Vegetal politics for ethical engagements

Authors: Juanita Sundberg*, University of British Columbia, Leticia Durand, Centro Regional de Investigaciones Multidisciplinarias, UNAM
Topics: Human-Environment Geography, Middle America
Keywords: more-than-human geographies, vegetal politics, anthropocentrism
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 2:40 PM / 4:20 PM
Room: Bacchus, Sheraton, 8th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper addresses vegetal politics in relation to Lacandonia schismática, a tiny – at once furtive and renowned – flower that materialized in the lives of the Chol community of Frontera Corozal in Mexico’s Selva Lacandona. In particular, we consider how Lacandonia schismática has incited alterations in the intimate/global spaces of botanical science as well as community identity, sense of place, and development horizons in Frontera Corozal. Scientists were shown the flower in the course of research for Flora Mesoamericana, a project to describe flora from southern Mexico to Panama. The plant’s “discovery” transformed the lives of scientist-collectors, as its sex organs are arranged differently from all other plants “known to science” (the stamens arise within a ring of pistils instead of the standard format of pistils surrounded by stamens). Furthermore, the “discovery” compelled Chol community members to engage with a plant that had no prior place in their imaginaries. Our research of emergent relations between scientists, community members, and Lacandonia schismática in Frontera Corozal aims to deepen the concept of plant agency to foster better understandings of vegetal politics. While the story of Lacandonia schismática could be told through conventional anthropo(zoo)centric ontologies, doing so would be to reproduce binary subject/object relations, thereby contributing to systems of domination at the root of contemporary earth-destroying practices. Accounting for vegetal politics, we argue, is crucial to negotiating more ethical ways of engaging in and with ecological communities.

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