Care of the Species

Care of the Species

Races of Corn and the Science of Plant Biodiversity

John Hartigan Jr.

Darwin meets Foucault in this engrossing ethnography of plants, race, and biodiversity

376 Pages, 6 x 9 in

  • Paperback
  • 9780816685356
  • Published: November 15, 2017
  • eBook
  • 9781452955490
  • Published: November 15, 2017
  • Hardcover
  • 9780816685301
  • Published: November 15, 2017


Care of the Species

Races of Corn and the Science of Plant Biodiversity

John Hartigan Jr.

ISBN: 9780816685356

Publication date: November 15th, 2017

376 Pages

14 black and white illustrations

8 x 5

"Amazing; revelatory: at last, a book that guides scholars and students who have only known humans into care for other beings. Care of the Species walks readers through the steps that allowed John Hartigan Jr. to open his attention to plants. He starts with a meditation on race: what happens to this category when it refers to cultivated plants? Rather than assume readers who already care, Hartigan Jr. shows us how to care. Rather than stereotype science as a way of thought, Care of the Species shows how ethnographers might listen closely to botanists to appreciate what their caring might be about. Reading this book made me realize I had waited for it a long time; it shows humanists why the more-than-human matters. I can’t wait to teach it."—Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, coeditor of Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet

"Care of the Species examines the infrastructures, labs, and gardens that contain the dynamism of botanical life forms. Corn plants—with unruly ‘jumping genes’ and racialized strains—are the stars of John Hartigan Jr.’s multispecies story. Making metaphoric leaps across divisions separating bodies and species, this book is an erudite engagement with model organisms, mutant forms, and molecular techniques.  Revealing tips on ‘How to Interview a Plant’ will be useful to multispecies ethnographers who seek to reflexively localize, describe, theorize, and contextualize their subjects of study."—Eben Kirksey, author of Emergent Ecologies

Across the globe, an expanding circle of care is encompassing a growing number of species through efforts targeting biodiversity, profoundly revising the line between humans and nonhumans. Care of the Species examines infrastructures of care—labs and gardens in Spain and Mexico—where plant scientists grapple with the complexities of evolution and domestication. 

John Hartigan Jr. uses ethnography to access the expertise of botanists and others engaged with cultivating biodiversity, providing various entry points for understanding plants in the world around us. He begins by tracing the historical emergence of race through practices of care on nonhumans, showing how this history informs current thinking about conservation. With geneticists working on maize, Hartigan deploys Foucault’s concept of care of the self to analyze how domesticated species are augmented by an afterlife of data. In the botanical gardens of Spain, Care of the Species explores seed banks, herbariums, and living collections, depicting the range of ways people interact with botanical knowledge. This culminates in Hartigan’s effort to engage plants as ethnographic subjects through a series of imaginative “interview” techniques.

Care of the Species contributes to debates about the concept of species through vivid ethnography, developing a cultural perspective on evolutionary dynamics while using ethnography to theorize species. In tackling the racial dimension of efforts to go “beyond the human,” this book reveals a far greater stratum of sameness than commonly assumed.

John Hartigan Jr. is professor of anthropology and director of the Américo Paredes Center for Cultural Studies at the University of Texas, Austin. He is author of Aesop’s Anthropology: A Multispecies Approach (Minnesota, 2015).




Part I. Species Interiors

1. Follow the Species: In and Out of Labs

2. Maize: An Ethnohistory

3. Racial Thinking: Transgenics versus Razas

4. Selfing: The Sexual History of a Species

5. Species Thinking: Calibrating Knowledge of Life Forms

Interlude: Figure and Ground 

Part II. Knowing Plants

6. Living Ethnographies: Of Plants and Arguments

7. Species Don’t Exist: Theorizing Life Forms

8. Care and Its Publics: Peopling Botanical Gardens

9. How to Interview a Plant: Ethnography of Life Forms

Epilogue: An Elegant Plant