Weeding …. and peace and conflict studies

18 May

Paddy the Dog inspects the heather bed

 

The heather bed

With less weeds

If you have made it past the title of this blog post then you are a special person. Weeding hardly sets the heart racing. But, in the long summer evenings, I try manage to grab 10 or 15 minutes to weed a heather bed I have been developing in my garden over the past few years (seriously, if you are still reading, you are special). It gives me enormous pleasure, but it also makes me think about the subject I study and how I study it.

With weeds

Here are four thoughts:

Hurrah for mud under your fingernails
The world of work – whether academic study or the administration of connected study and teaching – is full of sophistry. Whether it is the study of international intervention or administrative tasks, there is often a vernacular and a series of postures that are highly artificial and take us away from real world concerns. The language of postcolonialists, the datasets of conflict scientism or the argot of New Public Management mean that we are surrounded by artifice that seems very far removed from real world problems. Weeding, and I guess other apparently mundane tasks like kneeding dough, are good reminders that the ground level exists. It is good to turn up to university meeting with mud under your fingernails – a good reminder that we all have a connection to the soil – even if that is generations ago and even if we go to extraordinary lengths to deny it.

The tough fecundity of the margin

The thing about weeds – unless you use some sort of Agent Orange-type toxic weed-killer – is that they often come back. Obviously you try to take out the roots, although that is not always possible. The weeds are a great reminder of what Iain Sinclair calls ‘the tough fecundity of the margin’ and remind me of the persistence of individuals, communities, identities and ideas against immense odds. Obviously I am not saying that particular groups or individuals are weeds (!) – merely a reminder that communities and ideas often persist in the face violence and discrimination. Weeds that I was sure I had gotten rid of can reappear and multiply. Weeds are ‘inventive’ and ‘resourceful’ in the sense that their roots can be a long distance from any obvious manifestation of the weed in terms of the stem and flower. Often weeds will be rhizomes, with complex root structures underground. Deluze and Guattari have written extensively on the rhizome as a metaphor for multiple sites of authority and initiative. Basically, weeding can make you think about politics as a network.

The local matters
Weeding makes you pay attention to detail – to the hyper or nano-local. Miss a root and the weed will come back. Forget to look under a bush, and a host of weeds might be lurking there, ready to come back next spring. The point is that weeding is not just about taking out the great big thistles and nettles. It is also about taking out the small weeds. That requires going over parts of the garden inch by inch, picking out sometimes tiny weeds. It is a good reminder that the local and context matters in relation to international intervention and local and national responses to that intervention.

One man’s weed is another man’s flower

Of course there are good arguments about whether one should be weeding in the first place. Gardening, after all, is a supremely colonial exercise in which we are imposing a particular type of order on territory. This order depends on a set of aesthetics that prioritise one form of beauty over others. What is striking is that some weeds are quite beautiful. All of this is good for reflecting on international intervention and how, in the name of peace, order or stability, it seeks to impose systems of governance and authority on others. Of course, these prescribed systems often have to compromise when they meet local and national circumstances, expectations and even resistance. All of this brings us to a world of mimicry, hybridity and the need to see intervention as long-term processes involving multiple actors. It also explains why my heather bed is not a complete weed free zone (in fact, it is often quite overgrown with weeds). I have resigned myself to managing the weeds but not eradicating them completely – that would take too much time.

And if you have made it to the end of this blog post then you are extraordinary.

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3 Responses to “Weeding …. and peace and conflict studies”

  1. Kris 18/05/2017 at 10:23 am #

    Dandelions seem pernicious sods. They occupy a central third of my backgarden. Supermarket weedkiller was ineffective so its pull them out or a sharp knife to cut the deeper root. I dislike the corn yellow spikey head and especially the seed head stage which reminds me of a bad 1970s lamp design.

    Trouble is, i can’t help but admire their resilience and adaptability. The broad based leaves to enhance photosynthesis and crowd out competitors; the bright yellow flower that attracts wiildlife; the wind dispersal seed head; the deep roots. Grass is nicer to look at but third rate as an ‘actor’ in my garden.

    They are wrecking my grass but they draw in a lot of insects, butterflies, and thus birdlife. I get a lot of birdsong.

    So I have a grudging respect for the dandelions adaptive evolution, they bring a little of the buzzing fluttering glade to my home, and I get singsong bird chatter (which I know is usually aggressive territorial claims but I study divided societies so thats fine with me).

    Remove something that is naturally persistent from the system and you get consequences you might not like.

    So I’m opting for a managed cull rather than extermination.

  2. Emily Stanton 18/05/2017 at 11:41 am #

    Love this one! Thought provoking, and of course the ecology of it all. Who needs to eat the weeds? Must be done small creature whose livelihood depends on what we call weeds. Thanks!

    • Emily Stanton 18/05/2017 at 11:41 am #

      Should have said ” some’!!

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