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On Bees and Humans - A Love Affair between Nature and Culture

Interdisciplinary Symposium: B CUBE // TU Dresden

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Organized by: Dr. Anja Buttstedt (B CUBE - Center for Molecular Bioengineering)

                       Dr. Solvejg Nitzke (Literary and Cultural Studies/ Institut für Germanistik)

Bees and humans have a longstanding relationship stretching back to the Stone Age. Since antiquity, bees have fascinated philosophers, scientists and poets alike - not only as honey producers but also because of their peculiar form of social life in a colony; they react like a superorganism. Because of their efficient division of labour and their - at least from a human perspective - collective sense of purpose, bees are regarded as paragons of, and companions to, human beings. They are, both part of nature, medium and yet also a role model of societal organization and exchange with nature.

Bee research has always transgressed systematic and disciplinary boundaries. Yet the progressive specialization of modern science not only produces insights but also erects communication hurdles. This creates the impression not only that every discourse has its own language to talk about bees but that, in fact, each produces its own concept and model of bees.

With this symposium at TU Dresden’s B CUBE, we want to provide a forum for a variety of perspectives on ‘bee’ and enable open exchange amongst proponents. The goal is to bring current scholarly and academic research together and into dialogue about ‘their’ bees. This promises to advance a debate that is characterized by misinformation and political instrumentalization (keyword: honey bee colony losses). We invite researchers to present their work on bees and how this work or the bees themselves touch upon relationships between culture and nature. Talks should not exceed 30 minutes and will be grouped into panels of two, leaving ample time for discussion.

The symposium will be concluded by an evening event, titled „Die Schattenseiten des Bienenstaats“ (The Dark Side of the Hive) at Deutsches Hygiene-Museum Dresden. Prof. Dr. Christian Pirk (Entomology - Pretoria, South Africa) and Prof. Dr. Niels Werberhttps://nielswerber.de/ (Cultural and Media Studies - Siegen) will question the myth of the efficient hive and the industrious bee from a scientific and a scholarly perspective respectively.



Dr. Anja Buttstedt investigates why royal jelly turns ‘normal’ worker bees into queens. Researching major royal jelly proteins (MRJPs) of the honeybee, Buttstedt deciphers the functions of these still mysterious proteins. These are fascinatingly flexible regarding, for example, viscosity and fluidity and revealed early on that they are much more than mere food stuff. The adaptability and versatility of not only the bee’s behavior but also their products fascinates her as much as the history of bee research itself.

contact: Anja.Buttstedt@tu-dresden.de

Dr. Solvejg Nitzke explores relationships of humans and nature from a literary and cultural studies perspective in her project on ‘Precarious Nature’ in 19th-century popular cultures and her work in the emerging field of literary and cultural plant studies. Bees, for her, are impressively protean figures in cultural ecology – featuring in writings ranging from political theory, gardening advice and apocalyptic scenarios of planet Earth’s future.

contact: Solvejg.Nitzke@tu-dresden.de

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