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1 March 2016 “Useful to Us in Unknown Ways”: Seed Conservation and the Quest for Novel Human-Plant Relationships for the 21st Century
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Contemporary environmental threats inspire the formation of new global communities and relationships: networks that both transcend nations and local environmental interactions and forge novel assemblages of human and non-human collaborations in a bid to “reset their modes of being” (Scott 2013:864). The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership (MSBP), for example, is the largest ex situ plant conservation project in the world and brings together partners from over 80 countries in an endeavor to conserve seeds from rare, wild plant species. As the potential use of the wild plant becomes increasingly central to the conservation relationship at the MSBP and implicated within a wider discourse on the neoliberalization of conservation, this paper explores how the term “use” may in fact encompass a nascent desire to reframe the human-plant relationship. By critically evaluating the values and intentions behind the quest for novel plant-uses by those who work within the MSBP, this paper examines the implications of seed-saving within a contemporary conservation institution. For those involved, rather than objectifying and creating a utilitarian relationship with nature, the concept of use is indicative of an aspiration to foster intimate, reciprocal relationships with their non-human counterparts, operating within an ontology in which humans and plants are interdependent. This paper argues that at a time when sustaining ontological diversity is key to ensuring cultural resilience and adaptation to environmental challenges, it is vital that ethnobiologists engage not only with traditional models, but also explore what innovative, intentional relationships with nature may be emerging from within conservation.

© 2016 Society of Ethnobiology
Kay E. Lewis-Jones "“Useful to Us in Unknown Ways”: Seed Conservation and the Quest for Novel Human-Plant Relationships for the 21st Century," Journal of Ethnobiology 36(1), 66-84, (1 March 2016).
Published: 1 March 2016

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