Invited to present at the University of Exeter, Making SPAce: Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology conference, 16 - 17 May 2019

By amandacouch, May 1 2019 04:17PM

I have been invited to present at the University of Exeter, Making SPAce: Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology student post-graduate research conference, 16 - 17 May 2019. I will be doing a workshop which will introduce and explore my new project, ‘Becoming with Wheat (and Other More-Than-Human Others)’ 2018-ongoing, where wheat, images, seeds, fields, plants, sheaves, husks, flour, dough, and baked goods, the (potential and hoped for) corn or grain spirits as well as additional more-than-human others, such as weeds, soil and its microorganisms, yeast, powdery mildew, the human gut microbiota, and windmills, for example, are my subjects as well as my co-performers and co-authors.

Drawing on the emerging arena of multispecies ethnography, where notions of our relational and entangled relationships with non-human others is unfolding the grip of anthropocentrism, I refer to Donna Haraway’s notion of ‘companions species’. Wheat has been our companion species since our ancestors in the Near East domesticated grass-derived crops the oldest cereals, about 10-12,000 years ago. Anna Tsing calls it a ‘love affair […] one of the great romances of human history [where] people transferred their affection from multi-species landscapes to shower intimacy upon one or two particular crops’ (Tsing, 2012: 145).

At the intimate romantic dinner or on the kitchen table around the world, wheat is often present. And ‘whether we know how to eat well or not’, Haraway reminds us, ‘human and nonhuman animals are companion species, messmates at table, eating together’ (Haraway, 2008: 301). In ‘Becoming with Wheat…’, I propose that we extend to and embrace the more-than-human vegetal of wheat, especially since companioning is bound up in the root of the word ‘companion’, from the Latin, cum panis, meaning, ‘with bread’ (Haraway, 2016: 11).

Through a variety of activities in the project, some of which I will share during the workshop, I hope to cultivate and model a more connected, sensitive way of being in the world with plants, gardens, food and the gut. With the wheat plant, its histories, biology, materiality and relationships as a catalyst, I hope to collapse the boundaries between us, humans and wheat, to explore the thresholds between land, food, and the body, and particularly the digestive system, and make more visible, permeable and entangled our relationship.

The aims of the conference is to be a platform to ask, what does SPA mean? Can we become a fully interdisciplinary department or an aggregate of disciplines learning to converse? What kinds of critical, dialogic spaces can we create and support within the department? Making SPAce aims to both provoke and inform these practical yet conceptual questions.

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