LATENT LIVES: GENEBANKING AND THE POLITICS OF CONSERVATION IN TURKEY
This dissertation examines the technoscientific and cultural codes of ex-situ plant conservation in Turkey. Following the Convention on Biological Diversity that granted nation states sovereign rights over nonhuman genetic resources and in line with the recent informational turn in biodiversity conservation, the last two decades saw the proliferation of national and international genebanks worldwide. This work has as its centerpiece one such national bank, the Turkish Seed Gene Bank (TSGB), where I conducted ethnographic fieldwork between 2013 and 2014. I analyze in this dissertation the everyday workings of the TSGB with a view to understanding the polyvalent meanings of genebanking in Turkey at a time when species extinction and food security have emerged as global concerns due to climate change and biodiversity loss. In contrast with the universalist underpinnings of dominant conservation ideologies, I demonstrate how international access and benefit sharing agreements fall short of overcoming anxieties that stem from colonial and postcolonial histories of bioprospecting in Turkey. At the TSGB, I show that Bank employees remember, re-experience, and reinterpret these histories in everyday memory practices via personal and institutional narratives of loss. I argue that these narratives are also inextricably tied to a belief in capitalism’s futures, for in protecting Turkey’s plant biodiversity, the TSGB conservationists also long for a future when Turkey will have gained the capital and know-how to capitalize on the TSGB’s collection. In this everyday work of memory and historical commentary, I show that the TSGB naturalizes the nation on the one hand and nationalizes Nature on the other. While recent studies have pointed out the biopolitical characteristic of conservation as an actionable science that systematizes and targets life processes, the meanings that are attached to life and survival in conservation institutions have largely been overlooked. I demonstrate in this dissertation how the TSGB conservationists establish an interspecies critique of life and latency as they measure the viability of seeds in cold storage in tandem with their own working lives in a politically volatile bureaucracy against more mobile and untethered versions of being alive. This interspecies critique that examines life both a concept and as qualified experience, I argue, does not only stand at odds with the universalist aspirations of conservation, but also points to a chasm between understandings of life and survival in the Anthropocene. Within the legal framework of international biodiversity conservation, I assert that the TSGB’s conservation politics does not represent a failure of conservation or a disregard for common human futures, but a postcolonial reimagining of what life in the Anthropocene should look like.
Cultural anthropology; Genebanking; conservation; biopolitics; Anthropocene; Turkey; Climate change
Seth, Suman; Pinkus, Karen Elyse
Ph. D., Anthropology
Doctor of Philosophy
dissertation or thesis