ASA11: Vital powers and politics: human interactions with living things

University of Wales Trinity Saint David, 13/09/2011 – 16/09/2011

(P22)

Knowing plants

Location Room 2
Date and Start Time 15 Sep, 2011 at 09:00

Convenor

Luci Attala (University of Wales, Trinity St David)  email
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Short Abstract

This panel explores humanity's relationship with plant life with the aim to consider the communicative properties of relating to, ingesting, cultivating and conceiving of plants.

Long Abstract

Plants are not generally considered communicative and yet humanity's history reveals a rich and involved relationship where knowledge has been conceived in the interaction them. Scientific conceptions of plants encourage a domination of their nature with the control of their expression being voiced as important to people's survival. However, with increasing concerns for planetary endurance, the conception of humans' place in ecology is being revisited and reworked to include a re-evaluation of human/plant discourse. Ecological solutions constructed in a framework of sustainability include plants for their sustenance, healing, reconstructive and rebalancing properties, but increasingly indigenous knowledge constructed through a narrative which includes dialogue with plants challenges preconceptions by modelling plants as teachers. With this in mind, this panel considers how plants are negotiated and experienced in a wide variety of circumstances including ingestion as a means towards health or disease; shamanic activities, communicating with plants; smoking; 'drug' taking; herbal knowledge/healing; tree planting; the construction, cultivation and meaning of house plants, flowers, gardens/allotments.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Mushrooms, history and indigenous knowledge in Greek Macedonia

Author: Daniel Knight (University of St Andrews) email
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Short Abstract

Mushroom picking in the Greek Macedonian village of Kalloni is a highly ritualised practice that incorporates a plethora of social connotations. A usually dormant social space, the village comes alive as the mushroom season activates social networks of embodied history and knowledge. Mushroom picking accommodates the intergenerational transmission of indigenous knowledge that highlights a rich arena of inter-species interaction.

Long Abstract

Each autumn the village of Kalloni in Greek Macedonia is woken from its usual seasonal slumber by groups of mushroom hunters. Since the former inhabitants migrated to surrounding towns during the 1940s and 1950s for social and economic reasons, Kalloni has gradually become deserted outside of the summer months. The mushroom picking season instigates particular social networks of embodied knowledge and history.

History is relived through mushroom picking and embodied knowledge transmitted. Children have never been allowed to participate in the activity, but nevertheless successive generations continue with what has become a highly ritualised practice. Knowledge of the landscape and edible species is transferred on these excursions, partially de-shrouding the mystification of inside knowledge. The practice has become culturally proximate; an activity that links dispersed actors to their ancestral village. Mushroom picking is a practice that enlivens otherwise dormant social spaces and activates networks of knowledge and embodied history. Thus mushrooms not only help produce a dynamic social arena of discernment, but also transform the social space.

Houseplants, exchange and vegetative propagation: how sociality and germplasm dispersal mutually reinforce one other

Authors: Reka Komaromi (University of Kent at Canterbury) email
Roy Ellen (University of Kent) email
Simon Platten email
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Short Abstract

We show how mode of reproduction in houseplants serves to increase biological fitness through selection and distribution through informal human social networks, and how those same modes lend themselves to the articulation and maintenance of social networks, instantiating memories and meanings, and providing opportunities for plant based narratives.

Long Abstract

In the contemporary UK, as in most of Europe and the 'neo-Europes', the networks involved in plant exchange are heavily dominated by flows between commercial seed producers, smaller producers and domestic growers. Nevertheless, informal networks remain important, even if they have to be understood within a wider system of relations and flows, including commodity chains. The houseplant sub-economy as a sphere of exchange still relies to a significant extent on propagules obtained through informal exchange, and although when measured in monetary terms the value is small, social, ecological and genetic impact is disproportionately large. Moreover, houseplants provide us with a cultural domain in which a variety of forms of exchange are displayed that take place independent of the formal monetary economy or at the interface with it. This paper shows how plant reproductive material increases its biological fitness through selection and distribution through human social networks and how humans massively increase the diversity and utility of plant matter by re-distributing it. Moreover, modes of plant propagation at the same time lend themselves to the articulation and maintenance of those same networks, instantiating memories and providing opportunities for plant based narratives. The exchange of plant germplasm through the 'houseplant sub-economy' reinforces yet again the claim that what we loosely call 'gifts' and perceive as trivial, secondary and outside the realm of social control, are in fact 'recurrent, predictable and socially regulated' in Western industrial societies, with hidden social and ecological consequences arising from their symbolic and spatially prominent contexts.

Encountering plantiness: materiality and agency in human-plant relations

Authors: Lesley Head (University of Melbourne) email
Jennifer Atchison (University of Wollongong) email
Catherine Phillips (University of Wollongong) email
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Short Abstract

We analyse the characteristics of ‘plantiness’, and discuss their implications for plant agency and human-plant relations.

Long Abstract

The more-than-human turn in the social sciences has focused more on human relations with animals than plants. In this paper we push these discussions further by paying attention to the category 'plant', and by trying to take plants seriously on their own terms. Since what counts as a plant is contingent and has evolved over time, we consider first plantiness as the diverse material expression of five characteristics and capacities, collected in a living organism. Plantiness helps make humanness possible but it does not need humans. We then consider how plantiness structures plant agency, and what this means for two types of encounter - the ethnographic encounter, and that between humans and plants. Examples are drawn from our field research in Australia and Canada.

Governing self help? A socio-legal study on the EU Directives on herbal medicinal products and the implications for and effects on the natural health community

Authors: Gerald Schaefer (Aberystwyth University) email
Claudine Young (Aberystwyth University) email
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Short Abstract

This paper includes an interpretation of the Directives within the context of EU law, and looks at the effects upon the ‘natural medicine community’, how people are responding to them, through compliance or transgression, and issues of governance and the body.

Long Abstract

This paper is co-authored by an EU lawyer and an anthropologist. Firstly, it examines the EU Directives on Herbal Medicinal Products within the wider context of EU law, including the regulatory intention, legal techniques and scope of the legislation. Secondly, using ethnographic data, the paper explores the implications for and effects on the natural health community, and how people are responding to the directives, through compliance or transgression. Here, we take 'natural health community' to mean those who produce, sell and use herbal medicinal products; at this stage, the scope of the study is confined to Great Britain. The 'natural health community' in Great Britain, however, is not homogenous because the regulations also apply to Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic Medicine in addition to European Herbal Remedies, which raises ethical and philosophical issues relating to liberty and rights to cultural beliefs and practices, and also questions as to how different parts of the community have been informed and updated on the changes in law. Drawing theoretically from Foucault to Irigaray, this paper finally highlights how these Directives reflect paternalistic approaches to our relationship with the 'natural' world and socio-cultural 'knowledges' which exist outside of hegemonic discourses. Additionally, questions are raised as to why at the same time that there is a predominance of softer paternalistic approaches actively encouraging self-help, other forms of making healthy choices are being intensely governed.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.