“Planting Seeds/The Fires of War”: The Geopolitics of Seed Saving in Jumana Manna’s Wild Relatives

Sheikh, Shela. 2018. “Planting Seeds/The Fires of War”: The Geopolitics of Seed Saving in Jumana Manna’s Wild Relatives. Third Text, 32(2-3), pp. 220-229. ISSN 0952-8822 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Through a reading of Jumana Manna’s feature-length film, Wild Relatives (2018), this article explores the geopolitics of seed saving, reading global efforts to preserve genetic biodiversity in the face of climate change through the logic of the pharmakon (i.e., as both poison and cure). The film follows the journey of seeds between the Global Seed Vault at Svalbard (Norway) and the Bekaa Valley (Lebanon), where seeds from Syria are being cultivated due to the ongoing civil war, probing the relationship between the preservation and (re)patriation of seeds on the one hand and global conflict and humanitarianism on the other, and considering local cultivation practices vis-à-vis the lasting legacies of the developmentalist, geopolitical agendas of the US-sponsored Green Revolution. The article situates the film within Manna’s broader oeuvre, problematizing the epistemological and temporal logic of heritage practices that seek to preserve both cultural and natural diversity. As such, the article demonstrates the neo-orientalist and neo-colonial logic of cryopreservation as a form of ‘imperialist nostalgia’ or techno-capitalist wizardry. Adapting anthropologist Michael Taussig’s notion of ‘agribusiness writing’ to the institutionalised, globalised images and narratives of productivity, bio-conservation and peacemaking, Wild Relatives is interpreted as a form of ‘apotropaic’ (‘countermagical’) filmmaking that warns against the appropriative, ‘green banking’ and ‘green washing’ logic of techno-scientific sorcery and celebrates the reciprocal, co-evolutionary plant–human relations of which the seed itself is an archive.

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Shela Sheikh, Jumana Manna, Syrian Civil War, ICARDA (International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas), Svalbard Global Seed Vault, Green Revolution, cryopolitics, Orientalism, biodiversity, climate conflict, drought, greenwashing, humanitarianism, Michael Taussig, agribusiness writing

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Media, Communications and Cultural Studies


30 April 2018Accepted
18 July 2018Published

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Date Deposited:

08 Jun 2018 14:10

Last Modified:

09 Jun 2021 18:27

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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