People and Plants

in Environment and Society

Plants have all too often been relegated to the margins—their diversity and vitality obscured within generic terms such as “habitat,” “landscape,” or “agriculture.” A green “background to human activity” (Rival 2016: 147; Sheridan, this volume), plants, the foundation of life on this planet, have frequently failed to compete with the charismatic fauna, let alone the anthropocentrism that dominates the Western cultural imagination. Th is marginalization has not only been due to an oversight by the social sciences but also, just as readily it seems, neglect by the natural sciences. Since Aristotle set in motion the perception of plants as passive and insensitive they have largely been overlooked and it was not until the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that western scientists began to comprehend the active relationship that plants have with the world (Gagliano 2013). Recent research on plants, however, is now expanding our appreciation both of the fundamental role plants have in the function and health of the living world (CBD 2010; Smith et al. 2011), and of their own intimate interactions within it (Chamovitz 2012; Marder 2013; Myers 2014)—sparking what some have optimistically anticipated as a “plant-turn.”

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