Lifeworld of Invasion: What and When is an ‘Invasive Species’?

‘Invasive species’ convenes conceptual nuances of ideas like nativeness, invasion and naturalness that can be understood variably in different political-cultural-socio contexts and academic disciplines. My project discusses the intellectual baggage of invasive species and explores the futurity of these organisms that are considered out of place and out of time.

Invasive species together with climate change are often listed as the two biggest ecological challenges today. As the planet warms rapidly, species migration is often followed by more invasion events. While many struggle on the brink of extinction, these species thrive in distress.

The label of invasive species places certain organisms under the spotlight for events that are enmeshed in historical and ecological network rather than caused by a sole proprietor. The militaristic and xenophobic figuration of this label often implicates geographical or national original of a species (think ‘Asian’ in Asian hornet), which is subject to the cultural-political realm of judgement, control, and life and death.

As the concept of invasive species invokes unilateral aggression, it also inflicts violence on the way of knowing. Invasive species witness the trajectory of — as they are also brought along by — the colonial era, the acceleration of modernity, the globalization of trade. Like their carriers, these species deemed invasive have brought lasting environmental impacts, entangled in social and ecological assemblages, all the while facing threats from introduced ‘natural’ predators and eradication effort to varying degrees depending on their aesthetics and economic value. Some, however, naturalized and became a local icon, or got unlisted as they were simply too pervasive.

Yet despite such multitude of history and transformation— the lifeworld of ‘invasive species’ — the seemingly objective language of natural science, primarily that of invasive biology, dominates the discourse around the topic. Scientific and political institutions have the authority to catalogue and grade invasive species, where they are treated as a problem defined by enmity, supposed origin and the possibility of eradication.

Ingrained by the ideas of belonging and originality, ‘invasive species’ presents an epistemological problem that calls for a new way of knowing. In my project, I explore the concept of invasive species in the context of, and separately from, ecological invasion. To know what is and when is something becoming an invasive species, we must look beyond biology.