Beekeeping in the Anthropocene: Theorizing Conflicts over Honey Bee Health

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Managed honey bees in the US have periodically faced challenges around pests and infectious disease. As beekeepers have responded with a range of different management practices, they have clashed over what it means to be responsible and the degree of control that is possible or desirable. Many of these conflicts hinge on the inherently dual nature of the honey bee, which is both a livestock animal but also wild in many ways. To understand these politics, the three papers of this dissertation draw on participant observation, interviews, observation of beekeeping clubs and workshops, a statewide survey, and archival research, based largely in New York State. “To save the bees or not to save the bees: Honey bee health in the Anthropocene” (published in Agriculture and Human Values, 2019): This article situates contemporary honey bee health challenges, particularly debates over how to manage parasitic mites, within the literature on the Anthropocene. “‘The main objection to numerous small bee keepers’: Biosecurity and the professionalization of beekeeping” (published in The Journal of Historical Geography, 2020): This article describes the origins of the beekeeping institutions that arose in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, particularly extension, and how they promoted a particular vision of “good beekeeping” based on biosecurity. It details how an “envirotechnical regime” behind beekeeping promoted norms as a part of the modernization of American agriculture. “Hybridity for health: Converging learning curves in beekeeping” (unpublished): This paper argues that the idea of hybridity, and specifically nature-society and wild- livestock hybridity, can be a useful guide for keeping honey bees healthy and other quandaries of the Anthropocene. I show how individual beekeepers’ understandings of honey bees shape how they start to develop the skills to manage parasitic mites in their colonies. As beekeepers continue to climb different learning curves, their understanding of bees is either reshaped or limits how successful they will be. Together, these papers contribute to theory in scholarship on food systems, historical political ecology, and literature on biosecurity (particularly within geography), as well as topically clarifying one of the primary dilemmas over good practices within beekeeping today.

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198 pages


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Anthropocene; beekeeping; biosecurity; honey bee health; hybridity; infectious disease


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Union Local


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Committee Chair

McMichael, Philip

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Wolf, Steven A.
Pritchard, Sara B.

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Development Sociology

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Ph. D., Development Sociology

Degree Level

Doctor of Philosophy

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Government Document




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Attribution 4.0 International


dissertation or thesis

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