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BeeCultures - Anthropological research on the relationship between humans and honeybees

© Martin Gruber

Humans have been collecting honey and wax from wild honeybees for thousands of years. Moreover people all over the world have developed different forms of beekeeping. The bee plays an important role in the mythology of different cultures and has a prominent place in popular culture. Through the centuries, the honeybee has served as a metaphor for a utopian society as well as an idealised image of man. My research at the intersection of natural and cultural sciences, highlights the multiple connections between humans and honeybees. I want to find out about different “BeeCultures” constituted by the practices and perspectives of different schools of beekeepers, scientists and politicians as well as the emerging discourse on bees and beekeeping.


Bees matter to all of us!

Today, beekeeping is practiced in an intensive form in most industrialised countries: through standardised hives, prevention of swarming, breeding of queens, and transportation of bee colonies, beekeepers try to optimise the production of honey. In addition to the production of hive products, bees play an important role in agriculture. Especially the cultivation of fruit and vegetables as well as oilseeds is dependant on bee pollination. The related agricultural production surmounts the yield from wax and honey by ten to fifteen times and adds up to approximately 70 billion Euros worldwide. Since an increasing number of bee colonies are dying in the US and Europe – due to the effects of an industrialised agriculture as well as diseases and environmental stress – pollination gets increasing attention. Without bees human nutrition will suffer. Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and bee health in general has evoked great media attention, and numerous initiatives aimed at the rescue of the honeybee. Maybe most significantly, the number of beekeepers in Germany is increasing, after years of decline especially in urban areas.


Conventional and alternative beekeepers in Germany and Cameroon

In Hamburg and Bremen, which are hotspots for urban and alternative beekeeping, I will juxtapose the perspectives and practices of conventional and alternative beekeepers. In addition, I will compare this situation with that of the town Ngaoundéré in Central Cameroon. While beekeeping in Cameroon usually consist of providing different forms of beehives for wild swarms of bees and later harvesting their honey, in Ngaoundéré, the beekeeping scene is extremely diverse – comparable to Hamburg and Bremen. I want to evaluate in how far the practices and underlying perspectives of Cameroonian and German beekeepers can be compared and fruitfully merged. With my research I want to contribute to a conscious and sustainable beekeeping practise in Germany and Cameroon.


An interdisciplinary perspective on bee-cultures

The project is a follow-up of my previous research on traditional beekeeping in Africa and alternative beekeeping in Germany. I will do research over a five years, mainly in Hamburg, Bremen and Ngaoundéré. During this period I also plan to conduct short-term research stays at institutions significant or emblematic for bees and beekeeping– such as a biological laboratory in Halle, Germany, the entomological collection of the natural history museum “Überseemuseum” in Bremen. Throughout my research, I will collaborate with bee-biologists Dr. Dorothea Brückner, University of Bremen and other experts on beekeeping from different field. My research will combine a range of ethnographic methods such as participant observation and qualitative interviews with an emphasis on audio-visual methods. My research will result in a book (Habilitationsschrift) and journal articles as well as in a feature-length documentary film.

Dr. Martin Gruber
Department of Anthropology and Cultural Research
Uiversity of Bremen
Enrique-Schmidt-Straße 7
28359 Bremen
Tel: +49 0421 218 67618