Zones of Obscurity: Representations of Social and Vegetal Reproduction under Patriarchal Capitalism
The University of Manchester
Dr. Anke Bernau
Dr. Robert Spencer
Combining critical plant studies and social reproduction theory (SRT), this project asks how representations of plants in literature, music, and film defamiliarise capitalism’s domination of social/vegetal reproduction. Capital accumulation is facilitated by patriarchal discourses and practices that construct certain human and nonhuman bodies as feminine, reproductive, and plant-like. Social reproduction includes childbirth, care work and subsistence farming; vegetal reproduction comprises cycles of decay, regeneration and growth that sustain plant life. Capitalist economics situate reproduction as feminine and non-productive, relegating social/vegetal reproduction to the margins of much economic and cultural theory. Through detailed close reading, this project examines how aesthetic representations of vegetal reproduction provide imagined modes of resistance to the conscription of plants and people in processes of capital accumulation.
Leading plant theorist Michael Marder argues that, while all earthly life depends on plant life, it occupies the ‘zone of absolute obscurity’ in human society; plant reproduction is invisible to the human eye and exists beyond human timescales (2013). I aim to show how aesthetic representations of the zones of obscurity, where plants reproduce, can re-imagine plant/human reproduction as creative processes with value beyond capitalist production. My thesis examines how different representative strategies in fiction, non-fiction, music, and film participate in a world where humans have begun seeking the invisible zones where plants reproduce. Could plant stories in these texts generate new plant/human solidarities against capitalism’s domination of reproduction? Do cultural productions which coax vegetal reproduction out from obscurity allow us to reimagine plant/human reproductive processes, and acknowledge their radical interdependence?
Critical Plant Studies,
Social Reproduction Theory,
Feminist Translation Theory.