Respecting Seeds: An Exploration into Saving Ethics and the Politics of Care in Gardens, Farms and Banks

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TitleRespecting Seeds: An Exploration into Saving Ethics and the Politics of Care in Gardens, Farms and Banks


Caring for seeds has been crucial to the history of plant domestication and the development of agriculture (Curry 2016). In the twentieth century, the valence of conservation has been added to seed care due to fears of biodiversity loss, in part due to the widespread shift to monocultures. While tropes of loss have been used to legitimize genetic material extraction from cultivators’ fields for capitalization in centralized banks (Montenegro 2015), the widespread distribution of a restricted set of improved varieties, along with legal prohibitions on the commercial use of unregistered ones, has reshaped seed-saving practices across the globe, in farms, gardens and banks (Chacko 2019, van Dooren 2009, Chapman 2018). Scholars advocating multispecies ethnography (Nazarea 2005, Tsing et. al. 2016, Hartigan 2017) have offered avenues of attunement which, in this roundtable, we take up to shed light on the contrasting politics of seeds in our era of ecological destruction and conservationist zeal. Donna Haraway has called for the cultivation of ‘respect’ as a crucial interspecies tool of relationality (2008: 164). Respect, she explains, entails reciprocal consideration between subjects able to give responses in interactions. While Haraway’s seminal work focuses on animal response-abilities, her plea echoes tropes and practices ethnographically documented in disparate agricultural contexts (Angé 2018, Battaglia 1990, Miller 2019, Hoover 2017). Aiming to explore the diverse, and conflicting, seed ethics unfolding in the Anthropocene, this roundtable addresses the manifold forms of respect enacted in seed-saving practices. How is vegetal respect articulated within the instrumentalising targets of seed management?


  • Olivia Angé – University of Brussels
  • Xan Chacko - Brown University
  • Katie Dow - University of Cambridge


  • Susannah Chapman - University of Queensland
  • Helen Curry - Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Terese Gagnon - University of Copenhagen
  • Garrett Graddy-Lovelace - American University
  • Elizabeth Hoover - University of California, Berkeley
  • Anna-Katharina Laboissière - University of Oslo
  • Sabina Leonelli - University of Exeter
  • Virginia Nazarea - University of Georgia
  • Elaine Gan - Wesleyan University

Dates: 28 > 30 June 2023
Venue: University of Cambridge - UK
Funding: FNRS, Faculté de Sciences Sociales de l’ULB, ERC STG, Fondation Wiener Anspach

Film Screening

A womb of things to be and tomb of things that were

Marleen Boschen & Charles Pryor, 2023, 28 min
Download: Film presentation (PDF)


Herbarium visit on Thursday 29th
Link: Cambridge University Herbarium

Info: Flourishing Seeds. Value Creation and Relatedness in AgroBiodiversity Hotspots