is nurtured and nourished -a beehive. Beehives have a similar function to bees that houses and apartments have for people. A natural beehive is built with the intention to protect the inhabitant (Benjamin 2015:[sp]). The bees use the honeycomb in the bee hive to store food (honey and pollen).The honeybee uses the comb as a storage facility for nectar, pollen, water, honey and as a holding cell for egg, larvae and for the purpose of metamorphosis (Benjamin 2015:[sp]). Everything that the hive encloses is essential for maintaining life on Earth. If the bee dies out , the flower it pollinates will soon follow and the ecosystems fall apart (Benjamin 2015:[sp]).

Image 3: Residential developments in Hatfield

Sounds of deterioration versus the sounds of a healthy environment

The noise created by construction activities such as drilling, piling, trucks, hammering, impacts, backup beeps, welding, and other very noisy activities are the sounds of a deteriorating and dwindling environment.

In contrast to the sound of a dwindling environment is the sound of an healthy and well maintained natural environment- a bee buzzing. Bees buzzing are a symbol of an environment that is being nourished and looked after. Bees are capable of ‘buzz pollination’ and buzz from flower to flower whilst foraging (Why do bees buzz 2015: [sp]). A wide range of fruit and vegetables are pollinated by bees (Why do bees buzz. 2015: [sp]). Pollination is not only important for the food we eat directly, it’s essential for the foraging crops, such as field beans and clover, used to feed the livestock we depend on for meat (Why do bees buzz. 2015: [sp]). The sound of a bee buzzing at work is symbolic of a maintained and proper functioning ecosystem. 

Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 8.18.50 PM
Image 4: Sounds of a healthy environment: Buzz pollination


This article makes use of a photo essay based on Rob Nixon’s notion of ‘slow violence’. It identifies land conversion as an environmental concern that could be regarded as a form of ‘slow violence’. In addition, it utilises images, narrative and symbols that can increase the public’s awareness of land conversion and habitat destruction.


Alonzo, B. 2016. Human activities that affect the Ecosystem. [O]. Available:http;//
Accessed 24April 2016

Benefits of planting trees. 2015. [O]. Available:
Accessed 24 April 2016

Benjamin,A. 2015.Why are bees important? [O]. Available:
Accessed 24 April 2016 

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

Why do bees buzz. 2015.[O]. Available:
Accessed 24 April 2016

Companion Species

The following article explains Haraway’s beliefs and ideas about ‘companion species’. In addition, it explores this concept in the form of a photo essay which documents the stories and personal narratives of relations between pets and humans.

Haraway adopts the term ‘companion species’ rather than companion animal because humans have been deeply moved by a variety of species that do not form part of the animal category, such as insects and bacteria (Haraway 2007:20). Haraway’s desires are to analyse the “history of evolutionary biology” as a species, by studying the species that evolve with us as our helpers, workers, threats/enemies and companions/friends (Haraway 2007:20). The belief is to examine how these species are connected to us historically on a social, biological and behavioural level (Haraway 2007:20).

The ‘French sisters’ and ‘Diana’

From a very young age Sithara and Aerin French have been actively participating in horse riding. Because of their ever growing passion for horses, they were captivated by the idea that one day they would own a horse. When they had saved enough money they began the adventure of horse hunting which lasted 9 months. After receiving an unexpected phone call from their coach who was selling her horse Diana, they made the decision to purchase her and have had many adventures since.

Diana was an unexpected foal on the farm and was born when the mother was only 18 months old. She grew up running around with the herd and sleeping with the puppies in her stable. Sithara and Aerin are the second owners of Diana and this is one of the main reasons they share such a strong bond.

Diana is a very peaceful and calm horse. She obtains profound attuned abilities of intuition and she able to reflect Sithara and Aerins’ state of being. Like many horses, she is able to assist people to become more mindful of how they communicate on every level-verbally, physically and emotionally. Diana offers immediate feedback to changes. If Sithara and Aerin are feeling uneasy when they are around Diana, she will sense it and react.

diana and starry

Image 1: Diana and Sithara strolling on the beach.

diana and french sisters.jpg

Image 2: The French sisters and Diana

‘Mandy’ and ‘Molly’

‘People who do not have pets will never fully understand that a dog is not just a pet, it is a soul mate and companion, a part of the family, a pure soul that loves unconditionally and provides love and joy’. Mandy Hepburn shares her personal story about how she met her lifelong companion ‘Molly’.

 “I bought Molly from a plot in Kliprivier. The entire family drove through and met Molly, her mother and the owners. The owners did not care for them as well as I did but they were provided for. Molly was the last female left and I loved her immediately. I thanked her mother for the gift of having the pleasure of loving and raising her. I knelt on the floor, eye level with Molly’s mother and rubbed her and spoke to her for about five minutes. I promised her that I would love her baby with all my heart and that I would love her forever. Molly’s mother licked my face, I hugged her and we left. My life with Molly began.”

Mandy believes that ‘Molly’ was an angel sent to look over her, to love her and to protect her. Last year, Mandy was diagnosed with cancer and after a long struggle with the illness she recovered but towards the end of her recovery Molly passed away. Mandy truly believes that Molly gave her life for hers’. She believes that Molly was sent to heal her.


Image 3: Molly: A pure soul that loved unconditionally and provided love and joy.

Katey, Meubels and Schnoopy

Just before Katey’s 17th birthday her family went to go look for a dog for her. She knew she wanted a small lap dog and their neighbours at the time bred sausage dogs. They walked over to their neighbours to see if they were selling any of their puppies and they had two sausage puppies left. One was a little bigger than the other, the smaller being the girl and the bigger one being the boy. She knew she couldn’t choose one because they were both so joyful and playful with one another. Katey looked up to her mom and dad with confusion and said “I can’t choose, I either choose both or none.” Her dad said that she should take both. Katey was excited because she had only planned to get one puppy and she went back home with two. She named the girl Meubels and the boy Schnoopy.

Meubels is identified by her delicate and gentle character. Katey describes her as “precious, small and cute.” She is the perfect lap dog and she very energetic and hyper. She is always so joyful and is always running around with all her heart.”

 Schnoopy is identified by his very silly character. Katey describes him as “loyal and a perfect companion.” Meubels and Schnoopy usually look out the window in the lounge waiting for Katey to come home. Katey feels  happy knowing that she has these two puppies that are looking forward to seeing her when she comes home.


Image 4: Katey, Meubels and Schnoopy

The ‘French family’ and ‘Nick’

Nick, a half German Shepard and half Staffy, was bought from a family friend about fifteen years ago when he was still a puppy. Jenifer French bought Nick with the idea that he would be great companion for her eldest daughter Raisa,who was six years old at the time. Nick was a gentle and peaceful dog. Even when the family expanded and there were toddlers around yanking at his tail and pulling his ears, Nick never got aggravated or responded in an aggressive manner.

Nick truly adored his family and he always wanted to be around them. When the family would go for walks around the neighbourhood, Nick would always find a way to join them. Being a very persistent dog, Nick would either jump over or dig a hole under the fence so that he could run after them on the street.

When the family was held up in their home, Nick found his way into the house and started barking at and attacking the burglars. The burglars were so scared and shaken up that they left the house. In this incident, Nick saw that his family was in danger and felt the need to protect them. Following this incident, Nick was always cautious and protective over the family. He would sit by the kitchen door and watch Jenifer as she cooked in the kitchen and when the children would camp outside in the backyard, he would always sit outside the tent and guard them.

When Nick started to get old and realised that he was going to die, he isolated himself from the rest of the family and he lay in the corner of the backyard. Some dogs try to hide their suffering from their family when they sense that the end is near. This is seen as instinct, but in a way, in our humane perception, it is a fearless and admirable act.

Following Nick’s passing, the family had a funeral in remembrance of him. The children invited their friends and each child wrote and said something about Nick. Jenifer’s daughter, Aerin, played the violin and following the funeral service the family hosted a lunch.

Following Nick’s cremation, the ashes were buried in the backyard and a tree was planted on top of it. A wooden plank with the engraved words ‘a treasured friend’ was placed in front of this tree in remembrance of Nick.

IMG_20160417_142029Image 5: Nick: A protector and treasured friend


“There cannot be just one companion species; there have to be at least two to make one. […] Dogs are about the inescapable, contradictory story of relationships – co-constitutive relationships in which none of the partners pre-exist the relating, and the relating is never done once and for all” (Haraway 2007:20). “Living with animals, inhabiting their/our stories, trying to tell the truth about relationship, cohabiting an active history: that is the work of companion species, for whom ‘the relation’ is the smallest possible unit of analysis” (Haraway 2007:20).


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

The Soundscapes of the Anthropocene

The Anthropocene is a suggested period that commences when human activities began to have a significant worldwide impact on Earth’s features and ecosystems (Gisli 2013:3).

Key Propositions of the Anthropocene

Human survival is dependent on the well being of our ecosystem (Alonzo 2016:[sp]). Humans threaten ecosystems by generating large amounts of waste, exploiting habitats and eliminating too many species without allowing the ecosystem time to naturally regenerate and reestablish itself (Alonzo 2016:[sp]).

The following are examples of human activities that threaten the fauna and flora as well as various ecosystems :


When humans over-hunt essential predators, they eliminate animals that maintain the number of plant consumers and prevent overgrazing (Alonzo 2016:[sp]). In addition, the food industry practices commercial overfishing, where large fishing nets result in “bycatch,” in which nonessential fish are caught in nets and then discarded (Alonzo 2016:[sp]). Bulky metal rollers that are used with the commercial fishing nets also destroy the bottom of the ocean, ruining anything in their way  including delicate coral reefs (Alonzo 2016: [sp]).


Mankind now has the resources that accelerates the rate at which trees are removed (Alonzo 2016:[sp]). The increase in deforestation has resulted in vegetation degeneration, nutrient shortcomings, flooding and animal displacement (Alonzo 2016:[sp]).


Different means of transport discharge harmful gases creating air pollution (Alonzo 2016:[sp]). Humans have also apply large quantities of pesticides onto crops that move into nearby water bodies, contaminating ecosystems(Alonzo 2016:[sp]). Plants and animals die from taking in large amounts of nutrients from chemical fertilisers (Alonzo 2016:[sp]). Pollution is accelerating around the planet and the the loss of biodiversity causes harm to self-sustaining ecosystems (Alonzo 2016:[sp]).

Land Conversion

Through urban advancement , the Earth’s natural surface has been altered, eradicating soil nutrients, natural vegetation and trees that cleanse the air (Alonzo 2016:[sp]). Urbanisation endangers animals and accelerates environmental pollution from vehicles and factories (Alonzo 2016:[sp]). Road constructs such as highways also result in migratory interferences (Alonzo 2016:[sp]). In addition, the concrete is impenetrable and it does not allow for water to drain through, resulting in increased chances of flooding (Alonzo 2016:[sp]). The increased volumes of concrete mankind uses and the quantity of plastic discarded in the oceans has  resulted in the Earth entering a new geological period (Alonzo 2016:[sp]). There is a change from a nature-dominated environment to a human-dominated global environment (Gisli 2013:3). The advancement in human technology has allowed people to control the way in which the world functions (Gisli 2013:3). During the Great Acceleration, environmental issues were not a great concern, resulting in the degradation of the environment (Gisli 2013:3). The Industrial Revolution has allowed mankind to replace the way  in which things were completed in the past with the up-to date and contemporary way (Gisli 2013:3).

Soundscape of the anthropocene

People residing in the urban environment can hear different sounds in many locations, including shopping malls,universities, recreational institutions and their homes. In fact, whilst undergoing this particular project which involved keeping a sound journal, I found it  difficult to entirely escape sound. Existing in this electronic age, which utilises many electronics; the large number of vehicles on the roads; busier airports, transportation such as vehicles, trains, buses, motorcycles, medium and heavy trucks, and aircraft—as one of the most dominant outdoor noise sources. In addition, if a person resides in a city or town , they are exposed to noise sources from traffic near their homes, car stereos, drag races, and lawn mowers . The dominance of soundscapes comes from a human-dominated environment instead of a nature-dominated environment (Gisli 2013:3). The Great Acceleration takes over the soundscape because there is an increase in urban development and technological consumption and a decline in ecological sounds because of the level of destruction in the ecosystem(Steffen 2011:842).

Sounds of birds

During the course of this week, I have been carefully listening to the chirping and singing of  birds. I have investigated the impact of human activity on soundscapes throughout our local environment. Throughout these investigations, I have realised that human activities cause ecological disruptions that result in a world silent of animal sounds. For instance, whilst visiting a local conservation park, I observed that an environment that is is good condition can be heard, in a plentiful soundscape that has transformed over millions of years.

•Listening to birds in the Anthropocene is ambiguous because soundscapes in urban areas is different from nature reserves (Whitehouse 2015:53). Urban and developed spaces have few sounds of birds because the technological and advanced nature of  our living has dominated our environment (Whitehouse 2015:53). The soundscapes in nature reserves are more apparent because there is a distinct separation between nature and the rest of the urban society (Whitehouse 2015:53). One is able to acknowledge the sounds of birds in nature because they are insufficient in the urban environment that no longer has suitable living conditions for them.

•According to Lorimer, “The recent diagnosis of the Anthropocene symbolises the public death of the contemporary understanding of Nature removed from society”(Whitehouse 2015:53). Mankind and nature can not be conceived as existing in different realms, and nature, in the sense of that which is separate from society, battles to be persuasive as an idea (Whitehouse 2015:53). In addition, the Anthropocene seems to place humans as the only species in the history of the planet strong enough to be regarded as the key Earth transforming force (Whitehouse 2015:53)

• The bird sounds originate from only a few number of species because the environment and the climate no longer allow different species to reside in urban areas. There is the concern that everyday experiences of birds and other wildlife will soon be eradicated from everyday human activities (Whitehouse 2015:53). There is also the fact that local activities can have a universal impact (Whitehouse 2015:53). Finally, there is the concern that although the environment appears alright at the moment,the future might not be (Whitehouse 2015:53). The Anthropocene is a term that corresponds to the actual changes in the local worlds people see around them (Whitehouse 2015:53).

 I conducted interviews with my parents and I asked them to account for the animals and bird life that existed in their neighbourhood when they were growing up. Growing up in KwaZulu Natal, they were surrounded by an abundance of plant and animal life such as wild pigs and a variety of bucks. KwaZulu Natal is known to have plentiful plant and animal life.

However, due to the great acceleration and the over-exploitation of species , there has been a reduction in the biodiversity. Direct habitat destruction is  the greatest threat to Durban’s biodiversity (Environmental Planning and Climate Protection 2015:[sp]). For example, construction at the new international airport site has abolished the primary breeding site of the Black Coucal in Durban (Environmental Planning and Climate Protection 2015:[sp]). This was the southernmost breeding locality of the species in Africa.

Other examples of include a reduction in marine life such as mussels and crayfish due to over-exploitation of species due to over-fishing and excessive harvesting (Environmental Planning and Climate Protection 2015:[sp]). In addition, plant life is also at risk. One of the most serious threats to biodiversity in the city of `durban is the reduction of open spaces through habitat destruction (Environmental Planning and Climate Protection 2015:[sp]).

An example of the destruction of plant life includes the exploitation and over-harvesting of the root of Wild Ginger. This plant is used to treat malaria, fever, headaches, colds and respiratory infections (Environmental Planning and Climate Protection 2015:[sp]). Because of this, the plant has received interest from commercial pharmaceutical companies, but is now locally extinct due to over-harvesting (Environmental Planning and Climate Protection 2015:[sp]). This creates an increased awareness of how humans have transformed the environment (Environmental Planning and Climate Protection 2015:[sp]).

The development of infrastructure throughout the city destroys open spaces and natural ecosystems have deteriorated because of the short-term advantages of development (Environmental Planning and Climate Protection 2015:[sp]). When open spaces are destroyed, they are unable to supply environmental goods and services decline  or are eliminated (Environmental Planning and Climate Protection 2015:[sp]).


Our soundscape is dominated by man-made sounds and the urban environment reveals that we are living in the anthropocene. The anthropocene is evidenced by the loss of ecosystems and biodiversity.  This evidence includes accelerating extinction rates of flora and fauna far above the long-term average, increased  concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere, plastic in our waterways and oceans that cannot be completely decomposed and an increase in the nitrogen and phosphorous in our soils in the past century with our fertiliser use.

Sources consulted

Alonzo, B. 2016. Human activities that affect the Ecosystem. [O]. Available:
Accessed 10 April 2016

Environmental Planning and Climate Protection. 2015. [O]. Available:

Accessed 10 April 2016

Gisli, P et al.2013. “Reconceptualizing the ‘Anthropos’ in the Anthropocene: integrating the social sciences and humanities in global environmental change research.” Environmental Science and Policy 28:3-18.

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 6:53-54.

Environmental humanities and the media

The media is influential in supplying the South African public with an awareness of ecological concerns. However, the raised public consciousness and knowledge does not drive the public into action. This is the result of the media depicting environmental concerns in an unfavourable light, fixating on stories and news of adversity and governmental defects instead of seeking reasoning and solutions. Therefore there is a need to examine the media and comment on the reporting of environmental concerns.

The following article provides an environmental humanities analysis and critique of media articles. This article focusses on and discusses sanitation problems in South Africa, particularly the volume of untreated sewage being discharged into South African oceans.

What is happening?

Many of the government institutions such as ‘The Department of Environmental Affairs’ are unaware of the amount of human waste being offloaded into South African oceans ( Harrison 2015:[sp]). The quantity and amount of sewage being released through these channels has been tremendous and there have been accelerating levels of e-coli pollution found on the coast from Cape Town to Durban (Bradfield 2015:[sp]). This has had a critical impact on the health of water users, kayakers and surfers ( Harrison 2015:[sp]). In addition, the fish captured on these shores are toxic and are no longer safe for human consumption (Bradfield 2015:[sp]).

Who and what are the drivers of change?

There has been a significant increase in human pressure on the environment which has led to an increase in the amount of human waste being produced. Our current infrastructure and sanitation systems are outdated and can no longer dispose of this waste properly. As a result, untreated and toxic sewage has been deposited into the ocean spreading disease and having a negative impact on our aquatic environment ( Harrison 2015:[sp]).Because we are using the ocean as an outlet for our waste, there is a not only sewage being deposited in our oceans but chemical compounds from household products and cleaners that are not only extremely dangerous but also do not  decompose completely ( Harrison 2015:[sp]). In addition, our country is economically and politically unstable and has not made the investment into the conservation of the environment a priority ( Harrison 2015:[sp]).

What can be done?
The drivers of change have discovered many solutions to this problem. Amongst these solutions are ideas of treating the sewage properly before it is released into the ocean ( Harrison 2015:[sp]). This can be done by restoring our present sewage system which is evidently antiquated, overloaded and misgoverned ( Harrison 2015:[sp]). The second option is to make use of substitute technologies that make alternative uses of the human waste produced ( Harrison 2015:[sp]). This includes using the waste to produce a renewable energy from accumulated sediment and organic/natural waste using anaerobic respiration technology (The Energy and Environment Partnership (EEP) Programme 2016: [sp]). A third option is to install a bio-digestion demonstration plant which uses a bio-digester to convert organic waste and sewage to methane, which can  ultimately be used to generate electricity (The Energy and Environment Partnership (EEP) Programme 2016: [sp]).

How can it get done?

The government has stated that the environmental effects are too small and insignificant to legitimize the expense of using alternative technologies; therefore it is the public’s responsibility to deny this

immoral practice and pressurise the government into elevating and advancing our current sewage system ( Harrison 2015:[sp]). The proposed solutions engage with the business sector, in particular, businesses interested in fields of renewable energy and energy efficiency. The government should consider collaborating with such organisations in order to find a long lasting solution that will conserve our environment.


The drivers of change identify that the human imprint influences the marine environment (Great Acceleration 2015:[sp]). The effects of the accelerating human changes have resulted in an increase in human waste and this is distinct at the Earth system level (Great Acceleration 2015:[sp]). Human activities have changed in terms of Earth system functioning and the global impacts are nearing or exceeding in consequence some of the great forces of nature (Great Acceleration 2015:[sp]).As a result marine life cannot function efficiently because of the large amounts of human waste being deposited into our aquatic environment and our ecosystem.

The public has realised that it would benefit from working together towards the common good however, in an open system of a free market, poor politics, scepticism, and flawed communication, any traitor is likely to escape with being deceitful (Great Acceleration 2015:[sp]). The only solution to overcome this issue is mutual trust, yet politics are seldom capable of making this choice (Great Acceleration 2015:[sp]). In this case particular, the government is not willing to invest in alternative technologies to conserve our environment. Presently, The City of Cape Town is in the process of applying for permits to retain the use of present system ( Mccain 2015:[sp]).

In order for there to be massive improvements on our sanitation systems, the accountability of the government needs to be strong (Several Factors That Drive the Politics of Water Reform Are Changing [sa]). When the accountability is strong, advances and alterations in the political economy could provide ‘political space’ for reforms (Several Factors That Drive the Politics of Water Reform Are Changing [sa]). Without accountability and responsibility from the government, the conditions will be aggravated (Several Factors That Drive the Politics of Water Reform Are Changing [sa]). In the long run, humankind has proven, and in the future is expected to be resilient to adapt to change (Several Factors That Drive the Politics of Water Reform Are Changing [sa]). The inquiry therefore is not how favourably we may react to worldwide challenges but instead how we learn from past challenges of resource deficiency and long-term environmental degradation (Several Factors That Drive the Politics of Water Reform Are Changing [sa]).

As mentioned above, the proposed solutions engage with the business/ corporate sector. ‘The Energy and Environment Partnership (EEP) is an organisation which advocates renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean technology investments (The Energy and Environment Partnership (EEP) Programme 2016: [sp]). The EEP assist and strengthen programmes and initiatives in two sectors that can aid the decline of poverty by promoting all-embracing and job creating green economy and by advancing energy assurance while alleviating global climate change (The Energy and Environment Partnership (EEP) Programme 2016: [sp]). This is an example of an organisation that might be interested in partnering with the community to address this particular environmental concern.



The proposed solutions and means to do it stem from collaborative processes of research stakeholder engagement and public participation (Bradfield 2015:[sp]). Research has since been implementing numerous tests to evaluate the significance of these outfalls, explains Johan Van der Merwe, Mayco member for energy environmental and spatial planning (Bradfield 2015:[sp]). The City is working with the CSIR to oversee over eighty sites in and around the outfalls (Bradfield 2015:[sp]). It is a comprehensive investigation into the marine outfalls and will persist on an on-going basis (Bradfield 2015:[sp]). It will allow the city to oversee any impacts from the outfalls as well as provide current

scientific information to the public (Bradfield 2015:[sp]). The public is against this immoral practice of harming our coastlines ( Harrison 2015:[sp]). The public has urged the government to take the crucial and essential steps by means of appeals which advocate protecting the people, marine life and the animals ( Harrison 2015:[sp]).

The solutions can be translated into practical means that can easily be achieved by the public. The public can contest the current environmental crisis by means of writing letters and actively taking part in petitions and appeals in order to pressurise the government (Bradfield 2015:[sp]). As a nation, it is important that we reduce waste material by recycling and reusing waste material (Several Factors That Drive the Politics of Water Reform Are Changing [sa]).

Ultimately it is the responsibility of the government as well as the corporate sector to invest in environmental programmes that will conserve and protect our oceans. Our society and the environment are essentially linked in intricate ways and companies should invest in the sustainability of the environment in which it operates. Businesses should not only be concerned with making a profit. Businesses should be socially responsible and invest in eco-conscious initiatives (Several Factors That Drive the Politics of Water Reform Are Changing [sa]). Companies operating in coastal regions should take part in ocean clean-ups and invest in programmes that will conserve the ocean. In addition, businesses operating in coastal regions should ensure that all business operations are conducted in an ethical way and in a way that has minimal harm to the environment.For example, companies should ensure that waste from factories is safely and properly disposed.

This article has provided analytical environmental humanities analysis of three online media articles concerning the condition of our oceans in South Africa. In addition, it has also mentioned the two concepts of the “Great Acceleration” and the “New Human Condition”, as discussed in the article, to emphasise how the drivers of change and possible solutions give an account of the theories of the participation of different sectors as projected by the environmental humanities. In conclusion the public is made aware through media of the environmental concerns, which in this case are poor and outdated sanitation systems in South Africa which have led to the contamination of our oceans.

Check out #DigEcoAction to learn more about different environmental issues

pertaining to our country.



Bradfield, L.2015.City of Cape Town still mum over sewage.[O].Available:

Accessed 2 April 2016

Focus Area: Environmental Sustainability.[sa].[O].Available:
Accessed 2 April 2016

Great Acceleration .2015.[O].Available:
Accessed 2 April 2016

Harrison, A.2015. City of CT urged to revisit sewage outfall decision.[O].Available:

Several Factors That Drive the Politics of Water Reform Are Changing.[sa].[O].Available:
Accessed 3 April 2016

The Energy and Environment Partnership (EEP) Programme.[sa].[O].Available:

Accessed 3 April 2016