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Vital Geographies – blog

8 February 2018: Cheryl McEwan – Protean geographies: Plants, politics and postcolonialism in South Africa

In the Departmental Seminar yesterday evening Professor Cheryl McEwan of Durham University spoke to many of the issues that are central to the Vital Geographies Research Group: how a type of flower has often been seen as innocent and beyond politics, but is deeply entangled in political economies, nation-building and post colonialism. Employing a multi-species ethos, she showed how the materiality – the nature – of proteas matters to the unfolding of sustainable trade, sustainable landscapes and to the construction of political relations. The intermeshing of relational and material processes in proteas makes the flower a productive focus through which to think about pressing environmental and political concerns in South Africa. Professor McEwan also outlined her work with colleagues on an innovative botanical database and on the translation of field guides into local languages, and showed one way in which it might be possible to move from studying political processes to transforming them, challenging the historic inequalities that continue to pervade the economies and landscapes of proteas.

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