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  • EnviroSociety

    The Art of Seeing: Grasping More-Than-Human Plant Worlds beyond Objectified “Nature”

    As a Gregory Bateson scholar, I have long been fascinated with the notion that art and science might complement one another in the effort to bring forth, understand, and represent the “wholeness” of our more-than-human worlds. Far from pantheistic, Bateson’s notion of wholeness refers to the complex, nonlinear, multiscale relationships by means of which organisms, ecosystems, states of mind, cultural predispositions, and the socio-natural worlds we live in continuously unfold into being. Alas, the tenets of modern science that dominated many disciplines for most of the twentieth century were characteristically reductionist, thus inhibiting scientists from acknowledging and understanding the entangled nature of “natural” and of social phenomena. Even in light of the epistemological revolution that systems thinking portends, the representation of complexity and patterns that connect itself posed—and continues to pose—challenges to scientists and science communication experts.

    I believe it was partly due to his awareness of this problem that Gregory Bateson came to defend the idea that art can complement science in our efforts to understand and represent complex phenomena. As former Bateson student Stephen Nachmanovitch explains, although both artists and scientists seek to comprehend and reveal the illusive nature of the dynamics that link phenomena, “neither can do so without reference to larger patterns and contexts.” What is particularly interesting about art is that it “uses story, image, and movement, to evoke layers of reality that cannot be explicitly stated, but which are ever-present” (2007: 1124).

    With this blog post I sketch my theorization[1] of the art of botanical illustration[2] as a possible venue to unveil, experience, and convey the inextricability of the more-than-human plant worlds we all inhabit but which tend to be so pervasively invisible in Western, urbanized societies. We will see that historically botanical illustration was, more often that not, allied with the objectification of vegetative orders of being. Botanical illustration was, in fact, deeply intertwined with the emergence of modernity having played important roles in the establishment of science, the rise of European colonial empires, and the globalization of cash crop economies. There is no doubt in my mind that many botanical paintings are the product of the same objectifying Western gaze that arbitrarily divided the world into all manner of dualisms, which, in turn, fueled a plethora of artificially instated hierarchies between society and nature, male and female, civilized and primitive—with all the power politics this entails.

    Nevertheless, my research also gives me strong reason to believe that the embodied practice of painting botanical art has the potential not only to challenge but also to alter objectified views of more-than-human worlds and associated politics. I rely on Bateson’s notion of artistry to make this point. Again Nachmanovitch captures the meaning of the concept most effectively when he states: “Artistry entails transformation and expansion of the person into something more inclusive than our limited concepts of identity and meaning. Artistry operates across the slash mark of conscious/unconscious, of self/other. [It] makes us face a series of illusory dichotomies which we accept in our daily lives but which are false, such as mind/body, self/other, organism/environment, conscious/unconscious, thought/feeling” (2007: 1127).

    My research suggests, more specifically, that contemporary efforts at botanical garden education departments to teach botanical painting—as well as growing interest in amateur botanical art—are characterized by efforts to develop forms of “botanical artistry” that break down long-held human/animal-plant dichotomies and, therefore, to potentially facilitate engagement with more inclusive concepts of human-plant coexistence. Lest my proposition be mistaken for a romantic take on botanical illustration, it is crucial to understand the genealogy and politics of this art form. It will then be clear that I am more interested in botanical artistry’s potential to unsettle extant politics of plant ontology and representation than in celebrating contemporary pastiches of high-low botanical art forms.

    Much has been said and written in recent decades about the fallacies of Western representations of nonhumans. At the heart of these critiques, scholars in the social sciences and humanities have pointed to highly pervasive forms of ontological reductionism and epistemology throughout modernity that translate the heterogeneity of nonhuman worlds into variously abstracted and objectified Natures. Relatedly, the politics of Nature objectification have been central in analysis of the role that images and textual representation play in construing more-than-human worlds as amenable to human intervention, exploitation, and even redemption. The permutations of social, racialized, and gendered violence this entails are manifold and far from fully scrutinized within the social sciences and humanities—notwithstanding the unquestionable significance of the large body of scholarly work that focuses on unveiling these processes and on theorizing their effects.

    Between the seventeenth and twentieth centuries, the art of botanical illustration[3] was pivotal to the development, establishment, and accreditation of modern science. This process intersected with the associated rise of the modern nation state and its impact on formerly colonized nations. Subject to shifting aesthetic conventions, botanical illustration played a crucial role in the standardization of information about known and newly discovered plants within the context of the emerging classificatory schemes[4] that typify modern science. Long before knowledge economies came to dominate the world, plant illustrations were extremely important assets for botanic gardens. They helped legitimize the role of botanic gardens as producers and repositories of scientific knowledge while affording a series of political and economic strategic advantages to the nation states that hosted them.

    The rendering of systematized plant representation was also crucial to the objectification of vegetative life-forms as imbued with market exchange value and thus amenable to commoditization within the increasingly globalized economic networks that characterized colonial crop trade.[5] Economic botany was in fact a leading field of knowledge production and power throughout this historical epoch. The combined information that plant illustration and economic botany provided is best appreciated when one considers that the pinnacle of this coalescence took place at a time when moving plants around the globe was highly onerous in financial cost and in risk of loss: the circulation of detailed plant imagery information about the economic potential of specific plants operated as a surrogate to the circulation of plant samples and the performance of horticultural trials by market agents in search of new investment opportunities.

    The art of botanical illustration thus affirmed botanic gardens as authorities in colonial botany and, consequently, as instrumental to the empire-building processes of nation-states like Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain that not only hosted but also sponsored botanic gardens of national and international scope within this context. Plant illustrations were no less crucial to smaller and/or poorer botanic gardens that lacked the resources to reproduce plant knowledge at the scale of the former botanic gardens. The acquisition of botanical illustrations incurred lesser costs by orders of magnitude than engaging firsthand in plant exploration but still allowed these gardens to claim legitimacy as holders of plant knowledge assets.

    The invention of photography and the massification of sophisticated photographic tools slowly displaced the centrality of botanic illustration at botanical gardens and kin institutions throughout the twentieth and early twenty-first century. Nevertheless, botanical illustration remains useful within scientific domains since, as Botanic Gardens Conservation International puts it, they can “represent clearly what may not easily be seen in a photograph” (there is certainly still a need for botanical illustration because it can represent clearly what may not easily be seen in a photograph).” On the other hand, there are also excellent examples of artists—for example, Niki Simpson or Laurence Hill—who deploy classic botanical art aesthetics in their use of digital means of plant representation.

    The contemporary valuation of botanical art/illustration is multifold. While it continues to be in demand within scientific circles, the market for antique originals and/or reproductions of botanical paintings is considerable with original images selling for thousands of dollars. Amateur interest in learning how to paint botanical art has also bourgeoned in recent decades. Artists such as Dianne Sutherland, Anna Mason, Elaine Searle, and Billy Showell run successful and popular botanical art courses online. The literature on how to paint botanical subjects is continuously expanding, as even a simple search will indicate.

    Partly banking on the growing popularity of botanical art, many botanic gardens around the world offer courses in this art form. In many instances, these courses provide important sources of revenue to increasingly and chronically underfunded botanic gardens. While some emphasize the development scientific botanical illustration skills, interviews I have conducted at botanical gardens in the United Kingdom and Canada indicate that for many botanic garden education departments, the priority is to get people to engage with the world of plants and, in so doing, begin overcome the a variety of forms of “plant blindness.” To be sure, one of the main concerns educators at botanic gardens face is the predominant lack of plant awareness and plant literacy in contemporary urban society. Their approach to teaching the art of botanical illustration is much in line with Gregory Bateson’s notion of artistry. It seeks to destabilize objectified understandings and representations of plants and in its stead to awaken practitioners to the relationally of human-plant ontology. Botanic gardens have also relied on botanical art exhibits to convert similar conceptual messages. The Rory McEwen exhibit exemplifies this approach.

    It is often said that Rory McEwen’s botanical paintings display stricking ability to capture the souls of plants. While I had long been an admirer of McEwen’s work, I never fully understood the meaning of this claim until I found myself standing in front of an exhibition of his work at Royal Kew Gardens UK three years ago. None of the reproductions and prints I had seen previously came near doing justice to the vibrancy of McEwen’s vellum paintings. There is a translucent quality to these plant portraits that, accompanied by painstakingly perfect rendition of a plant’s most intimate details, imbues the images with shifting kaleidoscopes of multisensory, emotional, and cognitive communicative effect. Looking at one of his tulips I could literally sense the fresh softness of the flower’s petals on my fingertips. Feeling the texture of his famous onion illustration, I was awakened to the incredible beauty of this ordinary household veggie.

    But it was McEwen’s dying oak leaf that most deeply captured my attention. It moved me beyond words. Confronted with its half-living, half-demised condition, I found myself pondering the lightness of our all existences and the preciousness of being. Although dying, McEwen’s leaf portraits exude so much life that they have a contagious effect on the viewer. It is amazing to think that McEwen’s fascination with dying leafs came when he was diagnosed with the incurable brain tumor that ultimately killed him at 50 years of age. Never had I thought that botanical art could carry such deep communicative power. That day at the McEwen exhibit was the first time I wondered whether there might be more to the art of botanical illustration than mere objectification of nature.

    Karen Kluglein illustrates her technique to an attentive student during her 2016 East Hampton Painting Summer Flowers Workshop. Click here [] to see the final version of this hydrangea on Karen’s Facebook [] page.

    Karen Kluglein illustrates her technique to an attentive student during her 2016 East Hampton Painting Summer Flowers Workshop. Click here to see the final version of this hydrangea on Karen’s Facebook page.

    More recently I had the privilege of attending Karen Kluglein’s 2016 botanical art workshop in the East Hamptons, Long Island, New York. In addition to being a well-established and successful painter, Karen is also one of my favorite contemporary botanical artists. I was thrilled that she would welcome me into her class despite the fact that I am a beginner to this art form—and not exactly a gifted one at that.

    K. Neves apple painted at Kluglein’s 2016 workshop

    K. Neves apple painted at Kluglein’s 2016 workshop

    Karen’s patient and generous teaching provided me with one of the most exhilarating learning experiences of my life. The three-day, five-hour-long sessions that it took me to begin painting, totally botch, and salvage what I could of an apple portrait I undertook at the beginning of the workshop taught me profound lessons about the rewards of sticking to technique and guidance even in the face of apparent calamity. Most importantly, I began to “learn how to learn,” as Bateson would put it, to truly observe the living plant world of which we are all part. Much as I had read in the literature and heard from interviews I conducted over the years with botanical artists, Karen taught me about the art of observation and the embodied relationally that goes into painting botanical subjects. And while I remain a rather inept—though passionate—beginner, Karen’s workshop brought me a whole new level of appreciation of the reasons why so many botanic garden education departments see great potential in this art form to “open up” the otherwise forgotten plant worlds.

    Recognition of artistry’s potential to enhance observational skills extends to other forms of scientific illustration. Working within the field of biology Jennifer Landin argues in a blog post she wrote for Scientific American that the abilities to see and “to focus on detail and pattern require training.” Her approach confirms Gregory Bateson’s contention that art can provide a venue to bring forth the patterns that link entangled ontologies mediated by similarity and difference (see Chasing Whales with Daniel and Gregory by Katja Neves for an ethnographically based discussion of this concept). Laundin explains that “if you wish to differentiate fir and spruce trees, look at carefully at how the needles attach to the twig.” One might also add that looking at how these two trees are similar also reveals the evolutionary patterns by means of which they are connected. Most importantly, she adds, “when we draw, we see the things we’d otherwise overlook.” In teaching biological illustration therefore, Laundin’s goal “is not the final product, it’s the process.”

    Far from a celebration of the visual over other forms of multisensory and affective engagement with plants, the artistry of botanical illustration can potentially constitute a first step toward greater awareness of more than human plant worlds on which other, complementary, more comprehensive and reflexive approaches can build.

    Katja Neves
    , Associate Professor at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, has investigated the reinvention of botanic gardens as purported leaders of biodiversity conservation through two research projects funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). She was the principal organizer of the international conference Leaders in Conservation: Botanic Gardens in the 21st Century. In 2016 Dr. Neves was awarded a new INSIGHT SSRHC research grant titled “Botanic Gardens and the Politics of National and Transnational Environmental Governance” whereby she and her team have undertaken a groundbreaking interdisciplinary research into newly emerging systems of environmental governance in so-called post-Westphalian orders of governance. Dr. Neves is also completing a book under contract with SUNY Press on biodiversity conservation governance and environmental subjectivity, exploring the historical context and political implications entailed in the emergence of botanic gardens and kin institutions (such as zoos and natural science museums) as key actors in the global, national, and regional governance of biodiversity.

    Further reading by author on related subjects:

    Neves, Katja. 2009. “The Aesthetics of Ecological Learning at Montreal’s Botanical Garden.” Pp. 145–157 in “Human Nature/Human Identity: Anthropological Revisionings,” ed. S. Aprahamian, K. Neves-Graca, and N. Rapport. Special issue, Anthropologica 51.

    Neves, Katja. 2012. The New Roles of Botanical Gardens in Biodiversity Conservation. Encyclopedia of Global Climate Change. Paul Robbins, ed. Sage Publications Online Encyclopedia.

    Neves, Katja. 2014. “Reproducing Empire, Subverting Hegemony? Botanic Gardens in Biodiversity Conservation.” EnviroSociety. 4 December.

    Neves, Katja. Forthcoming. Post-Normal Conservation: The Re-Ordering of Biodiversity Governance and Environmental Subjectivity. New York: SUNY Press.


    [1] In preparation for submission to scientific journal.

    [2] There are many types of botanical art, and different terms are used to refer to them. Generally, botanical illustration refers to the more strictly scientific representation of plants, especially in the context of modern botany. Botanical art often refers to less objective yet more artistic representations of plants. In this post I use the term art of botanical illustration to include a wide range of traditions of plant depiction in modern Western culture. Links in this post, however, provide detailed account of the nuances and genealogies that distinguish different botanical art from botanical illustration stricto sensu.

    [3] Here is a detailed discussion of the difference between botanical art and botanical illustration.

    [4] See also “Plant Evolution and Taxonomy.”

    [5] See Colonial Botany, Science, Commerce, and Politics in the Early Modern World for in-depth analysis and theorization of colonial botany.

    Cite as: 
    Neves, Katja. 2016. “The Art of Seeing: Grasping More-Than-Human Plant Worlds beyond Objectified ‘Nature.’” EnviroSociety, 28 July.

  • FocaalBlog

    Alessandro Zagato: Teachers struggles and low intensity warfare in the south of Mexico

    The teachers’ campaign in defense of public education and against the neoliberal reforms being introduced by the Mexican government has ignited a new cycle of social struggles and an outbreak of violent repression in Mexico. This short article was written from within the barricade/encampment of San Cristobal de Las Casas (Chiapas), where, for nearly two weeks, organized teachers together with a supportive heterogeneous population are blockading the highway to Tuxtla Gutierrez—the state’s capital. The encampment of San Cristobal is one of the dozens of blockades that have been set up over the last few weeks all across the country.


    In the early morning of Sunday, 19 June, in a joint operation, the federal and state police attacked with firearms organized teachers, students, and residents of Nochixtlán, a small town located some miles away from the city of Oaxaca. For one week the population of this community had being holding a barricade in resistance to the education reform being pushed through by the federal government. The aggression ended with the murder of eleven protesters. More than a hundred were injured, and eighteen people were arbitrarily removed from a funeral taking place nearby (having nothing to do with the picket) and jailed.

    The National Security Commission hurriedly issued a statement declaring that its agents were totally unarmed—“they didn’t even carry batons,” they argued. However, the photos taken by a reporter of Cuartoscuro agency clearly show federal police agents triggering AR-15 rifles and 9mm guns against the crowd. One of these images, showing a uniformed man on his knees firing his assault rifle against the barricade from a nearby tire repair workshop, became viral on social networks, disproving the official version of the facts.

    Few days after the shooting some anonymous street artists have painted a mural on that exact same spot, representing soldiers in the same position as they were portrayed in the above mentioned pictures.

    Police pointing rifles at the crowd in Nochixtlán (Photo: Cuartoscuro)

    Police pointing rifles at the crowd in Nochixtlán (Photo: Cuartoscuro)

    Tire repair workshop after the intervention of mural artists (Photo: Cuartoscuro)

    Tire repair workshop after the intervention of mural artists (Photo: Cuartoscuro)

    This time, given the firm response of broad sections of the local population and independent media outlets, the federal police did not manage to pollute the crime scene and craft proofs incriminating third parties or the protesters themselves—as it happened, for example, with the massacre and mass kidnapping of Ayotzinapa (November 2014).[1] The government was therefore forced to change its narrative and to issue a series of rectifications aimed at, once again, justifying the internal warfare politics through which the country is currently being ruled.

    Teachers of the National Union of Education Workers (SNTE), Latin America’s largest union, have been on indefinite strike since 15 May. They are arguing that the idea of “educational reform” is totally misleading since there is no sign of pedagogy in the legislation being approved by the government. The reform presents itself more like a labor and administrative restructuring involving constitutional changes, the imposition of a new contract, and the establishment of a national evaluation system for teachers as a prelude to massive layoffs. Secretary of Public Education Aurelio Nuño has systematically refused to establish a dialogue with the National Coordinator of Education Workers (CNTE, the leading board of SNTE). “Dialogue can not be established to negotiate on the educational reform,” he said.

    Together with public health, land, and energy, education is part of the package of structural reforms being implemented by President Enrique Peña Nieto. They reflect a general process of reconfiguration of the Mexican state, responding to a new cycle of capitalist expansion and accumulation in the country. Indeed, an essential aspect of the seemingly “illogical” atrocities that the state is committing is that this violence assists the realization of tremendous infrastructural mega-projects that bring about enormous social and environmental impacts, such as the construction of new highways, airports, and dams; the massive implementation of monoculture systems in the countryside, and so on. These developments are functional to the new extractive policies for which the current administration has handed over 25 per cent of the national soil to (national and international) extractive enterprises.

    Coincidence or not, on 1 June, just some days before the massacre of Nochixtlán, a new “scheme” was officially launched by the federal government, establishing “special economic zones” (SEZ) in the states of Oaxaca, Guerrero, and Chiapas. This program aims at providing these regions with the necessary infrastructure for the exploitation of their mineral, energy, and agricultural resources, facilitating a dynamic of accumulation by dispossession.

    The seizure and exploitation of land and resources by international capital brings about aggression toward the populations inhabiting targeted territories. Any bonds between people and the spaces that they inhabit need to be disrupted. The enforcement of a rationality of plain profit requires that societies be fragmented, individualized, and made dependent on external forces. It requires the destruction of traditional forms of state institutionality as depositary of the universal values associated to the idea of “public.” What is at stake here is an ontological transformation—the production of a different form of life (a different humanity) in those regions of the south of Mexico that are mainly inhabited by indigenous groups and legally organized under collective forms of tenure.

    Ejidos” and “agrarian communities”[2] are egalitarian outcomes of the agrarian reform, which constituted one of the main political achievements of the Revolution of 1910, together with the education reform. These rural collectivities still hold a shared living memory of the Revolution, which motivates them to keep defending those lands from the predatory aggression of capital—against the geographic, economic, and social reconfiguration that this system imposes. Teachers have played a decisive historical role in constantly revitalizing and actualizing this memory, reproducing a national identity based on the principles of the Revolution and advocating an emancipatory pedagogy promoting autonomous and collective practices.

    The rampant processes of militarization that the country is experiencing and the adoption of a strategy of internal low intensity warfare respond to the necessity of eroding the commons in favor of a “new” exploitative rationality. The logic of military operations as those witnessed in Ayotzinapa and Nochixtlán has to do with the production of chaos aimed at deterritorializing spaces toward the institution of, to use Fanon’s idea, “zone of non-being” where humanity is violated day after day. As a peasant told: “the politics of the government is to do away with communal life. They want you to leave your land, that you sell it—their aim is to individualize communities.”

    In Chiapas, people are currently asking themselves if, with a local movement showing particular strength and determination, they will be the next victim of violent repression, after Oaxaca. Local entrepreneurs are urging the government of Manuel Velasco Coello to “apply the rule of law,” that is, to use force to evict the dissident teachers and their supporters holding blockades all around the region. The mayors of San Cristobal de las Casas and other neighboring towns have been accused by the movement to be contracting informal assault groups to attack the blockades. San Cristobal is home to the ALMETRACH,[3] a paramilitary organization responsible for the recent assassination (March 2016) of Juan Carlos Jimenez, a teacher actively campaigning against the education reform and for the right to land of local indigenous groups.

    The paramilitarization of conflicts has become a main issue in Chiapas and Mexico in general, where armed gangs related to various levels of state power are operating in the shadows, without any defined material or geographic limits, and acting solely in the name of whoever is paying—be it a narco boss, a politician, a state agency, a multinational corporation, or a coalition interested in, for example, intimidating a group opposing the implementation of a mining project on their communal lands.

    Interestingly enough, many of these groups are previous revolutionary peasant mass organizations that in the ’90s went through profound processes of depoliticization (also due to the polarization produced by the Zapatista uprising) and turned into rural corporative and clientelistic apparatuses, constantly looking for remunerative opportunities and power positions. Along with this process they fell under the control of political/economic powers and are now used as paramilitary service providers, playing a decisive role as counterinsurgent forces and fostering warfare and social chaos.

    In this perspective the massacre of Nochixtlán directly relates to the events of Ayotzinapa. These tragedies have ignited a conflict that goes beyond the opposition to the education reform. An increasingly heterogeneous subjectivity has mobilized around it. “It started as a magisterial protest, but it quickly became a widespread popular movement,” said a union member. This is because the protest managed to catalyze a latent disposition in Mexican society that was failing to find a concrete and organized expression. “It is not a manifestation that overflowed. Rather, an overflow is manifesting itself,” would argue the Invisible Committee.[4]

    The blockade of San Cristobal de Las Casas (Photo: Alessandro Zagato)

    The blockade of San Cristobal de Las Casas (Photo: Alessandro Zagato)

    The blockade/encampment of San Cristobal de Las Casas has turned into a rallying ground where every day a number of associations and independent groups are marching to show solidarity with the teachers and join their struggle. The area of several hectares is occupied by a diverse population that keeps it lively day and night. Several kitchens feed the protesters three times a day, and a number of local collectives have taken responsibility for coordinating cultural activities like the projection of films and documentaries and the organization of small gigs. Political meetings and assemblies are constantly taking place in the various regional tongues. A meticulously coordinated security commission is on duty to keep the camp safe. The access points to the area are constantly watched over and small brigades patrol the adjacent neighborhoods to detect eventual military or police activity. However, the national leadership of the teachers union (CNTE) has demanded the movement to remove all existing blockades in view of a strategy change. San Cristobal (among others) decided not to follow this directive.

    In the meantime, the Zapatistas (EZLN)—who, just a few days before the massacre of Nochixtlán, had somehow predicted[5] that something alike could eventually happen—have suspended their participation in the CompARTE Festival, an international arts event to take place in Chiapas in July, which they themselves had been organizing over the last six months. The official reason has to do with the Zapatistas not wanting to hinder the teachers’ movement in this delicate phase. “To put it more clearly, the most important thing now, on this calendar and from the limited geography in which we resist and struggle, is the struggle of the democratic teachers.”[6] As a concrete act of solidarity, the Zapatistas have distributed tons of food among those who are on strike and conducting blockades on highways. However, the feeling is that the choice not to participate in CompARTE was dictated by security reasons. It might not have been prudent for the EZLN to expose themselves in such a risky conjuncture.

    The organized teachers seem to be ready to pay the costs of resisting until the reforms collapse. As I said, the main danger that they are facing is violent repression. Arguably, this is the Mexican state’s current strategy, one of armed chaos in support of its capitalist plans of accumulation by dispossession.

    The movement’s main challenge will be to keep control and not respond to provocations—avoiding to shift their politics into the field of war: a fertile one for the state/capital alliance.

    Assembly in the blockade of San Cristobal (Photo: Alessandro Zagato)

    Assembly in the blockade of San Cristobal (Photo: Alessandro Zagato)

    Life moment in the blockade of San Cristobal (Photo: Alessandro Zagato)

    Life moment in the blockade of San Cristobal (Photo: Alessandro Zagato)

    Alessandro Zagato is research fellow in the Egalitarianism project at the University of Bergen. He is currently conducting fieldwork among rural communities in the south of Mexico. He has recently edited a volume titled The Event of Charlie Hebdo: Imaginaries of Freedom and Control.


    1. For more information and a background on the “Ayotzinapa” case I recommend “After Ayotzinapa: building autonomy in a civil war.

    2. Ejidos are peasant collectivities occupying land given to them by the Mexican state after the Revolution (1910). Agrarian communities collectively manage a piece of land that was held by an “indigenous agrarian community before colonialism,” an ancestral property institutionalized by the postrevolutionary state.

    3. Asociación de Locatarios de Mercados Tradicionales de Chiapas (Tenants Association of Traditional Markets of Chiapas)

    4. My translation from Spanish.

    5. “What’s next? Will they disappear them? Will they murder them? Seriously? The ‘education’ reform will be born upon the blood and cadavers of the teachers?

    6. EZLN 2016

    Cite as: Zagato, Alessandro. 2016. “Teachers struggles and low intensity warfare in the south of Mexico.” FocaalBlog, 25 July.

  • Museum Worlds

    Museum News: May 2016


    LA’s Getty Center Blends Oculus-Ready VR With Ancient Chinese Art In Virtual Reality Museum Exhibit, via International Business Times

    Polish government to take control of WWII museum, via The Washington Post

    Activists Occupy Brooklyn Museum in Protest of Two Exhibitions, via Artforum

    A Verona Museum’s Stolen Paintings Are Found in Ukraine, via The New York Times

    London Museum Hopes To Reboot Eric, Britain’s First Robot, via NPR

    Smithsonian Offers Sneak Peek of Museum of African-American History, via TIME

    National museum aims to preserve Palestinian history, via AlJazeera

    Treasures From the Deep at the British Museum, via Wall Street Journal

  • Berghahn Journals Blog

    Berghahn titles at Council for European Studies Conference

    We are delighted to inform you that Berghahn titles will be on display at The Council for European Studies Conference in Philadelphia, PA on April 14-16, 2016. Please stop by and don’t miss your chance to browse our selection of books at special conference price and pick up free journal samples.


    If you are unable to attend, we would like to provide you with a special discount offer. For the next 30 days, receive a 25% discount on all Europe Studies titles found on our website. At checkout, simply enter the code CES16.



    Here is a preview of some of our newest releases on display.




    The State of the Art
    Edited by Olivier Fillieule and Guya Accornero
    Foreword by James Jasper

    Volume 16, Protest, Culture & Society


    Bringing together over forty established and emerging scholars, this landmark volume is the first to comprehensively examine the evolution and current practice of social movement studies in a specifically European context. While its first half offers comparative approaches to an array of significant issues and movements, its second half assembles focused national studies that include most major European states. Throughout, these contributions are guided by a shared set of historical and social-scientific questions with a particular emphasis on political sociology, thus offering a bold and uncommonly unified survey that will be essential for scholars and students of European social movements.

    Read Introduction: “So Many as the Stars of the Sky in Multitude, and as the Sand which is By the Sea Shore Innumerable”: European Social Movement Research in Perspective



    A Comparative History of a European Concept
    Edited by Pasi Ihalainen, Cornelia Ilie, and Kari Palonen


    Parliamentary theory, practices, discourses, and institutions constitute a distinctively European contribution to modern politics. Taking a broad historical perspective, this cross-disciplinary, innovative, and rigorous collection locates the essence of parliamentarism in four key aspects—deliberation, representation, responsibility, and sovereignty—and explores the different ways in which they have been contested, reshaped, and implemented in a series of representative national and regional case studies. As one of the first comparative studies in conceptual history, this volume focuses on debates about the nature of parliament and parliamentarism within and across different European countries, representative institutions, and genres of political discourse.

    Read Introduction: Parliament as a Conceptual Nexus




    Making and Unmaking Heritage in Cyprus
    Gisela Welz



    On the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, rural villages, traditional artefacts, even atmospheres and experiences are considered heritage. Heritage making not only protects, but also produces, things, people, and places. Since the Republic of Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004, heritage making and Europeanization are increasingly intertwined in Greek-Cypriot society. Against the backdrop of a long-term ethnographic engagement, the author argues that heritage emerges as an increasingly standardized economic resource, a “European product.” Implemented in historic preservation, rural tourism, culinary traditions, nature protection, and urban restoration projects, heritage policy has become infused with transnational market regulations and neoliberal property regimes.

    Read Introduction



    Arranging Legality in European Labor Migration Policies
    Regine Paul


    The conditions for non-EU migrant workers to gain legal entry to Britain, France, and Germany are at the same time similar and quite different. To explain this variation this book compares the fine-grained legal categories for migrant workers in each country, and examines the interaction of economic, social, and cultural rationales in determining migrant legality. Rather than investigating the failure of borders to keep unauthorized migrants out, the author highlights the different policies of each country as “border-drawing” actions. Policymakers draw lines between different migrant groups, and between migrants and citizens, through considerations of both their economic utility and skills, but also their places of origin and prospects for social integration. Overall, migrant worker legality is arranged against the backdrop of the specific vision each country has of itself in an economically competitive, globalized world with rapidly changing welfare and citizenship models.

    Read Introduction: Labor Migration Management: A Case for Interdisciplinary and Interpretive Policy Studies 



    Deportation, Punishment and Everyday Life
    Ines Hasselberg

    Volume 17, Dislocations


    Focusing on the lived experience of immigration policy and processes, this volume provides fascinating insights into the deportation process as it is felt and understood by those subjected to it. The author presents a rich and innovative ethnography of deportation and deportability experienced by migrants convicted of criminal offenses in England and Wales. The unique perspectives developed here – on due process in immigration appeals, migrant surveillance and control, social relations and sense of self, and compliance and resistance – are important for broader understandings of border control policy and human rights.

    Read Introduction: An Ethnography of Deportation from the UK



    Cultural Legacies of Europe at War, 1936-2016
    Edited by Manuel Bragança and Peter Tame
    Foreword by Richard Overy
    Afterword by Jay Winter

    Volume 17, Contemporary European History


    In its totality, the “Long Second World War”—extending from the beginning of the Spanish Civil War to the end of hostilities in 1945—has exerted enormous influence over European culture. Bringing together leading historians, sociologists, and literary and film scholars, this broadly interdisciplinary volume investigates Europeans’ individual and collective memories and the ways in which they have shaped the continent’s cultural heritage. Focusing on the major combatant nations—Spain, Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Poland, and Russia—it offers thoroughly contextualized explorations of novels, memoirs, films, and a host of other cultural forms to illuminate European public memory.

    Read Introduction: The Long Aftermath of the Long Second World War






    Poverty, Welfare and Social Ties in Modern Europe
    Edited by Beate Althammer, Lutz Raphael, and Tamara Stazic-Wendt

    Volume 27, International Studies in Social History


    In many ways, the European welfare state constituted a response to the new forms of social fracture and economic turbulence that were born out of industrialization—challenges that were particularly acute for groups whose integration into society seemed the most tenuous. Covering a range of national cases, this volume explores the relationship of weak social ties to poverty and how ideas about this relationship informed welfare policies in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. By focusing on three representative populations—neglected children, the homeless, and the unemployed—it provides a rich, comparative consideration of the shifting perceptions, representations, and lived experiences of social vulnerability in modern Europe.



    Late Authoritarianism and Student Protest in Portugal
    Guya Accornero

    Volume 18, Protest, Culture & Society


    Histories of Portugal’s transition to democracy have long focused on the 1974 military coup that toppled the authoritarian Estado Novo regime and set in motion the divestment of the nation’s colonial holdings. However, the events of this “Carnation Revolution” were in many ways the culmination of a much longer process of resistance and protest originating in universities and other sectors of society. Combining careful research in police, government, and student archives with insights from social movement theory, The Revolution before the Revolution broadens our understanding of Portuguese democratization by tracing the societal convulsions that preceded it over the course of the “long 1960s.”



    Discourses of Trauma, Exclusion and Survival
    Edited by Lynda Mannik

    Volume 35, Forced Migration


    At a time when thousands of refugees risk their lives undertaking perilous journeys by boat across the Mediterranean, this multidisciplinary volume could not be more pertinent. It offers various contemporary case studies of boat migrations undertaken by asylum seekers and refugees around the globe and shows that boats not only move people and cultural capital between places, but also fuel cultural fantasies, dreams of adventure and hope, along with fears of invasion and terrorism. The ambiguous nature of memories, media representations and popular culture productions are highlighted throughout in order to address negative stereotypes and conversely, humanize the individuals involved.





    In Paperback


    Asymmetry and Proximity at Europe’s Frontiers
    Edited by Jutta Lauth Bacas and William Kavanagh†


    “As befits anthropology, Border Encounters is rich in empirical detail. However, it is also an excellent introduction to border theory, with a helpful literature review. The theoretical framework clearly set out in the Introduction and the individual chapters do collectively illustrate why borders should be seen as constructs and as sites of asymmetrical social relationships…All in all, this is an intriguing and well-structured volume which will be of interest to students and scholars from a variety of academic disciplines.” · LSE Review of Books

    Read Introduction: Border Encounters – Asymmetry and Proximity at Europe’s Frontiers



    Comparative Perspectives
    Edited by Steven King and Anne Winter

    Volume 23, International Studies in Social History


    “…a valuable and engaging contribution to historical debates about labor, poverty, relief, and belonging…[The papers] are written by leaders in their fields…and pulled together [by the editors] in an elegant and convincing treatment of the case for such a geographical spread.” · Alannah Tomkins, University of Keele

    The issues around settlement, belonging, and poor relief have for too long been understood largely from the perspective of England and Wales. This volume offers a pan-European survey that encompasses Switzerland, Prussia, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Britain. It explores how the conception of belonging changed over time and space from the 1500s onwards, how communities dealt with the welfare expectations of an increasingly mobile population that migrated both within and between states, the welfare rights that were attached to those who “belonged,” and how ordinary people secured access to welfare resources.


    Student Resistance, Cultural Politics and the ‘Long 1960s’ in Greece
    Kostis Kornetis

    Volume 10, Protest, Culture & Society

    Winner of the 2015 Keeley Book Prize of the Modern Greek Studies Association


    “This long-anticipated… publication signals the beginning of a potentially fruitful and certainly long overdue examination of the 1960s and 1970s in Greece. After so many years of discussions and debates on the Greek Civil War, the time for a careful consideration of the junta and its afterlife seems to have finally come. Kornetis offers an enormously productive entry point by exploring the issue that is analytically most central and socially most sensitive concerning this period: resistance and its counterpart, complicity. For anyone with an interest in the period or in the broad range of theoretical issues raised by its study, Children of the Dictatorship is an indispensible book that is sure to anchor future discussion and debate of the military regime.” · Journal of Modern Greek Studies


    Edited by Eric Langenbacher, Bill Niven, and Ruth Wittlinger


    “Overall this is an interesting collection with a number of thought-provoking essays. Notably, several of the chapters bring new (social science) methodologies to the interdisciplinary field of memory studies. It is also a strength of the volume that, while the focus is clearly on memories of World War II and the Holocaust, it incorporates consideration of a range of pasts that continue to have a significant impact on the way Europeans understand themselves and others. The comparative perspective proves particularly fruitful in raising new questions regarding different kinds of remembrance at both the national and the European level.” · European Legacy






    Berghahn Journals: 


    Previously published as Anthropological Yearbook of European Cultures


    Published since 1990, Anthropological Journal of European Cultures (AJEC) engages with current debates and innovative research agendas addressing the social and cultural transformations of contemporary European societies. The journal serves as an important forum for ethnographic research in and on Europe, which in this context is not defined narrowly as a geopolitical entity but rather as a meaningful cultural construction in people’s lives, which both legitimates political power and calls forth practices of resistance and subversion. By presenting both new field studies and theoretical reflections on the history and politics of studying culture in Europe anthropologically, AJEC encompasses different academic traditions of engaging with its subject, from social and cultural anthropology to European ethnology and empirische Kulturwissenschaften.




    Aspasia is the international peer-reviewed annual of women’s and gender history of Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe (CESEE). It aims to transform European women’s and gender history by expanding comparative research on women and gender to all parts of Europe, creating a European history of women and gender that encompasses more than the traditional Western European perspective. Aspasia particularly emphasizes research that examines the ways in which gender intersects with other categories of social organization and advances work that explores transnational aspects of women’s and gender histories within, to, and from CESEE. The journal also provides an important outlet for the publication of articles by scholars working in CESEE itself. Its contributions cover a rich variety of topics and historical eras, as well as a wide range of methodologies and approaches to the history of women and gender.




    FPC&S is the journal of the Conference Group on French Politics & Society. It is jointly sponsored by the Institute of French Studies at New York University and the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies at Harvard University.

    European Comic Art is the first English-language scholarly publication devoted to the study of European-language graphic novels, comic strips, comic books and caricature. Published in association with the American Bande Dessinée Society and the International Bande Dessinée Society, European Comic Art builds on existing scholarship in French-language comic art and is able to draw on the scholarly activities undertaken by both organisations. However, our editorial board and consultative committee bring expertise on a wider European area of comic art production and the journal will emphasise coverage of work from across Europe, including Eastern Europe.





    FPC&S is the journal of the Conference Group on French Politics & Society. It is jointly sponsored by the Institute of French Studies at New York University and the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies at Harvard University.

    French Politics, Culture & Society explores modern and contemporary France from the perspectives of the social sciences, history, and cultural analysis. It also examines France’s relationship to the larger world, especially Europe, the United States, and the former French Empire. The editors also welcome pieces on recent debates and events, as well as articles that explore the connections between French society and cultural expression of all sorts (such as art, film, literature, and popular culture). Issues devoted to a single theme appear from time to time. With refereed research articles, timely essays, and reviews of books in many disciplines, French Politics, Culture & Society provides a forum for learned opinion and the latest scholarship on France.

    French Politics, Culture & Society is now available on JSTOR!




    German Politics and Society is a joint publication of the BMW Center for German and European Studies (of the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University) and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). These centers are represented by their directors on the journal’s Editorial Committee.

    German Politics and Society is a peer-reviewed journal published and distributed by Berghahn Journals. It is the only American publication that explores issues in modern Germany from the combined perspectives of the social sciences, history, and cultural studies.

    German Politics and Society is now available on JSTOR!




    A Journal for the New Europe


    Published in association with the Leo Baeck College and the Michael Goulston Education Foundation.

    For over 40 years, European Judaism has provided a voice for the postwar Jewish world in Europe. It has reflected the different realities of each country and helped to rebuild Jewish consciousness after the Holocaust.

    The journal offers: stimulating debates exploring the responses of Judaism to contemporary political, social, and philosophical challenges; articles reflecting the full range of contemporary Jewish life in Europe, and including documentation of the latest developments in Jewish-Muslim dialogue; new insights derived from science, psychotherapy, and theology as they impact upon Jewish life and thought; literary exchange as a unique exploration of ideas from leading Jewish writers, poets, scholars, and intellectuals with a variety of documentation, poetry, and book reviews section; and book reviews covering a wide range of international publications.

    European Judaism is now available on JSTOR!



    Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology


    Focaal – Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology is a peer-reviewed journal advocating an approach that rests in the simultaneity of ethnography, processual analysis, local insights, and global vision. It is at the heart of debates on the ongoing conjunction of anthropology and history as well as the incorporation of local research settings in the wider spatial networks of coercion, imagination, and exchange that are often glossed as “globalization” or “empire.”

    Introducing: FocaalBlog, which aims to accelerate and intensify anthropological conversations beyond what a regular academic journal can do, and to make them more widely, globally, and swiftly available.




  • Berghahn Journals Blog

    Berghahn Books Shortlisted for The British Book Industry Awards


    From The Bookseller’s website:

    The British Book Industry Awards will celebrate the greatness of the British book trade and the people behind it – the best books, the best writers, the best bookshops, the best publishers – from industry greats to those starting out. Building on the success and legacy of The Bookseller Industry Awards (the trade “Nibbies”), 2016 will mark the first step, and a step-change, in the way the book trade presents itself to itself and to the wider world.

    The winners will be announced 9th May 2016. Stay tuned!




  • Berghahn Journals Blog

    Solving the Mystery of Nancy Drew

    The following is a guest blog post written by Michael G. Cornelius, author of the article Sexuality, Interruption, and Nancy Drew, which appeared in Volume 8, Number 2 of the journal Girlhood Studies.

    It’s admittedly an odd thing, to be a Nancy Drew scholar.

    Strictly speaking, “Nancy Drew Scholar” is not the official occupation listed on my tax forms. And when strangers ask me what I do for a living—whenever such casual conversations between strangers bubble up, such as on an airplane—I never reply “Nancy Drew scholar.” I usually say “English teacher” or “professor” or even “medievalist” (which raises more than a few eyebrows on its own, trust me.) And, at the risk of sounding like an actor who worries about typecasting, I’m more than a Nancy Drew scholar. I write on a wide variety of subject matter: sword-and-sandal movies; science fiction; sexuality in the premodern and early modern eras—a quick perusal of my CV would reveal books and articles with words like “Chaucer” and “Shakespeare” and “Gawain” in the titles (there’s also one that includes the word “Farts,” but that’s a subject of a whole different blog post.)

    Despite all that, around half my scholarly output involves Nancy Drew, Vicki Barr, Trixie Belden, Shirley Flight, Rick Brant, Christopher Cool, or some other girls’ or boys’ series protagonist. I can’t help it. My obsession started at a young age when a prescient elementary-school librarian pressed a copy of Secret of the Forgotten City (Nancy Drew #52) into my hands at the impressionable age of 9. This book had everything: mystery, adventure, secret codes, archaeology, thrilling discoveries, friendship—safe and sane as these books may be, for a farm-town kid ensconced in an upstate village of 200 people and 8000 dairy cattle, this was heady stuff indeed. I never looked back, and I never outgrew my love of Nancy Drew.

    If you ever need evidence of this, feel free to come to my house. I can show you my collection. I have 900 Nancy Drew books (and growing). Collectible dot shelves here and there; a few pieces of original Nancy Drew artwork adorn the walls. And my CV reflects this: I’ve written about Nancy Drew and primitivism; Nancy Drew and the Awkward Age; Nancy Drew and Shakespeare; Nancy Drew and sacrality; Nancy Drew and teleological perfection; Nancy Drew and illness; Nancy Drew and motherhood; and, for the piece included in the most recent edition of the the journal of Girlhood Studies (8.2, 2015), “Sexuality, Interruption, and Nancy Drew.”

    People sometimes look at me funny when they find out about my obsession with Nancy Drew. I don’t blame them. There are precious few of us out there (though I have always contended there are not nearly enough of us out there.) Many social critics have observed that it is our leisure time, and not our working hours, that truly defines us, whether we obsess over baseball statistics or knitting patterns or growing a pumpkin the size of a Winnebago. I obsess over Nancy Drew and her fellow girl and boy sleuths. I belong to two different girl sleuth societies; I attend Nancy Drew conventions (yes, we have them, and they are spectacular); I re-read the books; I ponder them. And I use them to understand the world. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? What we academics are really doing, each in our discipline, each in our own way? Trying to understand the world—our world, each world, every world. And what better way to do that than through Nancy Drew? Everyone knows her name. She is a cultural zeitgeist—probably the most well-known female literary character of all time. New Nancy Drew books have been produced for the last 85 years, with no signs of stopping. And over the course of hundreds and hundreds of mysteries solved, criminal conspiracies uncovered, and villains locked behind bars, Nancy Drew—directly and indirectly—has confronted nearly every aspect of society, all while remaining a blank slate and a figure of mythopoesis. She is larger-than-life and yet, at the same time, utterly scribe-able to every reader, so that we may place ourselves, not in her shoes (for, indeed, no one is Nancy Drew), but next to her, in her flashlight’s glow, part of her coterie, part of her circle of friends, part of her adventures and part of her world. That is the real power of Nancy Drew. The worlds of characters like Sherlock Holmes and King Arthur are too rarified for us—one has to be extraordinary just to be let in the front door (even Watson, for all his bluster, is a pretty good writer). With Nancy Drew, however, one just has to be curious, and a little bit brave. We can all do that.

    “Sexuality, Interruption, and Nancy Drew” looks, quite literally, at the verbal tactic of interruption in the Nancy Drew books, pondering why it is, whenever the topic of conversation turns to marriage, Nancy abruptly and vigorously changes the narrative, altering the course of conversation away from any hint of romance, marriage, coupling, and dyadism, and back to more important matters—like mysteries. Take, for example, the conclusion to The Mystery at Lilac Inn, where Nancy finds it necessary to interrupt two chums whose conversation dares to veer toward their upcoming nuptials:

    Later, as Nancy, Helen, and Emily were talking, the two older girls suddenly stopped speaking on the subject of their forthcoming weddings. Helen said, “Goodness, Nancy, you must be tired of hearing us talk about steady partners when—” Nancy interrupted. Laughing gaily, she said, “Not at all. For the present, my steady partner is going to be mystery!” (Keene 1961: 180)


    As a scholar, I sometimes feel as Nancy does. I love spying riddles in texts and television shows and trying to ascertain what it all might mean. Of course being a Nancy Drew scholar makes perfect sense in this imperfect world. Who is better at solving mysteries than Nancy? A Nancy Drew scholar? I’m proud to be identified as such.

    Work Cited

    Keene, Carolyn. 1961. The Mystery at Lilac Inn. New York: Grosset and Dunlap.

    MICHAEL G. CORNELIUS is the author/editor of fifteen books, including nancy drew and her sister sleuths: essays on the fiction of girl detectives (co-edited with Melanie E. Gregg; McFarland, 2008) and the companion book, The Boy Detectives: Essays on the Hardy Boys and Others (McFarland, 2010). He has published extensively on Nancy Drew, Vicki Barr, and other girls’ and boys’ series literature. Cornelius is the chair of the Department of English and Communications at Wilson College in Chambersburg, PA.


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