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Sarah Richter: “Against Langstroth: Reproduction, Domestication, and Utility in Modernity’s Beehive”

Langstroth, Lorrenzo Lorraine. <em>A Practical Treatise on the Hive and Honey-Bee.</em> 3rd ed. New York: C.M. Saxton, 1857.

Thursday, March 12, 2020, 12 PM
online via Zoom

Studies of bee life in the natural sciences have emphasized the entanglement of hive and honeybee, with the social life of bees (elaborate communication, egalitarian labor, interdependence, and altruism) evolving in tandem with the form of the hive. The hive in turn becomes an infrastructure and body; an organism and repository; a thing to be defended, reproduced, and preserved; and an ongoing, collective, highly aesthetic collaboration. These studies, however, often overlook the impact and form of human-made beehives. In this presentation, I propose that the standard form for beekeeper’s internationally⁠, the Langstroth hive, acts as a reproductive architecture by imagining bees as “home endeared” laborers within a model economy. Exploring the gendered and racializing processes conscripting insect life and labor, I argue that the Langstroth⁠—a lidded, wooden box with uniform internal frames⁠—brings bees into arrangement with the human family by installing a domestic economy in the hive and measuring its interior's productive capacity. The Langstroth must be placed within the colonial history of bees, within which “the hive” comes to stand both for a racially homogenous state ruled by a queen, and a home endeared social body whose unremitting labor naturalizes our own. Asking in particular why the hive is often called a bee colony, I contextualize histories of the domestic and domestication within North America's settler agriculture, where the beehive served both as imported pollinating labor (without which settler crops routinely failed) and as the animal hinge between homesteading, economic utilitarianism, and statecraft.

Sarah Richter is a Ph.D. candidate in Performance Studies at New York University and recipient of the Paulette Goddard Award for Innovative Scholarship. She is also the managing editor of Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory.

presented with the HistSciTech Workshop