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Care of the Species

Races of Corn and the Science of Plant Biodiversity

2017
Author:

John Hartigan Jr.

Care of the Species

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

Care of the Species contributes to debates about the concept of species through vivid ethnography, examining infrastructures of care—labs and gardens in Spain and Mexico—where plant scientists grapple with the complexities of evolution and domestication. In tackling the racial dimension of efforts to go “beyond the human,” this book reveals a far greater stratum of sameness than commonly assumed.

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.

Care of the Species

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).

Care of the Species


Contents
Abbreviations
Introduction
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
Acknowledgments
Notes
Bibliography
Index