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Sticky lives: slugs, detachment and more-than-human ethics in the garden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)532–544
JournalTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers
Volume39
Early online date21 Oct 2013
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Abstract

In response to the pressing need to re-constitute the ways we live with non-humans, more-than-human geography's distinctive contribution has been to describe an ethics based not on ‘certain subjects’ but on the relational entanglement of life: to show that ‘we’ are connected and thus invited to care. This paper aims to suggest, however, that this relational diagnostic obscures as much as it reveals and that detachment, as much as relation, provides an everyday ethic that can accommodate more-than-human difference. I do this by analysing how life is stuck together and pulled apart in the British domestic garden, drawing on life history interviews and ‘show me your garden’ walking tours with experienced gardeners. The article is aligned with a widening bestiary of companion species in geography, and considers the appearances and disappearances of a domestic monster: the slug. Therefore in contrast to existing literature the paper explores gardening's darker aspects. First, I describe how slugs and gardeners are ‘sticky’: joined together by shared histories, curiosity and disgust. The paper then shifts to examine how gardeners practice detachment: distancing themselves from the act of killing slugs but yet avowing the violence of their actions; acknowledging the limits of their capacities to bend space to their will and imagination; recognising the vulnerability of slugs, and being transformed by that recognition. The analysis shows first, that the emphasis on gathering together and relationality obscures what lies outside relations, and second how detachment emerges not as the negation, but as an enabling constituent of more-than-human ethics. In conclusion the paper argues for looser mappings of relationality and ethics that attend more fully to the distance between species.

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