Vegetal Ecologies

Marianna Szczygielska & Olga Cielemęcka

Vegetal ecologies is an experimental form of thinking which grows out of the budding debates within environmental humanities around botanic life, thinking, and agency. It departs from an assumption that inquiring into the vegetal, beyond its symbolic and visual representations, allows for reimagining subjectivity, agency, life and motility in the wake of the posthuman turn, as well as for recalibrating the discussions on ethical responsibility and environmental justice, which would respect and account for plant others. Moreover, these new ecologies sprout into territories of politically valent social struggles for queer, minority, and indigenous rights.

Through crossing the taxonomic boundaries and normative classifications, vegetal ecologies troubles classical, discrete notions of identity, subjectivity, life, environment, nature, and culture. In On the Soul, Aristotle (1986) offers a division between plant life, animal life, and human life. More recently, Martin Heidegger (1995) fortifies this division even further by envisaging it as an unbridgeable ontological one – a difference between a stone, an animal, and a human metaphysical form of being. This philosophical tradition of Western thinking about the vegetal (for an overview of conceptualizations of vegetal life in history of philosophy, (see: Michael Marder’s concept of plant- thinking: Marder, 2013) informs to this day the supposedly commonsensical ways of perceiving plant life as a lower form of being, an immobile, non-sentient, and a passive one. This perception is also evident in bioethical debates around the issues of quality of life and right to death. Against this tradition, new multidisciplinary trends in overcoming this deadlock in discussion about plants as human’s radical others comes to view. Plants constitute not only potent metaphors for human relationship to the land, mobility, and fertility, but also determine in concrete, empirical ways human livelihoods, diets, urban design, health, landscape and ways of relating to it, economies, and histories of belonging, domestication, invasiveness, colonization, and “weeding out.” Plants are active agents participating in what Anna Tsing calls “the romance connecting people, plants, and places” (Tsing, 2012, p. 145). This shift is visible in emerging fields of research such as queer ecologies, plant-human ethnographies, human geography, and political ecology among others, which point to the intensive traffic in meanings and matter between plants, places and humans. These theoretical advances also test how vegetal ecologies may offer ways to interrupt hegemonic discourses around normativity, futurity, and reproduction (see e.g. Sandilands’ project on “botanical queerness”). Simultaneously, there are multiple practices emerging from urban activism, grassroots community building, indigenous knowledges, and artistic experimentations, which explore and redefine intimate human-plant relations and dependencies. What is more, rethinking the generative potentialities of the botanical calls for cultivation of collaborative efforts beyond the framework of individualism and human exceptionalism, to bring to life new praxes within the fields of art, architecture, urban planning, literature, and academic interventions, among others.

Keywords: plants, botany, politics, queer ecologies, plant-human relationships
Genealogies: indigenous knowledges, multispecies ethnography, human geography
Antonyms: taxonomy, classifixation, anthropocentrism
Hypernyms: environmental humanities, political ecology, environmental justice, green futures, multispecies stories
Hyponyms: queer ecologies, botanical queerness
Synonyms: multispecies stories, plant-human relationships

Aristotle. (1986). De anima. On the Soul. Translated by H. Lawson-Tancred. London-New York: Penguin Books.
Heidegger, Martin. (1995). The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Marder, Michael. (2013). Plant-thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life. New York: Columbia University Press.
Tsing, Anna. (2012). ”Unruly Edges: Mushrooms as Companion Species.” Environmental Humanities 1, pp. 141-154.

Further reading
Erickson, Bruce and Catriona Mortimer-Sandilands (eds.). (2010). Queer Ecologies: Sex, Nature, Politics, Desire. Bloomington, Ind: Indiana University Press.
Head, Lesley and Jennifer Atchison, Catherine Phillips, Kathleen Buckingham (eds.). (2014). Social and Cultural Geography. Vol. 15, issue 8. Special Issue: ”Vegetal Politics: Belonging, Practices and Places.”
Irigaray, Luce and Michael Marder. (2016). Vegetal Being: Two Perspectives. New York: Columbia University Press
Nealon, Jefferey T. (2016). Plant Theory. Biopower and Vegetable Life. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Patrick, Darren J. (2014). ”The Matter of Displacement: A Queer Urban Ecology of New York City’s High Line.” Social and Cultural Geography. Vol. 15, issue 8. Special Issue: ”Vegetal Politics: Belonging, Practices and Places,” pp. 920-941.
Queer Urban Ecologies. Online blog.
Sandilands, Catriona. (in press) “Botanically Queer?” in Caroline Picard (ed.), Imperceptibly and Slowly Opening. New York: The Green Lantern Press.
Sandilands, Catriona. (in press) Plantasmagoria: Plants and the Politics of Urban Habitat. Routledge, Environmental Humanities Series.
Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt. (2015). The Mushroom at the End of the World. On the Possibility of Life in the Ruins of Capitalism. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
Vieira, Patricia, Gagliano, Monica and Ryan, John (eds.) Forthcoming, (2017). The Language of Plants: Science, Philosophy, Literature and Cinema. Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press.

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