Interdisciplinary Honors Seminars

Botanic Sociality: Plants, People, and the Senses that Bind Them

Botanic Sociality: Plants, People, and the Senses that Bind Them


Index# 19509

Professor Becky Schulthies

T 2:15-5:15

TH 201 Douglass Campus

Will Count Towards SAS – Anthropology MAJOR
Will Count Towards SAS – Anthropology MINOR

How do humans and plants communicate? What kinds of social lives do plants lead in relation to humans, and humans in relation to plants? This course brings anthropological perspectives to these questions, and considers how language mediates plants-people relationality. Throughout the course, we will focus on the sometimes hidden, sometimes explicit role of language in shaping relations between people and plants. The course will involve a mix of readings, such as “ethnobotanical ethnographies” discussing how plants and people interact in particular cultural contexts, and popular journalism, literary texts, documentary and popular films, scientific articles, and various kinds of Internet sites and postings. In addition, we will take field trips to experientially analyze contexts of plant-human sociality: visiting botanical gardens, herbaria, a cannabis dispensary, farms and restaurants linked to the locavore movement in New Jersey.

One of the key goals of this course is to encourage you to consider, on specific terms, through concrete cases, how language and other sign systems are used all around you in ways that shape material realities. This means, for example, that language (and signs) in use affects the kinds of relations that are possible, in certain circumstances, between people and plants – privileging some, prohibiting others, rendering some visible, erasing others . To this end, you will be responsible, throughout the semester, for helping me make the course relevant to your everyday lives by bringing in materials and issues from beyond the course and examining their connection to course ideas and sources. This will culminate in a final research project, in which you will conduct research into a current issue of your choosing – one in which you consider how signs (such as language) shapes relations between people and plants.

About Professor Schulthies

I am a linguistic and cultural anthropologist working on Moroccan semiotic ideologies.

My first project explores the intersection of language and media ideologies in Fez, Morocco. My main contribution to previous research on media reception in the Arab world has been an ethnographically grounded perspective on the role of language ideologies (expectations about what forms of language are, do, and should do) and media ideologies (understandings of what media is, does, and should do) in processes of authority construction, message delivery, social movements, and personhood. I tied transnational and local production of public culture (through interviews and observations of Moroccan and Lebanese media professionals) to urban family interpretive micro-analysis (via observations, interviews, recordings, and transcription of domestic viewing practices in Fez).