Academic journal article Southeastern Geographer

When an Exotic Becomes Native Taming, Naming, and Kudzu as Regional Symbolic Capital

Academic journal article Southeastern Geographer

When an Exotic Becomes Native Taming, Naming, and Kudzu as Regional Symbolic Capital

Article excerpt

With the recent death of John Winberry, geography has lost an important voice in the study of the southeastern United States. His research on the invasive kudzu vine was an early and important contribution to southern environmental history. Over forty years ago, John and co-author, David Jones, traced the evolution of kudzu's reputation and role within the southern landscape--from its widespread promotion as a "miracle vine" in New Deal soil conservation to its decline to the status of pest and the resulting push for eradication. I review and update the changing identity of kudzu within southern and American social life, particularly since Winberry and Jones (1973). Landowners, government officials, and scientists continue to battle kudzu as an environmental Other. Yet, kudzu has also become a widely recognized symbol of the South and people represent and associate with the vine as if it were native to the region rather than an exotic invader. By appropriating kudzu culturally and treating it as intrinsically southern, people are in effect "taming" its identity and significantly re-interpreting its otherness. I present examples of people employing the word kudzu to identify themselves and the South, with particular focus on the practice of naming businesses and streets after the plant. An exploratory survey of entrepreneurs reveals that they use kudzu, discursively, to assert the southerness of their name and market identity. In doing so, they create a form of "regional symbolic capital," using the kudzu name to confer a sense of regional distinction that will connect with and attract customers rather than drive them away. However, the naming practice also invariably draws lines between southern and non-southern clients. Treating kudzu as if it belongs in and to the South represents an interesting counterpoint, and perhaps a complication, to larger calls for eradication--allowing us to add another chapter to the ever-changing cultural geography of kudzu and the important work of John Winberry.

Con la muerte reciente de John Winberry, el campo de la geografia ha perdido una voz importante en el estudio del sureste de los Estados Unidos. Sus investigaciones sobre la enredadera invasora kudzu fueron una temprana contribucion importante a la historia del medio ambiente sureno. Hace mas de cuarenta anos John y David Jones, coautor, trazaron la evolucion de la reputacion y el papel del kudzu en el paisaje sureno--desde su promocion generalizada como enredadera milagrosa en la conservacion de suelos New Deal a su declive a status de plaga con el resultante empuje para erradicarla. Aqui repaso y actualizo la identidad cambiante del kudzu en la vida social americana y surena, particularmente desde Winberry y Jones (1973). Los terratenientes (propietarios de terrenos), los oficiales gubernamentales y los cientificos continuan batallando el kudzu como un Otro medioambiental. Sin embargo, kudzu se ha convertido en un simbolo ampliamente reconocido del Sur y la gente representa y se asocia con la enredadera como si fuera nativa a la region en vez de una invasora exotica. Al apropiarse del kudzu culturalmente y al tratarlo como intrinsecamente sureno, la gente esta realmente domesticando su identidad y reinterpretando significativamente su otredad. En este trabajo presento ejemplos de gente que usa la palabra kudzu para identificarse a si mismos y al Sur, con un enfoque particular en la practica de llamar a negocios y calles como la planta. Una encuesta exploratoria de empresarios revela que usan kudzu, discursivamente, para aseverar lo sureno de su nombre e identidad de mercado. Al hacer eso, crean una forma de capital regional simbolico usando el nombre kudzu para conferir un sentido de distincion regional que atraera y conectara con los clientes en vez de alejarlos. Sin embargo, esta practica invariablemente separa a los clientes surenos y los no-surenos. Al tratar el kudzu como si perteneciera y fuera del sur representa un interesante contrapunto, y quizas una complicacion, para llamadas mas amplias para su erradicacion--permitiendonos anadir otro capitulo a la siempre cambiante geografia cultural del kudzu y la importante obra de John Winberry. …

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