Accepted Paper:

Worker bees, parasites, and the human fear of the feral  


Felix Remter (Technical University Munich (TUM))

Paper short abstract:

The human-honeybee-contact-zone has a long and vivid history of practices and ideas. In the late 20th century, a mite "bio-invaded" the largely economized relationship, and raised questions about the social insects ontological status. I follow the debate of the re-introduction of feral colonies in Europe.

Paper long abstract:

The "Bienensterben" (CCD) in the nineties and early two-thousands raised awareness of human dependency on honeybee pollination, as well as the precarious situation of bees in Europe's industrialized landscapes. When the mite varroa destructor travelled from South Asia to Europe in the seventies it met different reactions: human medication and breeding against varroa and the bees developing their own strategies to deal with the ectoparasite. A few years ago, research from the US and Russia brought information about feral colonies developing a stable relation to the mites. The work of re-introducing the once extinct feral colonies in Europe is now seen either as the salvation and rehabilitation of the honeybee or as a threat to the highly controlled genetic pool of productive breeding. Regardless of perspective, all involved parties are active in saving the bees, who are viewed as domestic, wild, or productive animals.

I will point out, that a less human-centric perspective - including the agency of both the bees and the mites - may lead to a more sustainable relationship between human, bee and mite and a less parasitic ecology. The ideas of work and health are central to these interrelations, as the bees productivity is key to the well-being of both bee and human societies.

I draw on my own multi-sited fieldwork in German and UK apiaries, as well as my work in southern Ural with Bashkirian tree beekeepers and on the analysis of scientific discourses. In all sites and on the ground of different nature-culture concepts, the human, bee, and mite form different intimate assemblages.

Panel P122
Living well together: considering connections of health, wellbeing and work in the lives of humans and other living beings [Humans and Other Living Beings]