Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

Plant Publics: Multispecies Relating in Spanish Botanical Gardens

Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

Plant Publics: Multispecies Relating in Spanish Botanical Gardens

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

This article examines the place of botanical gardens in the public sphere, historically and currently, analyzing the variety of cultural dynamics shaping these locales. Botanical gardens are complex cultural sites where multispecies relations are cultivated and managed. These sites typically combine scientific inquiry with conservation efforts and public attractions. Botanical gardens in Spain offer a distinctive perspective on these locations because of their regional orientations, histories of empire, and distinctive research programs. Located in Spain's three largest cities- Madrid, Barcelona, and Valencia-these gardens provide an opportunity to think about multispecies relations that unfold in institutional settings located in dense urban zones. This article theorizes multispecies publics as distinctive cultural assemblages that distinctly align humans and non-humans in relations of care. These publics combine deep historical roots with considerable current transformative potential for reimagining urban space and the nation. [Keywords: Public sphere, botanical gardens, multispecies, Spain, urban ecology]

Foreign Language Translations:

Plant Publics: Multispecies Relating in Spanish Botanical Gardens

[Keywords: Public sphere, botanical gardens, multispecies, Spain, urban ecology]

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Públicos de Plantas: Relacionando Multiespécies em Jardins Botânicos Espanhóis

[Palavras-Chave: Domínio público, jardins botânicos, multiespécies, Espanha, ecologia urbana]

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(ProQuest: ... denotes non-US-ASCII text omitted.)

Walking into a botanical garden today, visitors encounter a setting that is becoming increasingly uncommon: a domain dominated by plants. As more than half of humanity now crowds into cities, and as deforestation accelerates across the planet, a once commonplace experience of being surrounded by plant life is becoming infrequent. Botanical gardens-there are more than 2,500 today, located in most countries and often operating as sites of national investment in conservation efforts-are an exception. As institutions, these centuries-old sites concentrate a range of knowledge practices and representational strategies. Emerging with the discipline of botany and swelling through colonial expeditions, botanical gardens are now often a feature of post-colonial contestations that make biodiversity a matter of transnational concern (Lowe 2006). Through all of this, the gardens consistently stage and reproduce multispecies publics designed to engage and instruct a variety of human audiences that daily grow more removed from and ignorant of plant life.

This article offers an ethnographic perspective on three Spanish botanical gardens in order to consider how congeries of species assume a position in the public sphere.1 Located respectively in Spain's three largest cities, these gardens-Real Jardín Botánico (Royal Botanical Gardens, or RJB) in Madrid, Jardí Botànic de Barcelona (JBB), and Jardí Botànic de la Universitat de València (JBUV)-offer distinctive vantage points from which to examine this nation and its regional distinctions. Taken together, historically and currently, they also provide a glimpse of plant publics-a form of cultural assemblage (de Landa 2006) that straddles two distinct areas of anthropological inquiry. Following the work of Jürgen Habermas (1991) and Benedict Anderson (1983), ethnographers have found manifold ways to both examine and expand the basic concept of a public sphere.2 But because the notion of "publics" (Gaonkar and Povinelli 2003, Warner 2002) has largely been construed as forms of mass-mediated subjectivity (Cody 2011), these inquiries have yet to attend much to nonhumans that populate the public sphere. Recently, multispecies ethnographies have drawn attention to "how a multitude of organisms' livelihoods shape and are shaped by political, economic, and cultural forces" (Kirksey and Helmreich 2010:545).3 The starting point for such work is "the fact of human/nonhuman mingling" (Kirksey and Helmreich 2010:546). …

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