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Keeping Seeds: The poetics of fugitivity

Authors: Christian Keeve*, University of Wisconsin - Madison
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Ethnicity and Race, Agricultural Geography
Keywords: Seedkeeping, Black Geographies, Vegetal Politics
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Seeds are having a moment. They are ubiquitous and unassuming, yet wield monumental political significance. They are botanical touchstones that compel a grounding; a return to the soil. In this presentation, I seek to bring to light the role of seedkeeping in African-American agricultural histories, their connections to contemporary environmental movements, and the implications of quotidian botanic life for the global moment of the Plantationocene. Seedkeeping, the material basis for the reproduction of food and land movements, predates the plantation, yet contemporarily is not legible without the framing of plantation legacies. However, botanic life provides ways of thinking through these legacies and unsettling contemporary plantation logics through human and inhuman geographies of justice.

Political ecology and Black geographies meet at the cultural-ecological sites in which settler colonialism and plantation logics impact racial governance, food systems, and environmental thought. This project combines field work at a small Philadelphia-based seed company, archival work at the USDA Special Collections, and site visits and interviews at seed archives and historic plant collections in Virginia and North Carolina, all with a focus on African-American seeds and Black ecologies. This is in pursuit of a theoretical framework around ecological fugitivity, an analytic which attends to the ecological relations that formed between Black subjects and botanic life across the Middle Passage and through the plantation; the disruption and evasion of the extraction of human and natural labor in plantation-scapes; and a through line for understanding the co-constitution of Black subjects, Black landscapes, and Black seeds.

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