Vol. 31 No. 2 (2016)
By Julie Soleil Archambault
Behind some of the tall fences that compartmentalize domestic space in Inhambane hide luxurious gardens that are usually under the care of an individual who answers requests for cuttings and who seeks out, in everyday meanderings, new species to add to his or her collection. In this Mozambican city, gardeners articulate their engagement with plants as guided by an overriding principle: the love of plants. One gardener even described his plants as his lovers. What makes human-plant relations in Inhambane even more ethnographically intriguing is that the most romantic gardeners tend to be either young men or older women. In this essay, I engage with the growing posthumanist literature on multispecies ethnography and explore what it would entail to take the love of plants seriously. I ask whether the statement “my plants are my lovers” should be taken metaphorically or literally. I situate human-plant relations in Inhambane against the backdrop of the region’s particular social and historical geographies—from a Portuguese settlement to a postsocialist, postwar society wrestling with growing inequality and the commodification of intimacy—and show how human-plant relations deserve to be understood both as ontological relations in their own right and as a response to the commodification of intimacy. I do not argue that the commodification of intimacy has led young men, in their search for new forms of affection, to fall in love with plants; falling in love with plants is contingent, not reactive. Rather, I suggest that human-plant relations are not only experienced and constructed in contrast to commodified forms of intimacies, but also offer a template for new interpersonal intimacies. My analysis of human-plant relations is informed by my wider interest in affective encounters, in the transformative potential of everyday engagement with the material world. I explore the transformative potential of affective encounters between plants and gardeners to start thinking about how new intimacies, new ways of being and relating, emerge and take shape.
human-plant relations; multispecies ethnography; love; affect; gardening; Mozambique; youth; intimacy; commodification; ontology