How the Nonhuman World Influences Homeowner Yard Management in the American Residential Macrosystem

Abstract

Although the yard is a hybrid social and material landscape, much social science research emphasizes the socio-cultural factors and has mostly neglected the potentially important influence of plants, animals, and the nonliving material world on homeowners’ decision-making. Using interviews across six metropolitan areas in the United States, we investigated the ways residential yards’ nonhuman context is perceived to influence homeowners’ relationships with and planning for their yards. We found that nonhuman dynamics establish boundaries of yard-related decision-making, and that homeowners described their relations with the nonhuman context of the yard as cooperative, oppositional, and negotiable. We call for social science in urban spaces to be more explicitly informed by a consideration of nonhuman agency, and offer an ethical reflection of who or what is considered to have a right to cohabitate in homeowners’ yards.

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Data Availability

The datasets generated during and/or analyzed during the current study are not publicly available because we did not explicitly receive institutional review board approval to publically share them, but are available from the co-author Dr. Kristen Nelson on reasonable request.

Notes

  1. 1.

    Although we are explicitly influenced by ANT, other in threads of contemporary social theory consider the importance of the relationality between humans and nonhumans, such as post-humanist theory and object-oriented philosophy. This scholarship shares a commitment to understanding the contingent relations of humans and nonhumans, with particular focus on the agency of nonhumans in these relations.

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Acknowledgements

This research is supported by the Macrosystems Biology Program (US NSF) under Grants EF- 1638648, -1638519, -1638639, -1638725, -1638606, and -1638676 and the NIFA McIntire-Stennis 1000343 MIN-42-051. The work arose from research funded by grants from the NSF LTER program for Baltimore (DEB-0423476); Phoenix (BCS-1026865, DEB-0423704, and DEB-9714833); Plum Island, Boston (OCE-1058747 and 1238212); Cedar Creek, Minneapolis–St. Paul (DEB-0620652); and Florida Coastal Everglades, Miami (DBI-0620409). The USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station also provided support. Anonymous reviewers supplied constructive feedback that helped to improve this paper. The findings and opinions reported here do not necessarily reflect those of the funders of this research.

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Correspondence to Jesse M. Engebretson.

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Engebretson, J.M., Nelson, K.C., Ogden, L.A. et al. How the Nonhuman World Influences Homeowner Yard Management in the American Residential Macrosystem. Hum Ecol 48, 347–356 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10745-020-00164-2

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Keywords

  • Nonhuman agency
  • Interspecies cosmopolitanism
  • Residential yards
  • Urban greening
  • Actor-network theory United States