SOAS Research Online

A Free Database of the Latest Research by SOAS Academics and PhD Students

[skip to content]

Oriel, Elizabeth (2022) A Field Guide to Human-Elephant Relations in Sri Lanka: Patterns, Roles, and Rhythms of Multispecies Socialities within Conflict and Cohabitation. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London and Royal Veterinary College. DOI:

Text - Submitted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0).

Download (127MB) | Preview


As the extinction and climate crises erase many species’ lifeways and lives, an ecological politics that views all beings as actors, negotiators, persons even, is called for across disciplines. This research approaches human-elephant conflict (HEC) in Sri Lanka as a broad swath of complex relationships amidst multispecies actors and landscapes, exploring different lifeways and life rhythms intermingling. I title the work a Field Guide not in the traditional sense, but as an eco-centric guide to relational styles across species and landscapes. I work with a systems lens which unpacks wicked socio-ecological assemblages. Human-elephant conflict, which refers to the territorial issues around access to vegetation for food, with elephants accessing food resources that are deemed off limits to them, eating cultivated crops or stored grains, has occurred for millennia in Sri Lanka. In the last decades, human and elephant deaths rise every year, and in the first 85 days of 2021, 87 elephants perished. Each elephant, plant, and human are part of self-organizing communities, which set the relational tone for larger interactions. In this framework, human-elephant conflict can be viewed as a discord between different kinds of relationalities or rhythms that cannot coexist. These relational patterns are heavily influenced by the choreography among global and local forces, colonial and postcolonial patterns meeting the specifics of place, plant life, local histories. Working with engaged theory and methodology, covering four layers of analysis, yet with a multispecies lens, I examine the last fifty years in two regions, in the highlands and in the dry southeast. Interspecies relationalities, in which the social and ecological are intertwined, work through dialogue (Bakhtin) and rhythm (Lefebvre) as two frameworks I engage with. Storied elements emerge in viewing multispecies actors and roles across HEC, and offer levers for change and for a continuous future. The Guide begins with human industrial patterns in scaling up and centrism, then explores elephant relations as guided by permeability and movement and elephant protest to changing lands and access, and then discusses plants’ roles as intermediaries across human-elephant relations. This approach contributes to imagining into a not yet fully formed model of politics rooted in ecologies.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Ashley Cox, Ayona Fletcher and Avinash Paliwal
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 08 Nov 2022 16:51
Funders: Other

Altmetric Data


Download activity - last 12 monthsShow export options
Downloads since deposit
6 month trend
6 month trend
Accesses by country - last 12 monthsShow export options
Accesses by referrer - last 12 monthsShow export options

Repository staff only

Edit Item Edit Item