by John Hartigan
Across the globe, an expanding circle of care is encompassing a growing number of species through efforts targeting biodiversity, profoundly revising the line between humans and nonhumans. Care of the Species examines infrastructures of care—labs and gardens in Spain and Mexico—where plant scientists grapple with the complexities of evolution and domestication.
John Hartigan Jr. uses ethnography to access the expertise of botanists and others engaged with cultivating biodiversity, providing various entry points for understanding plants in the world around us. He begins by tracing the historical emergence of race through practices of care on nonhumans, showing how this history informs current thinking about conservation. With geneticists working on maize, Hartigan deploys Foucault’s concept of care of the self to analyze how domesticated species are augmented by an afterlife of data. In the botanical gardens of Spain, Care of the Species explores seed banks, herbariums, and living collections, depicting the range of ways people interact with botanical knowledge. This culminates in Hartigan’s effort to engage plants as ethnographic subjects through a series of imaginative “interview” techniques.
Care of the Species contributes to debates about the concept of species through vivid ethnography, developing a cultural perspective on evolutionary dynamics while using ethnography to theorize species. In tackling the racial dimension of efforts to go “beyond the human,” this book reveals a far greater stratum of sameness than commonly assumed.