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#AAGDC, part 3: care

Megan Betz

Been out in the garden a lot these last few months, turning over the relationship between myself & my plants and boundaries between care, management, and control.

Been out in the garden a lot these last few months, turning over the relationship between myself & my plants and boundaries between care, management, and control.

Since our day of Vegetal Geography sessions at April’s 2018 AAGs, I’ve been turning a few distinctions over in my mind, and I have Juno Parreñas to thank for them.

When reading her book, Decolonizing Extinction, I was captivated by her teasing apart of affect and affection, and how intimacy can highlight or mask this distinction depending on how the word is deployed. Intimacy is heavily laden with meanings and expectations central to affect–emotional and bodily response to lives tightly entwined. However, despite the prevalence of domestic violence, we are collectively, culturally able to frame intimacy as positive–something closer to affection. In teasing apart affect, the embodied and subjective response to relations, and affection, a positive regard or fondness, we are better able to critically examine our relations–particularly when they involve nonhumans whose reciprocation of feeling is potentially unknowable. And even more particularly when the relations involve violence as part of a “care” regime.

Then, during her remarks as discussant during one of our Vegetal Geography sessions at AAG, Parreñas asked what it was to care for a plant, and I was struck by the unquestioned and seemingly unquantifiable distinction between care and management. Merriam-Webster notes that care is a “painstaking or watchful attention“ stemming from “desire or esteem” for the entity being considered, while management offers a “means to accomplish an end” or a supervision. We care for our families, while we manage our employees. However, we also care for our lawns–and here, we begin to see again the distinction between affect and affection and the violence that seeps into our care and intimacies while often remaining unexamined.

While I am just beginning to teasing these two concepts–care and management–apart, I return to them frequently as I consider my field site. While conservation and preservation efforts tend to embrace the language of care, and as Parreñas points out, problematically entwine this with affection, agricultural sites– even those like the Bloomington Community Orchard–use a language of management. The resources I draw on to understand what happens on site as we care for trees are “orchard management” guides. The course I took to gain a foundation in skills to care for fruit trees was a series in the organic management of orchard.

In examining the community orchard, I am struck by how these concepts fold together or overlay. We establish an orchard management plan to guild what happens at workdays. Is a component of that work care? Or is a principle of care guiding how we manage? If we manage our fields but care for our lawns, can we distinguish the two by a professional (managerial) and personal (caring, potentially affectionate) divide or continuum? If so, what happens to the lawn? In “caring” for the concept of the lawn, we do violence against the species that comprise it–and so, it seems, breaking down the language of our action can highlight the thing–species, concept, construct–we aim to uphold. I hope to keep this in mind as my analysis of the language and practice of the community orchard unfolds.