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Beelines

Rebecca Marsland (ESRC Transforming Social Sciences award)

Human societies depend on bees. In the UK, insect pollination is worth £400-500m per year and in California commercial beekeepers transport truckloads of bees to pollinate orchards on an industrial scale. Across the world, glasshouse production of tomatoes depends on the supply of bumblebees commercially reared in the Netherlands and Belgium. At the same time, declining bee populations have seized the public imagination, shaping campaigns against the use of pesticides in agriculture, adding impetus to concerns about the decline in biodiversity of flowering plants in rural areas, and leading to an upsurge in the interest in urban beekeeping, and a trend for architects to design spaces for bees to live in. Given the growing recognition of our entanglement with the world of the bee, and the dependence of agriculture, livelihoods and environmental sustainability on it, this project asks how the social sciences can contribute to understandings of bee-human relations.

The project aims to transform approaches to thinking about bees (and by extension other insects or animals) in the social sciences, the natural sciences and the general public. It will do this by developing a methodology that allows us to see bee and human activities as taking place together, in contrast to more conventional views which see humans and bees living separately in society and nature. We will investigate the practices of three different kinds of beekeeper – commercial beekeepers in California and the Netherlands, urban beekeepers in the UK and Denmark, and ‘barefoot’ beekeepers in the UK – and identify how they relate differently to bees. By comparing these three different practices of beekeeping we will be able to analyse how beekeepers use their understandings of bees’ worlds in order to shape and direct the lines that bees and humans live together (beelines).

Bee