Graduate student (Ph.D.)
People-environment geography, post-Soviet Central Asia, political ecology, posthumanism, property, science and technology studies
Building Plant Bodies: People, Trees, and Grafting in the Walnut-Fruit Forests of Kyrgyzstan
Property is central to the interactions of humans and nonhumans, but scholarship on property tends to be strongly anthropocentric: property is a relationship among people about a thing. Even as geographers have ever more actively incorporated nonhumans into their analyses of society, most property work continues to represent nonhumans as passive, to be shuffled among human owners for better or worse. But people are not so clearly in control of property regimes, nor are people and things so easily separated as this schema suggests. The objective of my dissertation is a posthumanist analysis of property in the walnut-fruit forest of Kyrgyzstan. The trees of this forest—walnut, apple, plum, cherry, pear—grow in untended profusion in some places, but, through the horticultural practice of grafting, can be transformed into the dependable inhabitants we find in gardens and orchards around the temperate world. Human labor since the 1930s has scattered thousands of grafted trees
throughout the forest, where they bear bigger, tastier, more valuable fruit than their ungrafted neighbors. My work explores grafting, a collaboration of human and tree dependent on the capabilities of each, and the role of the grafted tree in emerging property regimes in and around the walnut-fruit forest. Grafted and ungrafted trees act differently; I examine the consequences of this difference for how the forest is owned and accessed.
My project approaches posthumanist property through three key questions:
1) How are things owned and accessed by human and nonhuman actors in the forested and cultivated spaces of southern Kyrgyzstan?
2) How does grafting work in and around southern Kyrgyzstan’s walnut-fruit forests?
3) How does the horticultural potential of the forest affect the politics of access to its resources?
I am addressing these questions using a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods, including participant observation, interviews, oral histories, document review, and mapping of the distribution of grafted trees in and around the forest. By combining these approaches with theoretical insights from political ecology and science and technology studies, my dissertation uses the grafted tree to explore the possibilities of a posthumanist property.
Global Poverty and Inequality
People and Resources
Fleming, J. 2014. Political ecology and the geography of science: Lesosady, Lysenkoism, and Soviet science in Kyrgyzstan's walnut–fruit forest. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 104 (6): 1183-1198.
Website: Research summary: http://www.geography.wisc.edu/research/student_research.php#fleming
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On Twitter: @jakeefleming