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European Ethnology

Becoming with Apples. A Multispecies Ethnography in Rural Economies

Principal Investigator: Dr. Arnika Peselmann


Funding Period: 2022-2024

DFG-Geschäftszeichen: PE 3514/1-1

The project explores human-plant relations in intensive agriculture from the perspective of multispecies studies. Using the example of apple breeding and cultivation in the Alte Land near Hamburg, the ethnological study examines interspecies interactions in rural economies and asks about ontologies of cultivated apples (Malus domestica) as well as about forms of apple plant agency. The study thus contributes to the development of a deeper understanding of the interdependencies of humans with other life forms, especially under the conditions of global warming and other ecological crises often subsumed under the term Anthropocene.

To operationalize the research, the specific actor constellations, discourses, and practices of four fields of action are examined in detail: commercial fruit growing, applied sciences and consultation, variety breeding and variety conservation. This begins with the (habitualized) knowledge of practitioners in commercial fruit growing and concrete human-apple(tree) interactions against the background of an industrialization as well as an ecologization of agriculture pursued under the term "Agrarwende." The project then accompanies the collaborative knowledge production between producers and researchers with a focus on adapting to climate change in fruit growing: Which future scenarios are being designed, which technologies and new multispecies constellations are being tested in experimental fields, and how do plants and other life forms shape the transformation process? Third, the field of variety breeding is examined, with questions about how plant life is negotiated and gains value through breeding. Finally, with a view to orchards and other extensively used areas, alternative human-apple(tree) and multispecies relationships and diverging ideas of sustainability are investigated.

The project combines concepts from interdisciplinary multispecies studies that have so far operated largely separately with those from rural and agro-food studies, complementing them with approaches from cultural studies of working cultures, cultural heritage, and futures research. The research is intended to contribute to the empirically based theorization of people-plant relationships in rural economies and thus to accompany agricultural transformation processes from a cultural studies perspective.

Workshop 23-24 March 2023


Approaching Plants. Studying Human-Plant Relations beyond Disciplines


Arnika Peselmann
Darya Tsymbalyuk