Carrier Seeds: A Cultural Analysis of Care and Conflict in Four Seed Banking Practices

Boschen, Marleen. 2022. Carrier Seeds: A Cultural Analysis of Care and Conflict in Four Seed Banking Practices. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

Seed banking has become a hopeful technology of ex situ conservation in the face of devastating biodiversity loss. Through storing seeds in liminal, often frozen, states, seed banks create valuable living archives. This thesis analyses four such seed banking practices ranging from iconic global seed vaults in the Norwegian Arctic (the Svalbard Global Seed Vault) and the UK (the Millennium Seed Bank) to the Kostrzyca Forest Gene Bank in Poland and the food sovereignty seed bank of the Union of Agricultural Work Committees in Palestine. It asks: what are these practices saving (for)? But also: what escapes them?

What is threatened in the current era of the Anthropocene is not just the genetic diversity preserved in seed banks but the cultural, epistemic, and relational diversities of humanvegetal ecologies. On this basis this research uses an interdisciplinary approach grounded in cultural studies and interwoven with perspectives from conservation and plant science, multispecies ethnography, and the environmental humanities more broadly. Methodologically it follows patterns of collection, containment, and cultivation through three carrier seeds as analytical and narrative devices: a black bean, a banana wild relative, and an endangered white cucumber.

Conversing in particular with decolonial and postcolonial theory and feminist Science and Technology studies, the thesis observes shifting, sometimes conflicting, understandings of mastery, vulnerability, and sovereignty. It argues that these concepts are produced in practice, in relation to national imaginaries of ‘nature’ and ‘culture’. These seed banks do not simply preserve seeds but through their care actively shape life across the scales of genetic data to the (agro)ecologies seeds exit from and enter into. This thesis suggests that while similar technologies of conservation are shared across practices, their ecological imaginaries differ vastly in their politics, cultures, and ethics of saving.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


seed banking, multispecies ethnography, sovereignty, care, more-than-human, vulnerability, environmental conflicts, biodiversity, conservation

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Media, Communications and Cultural Studies


30 November 2022

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

21 Dec 2022 15:51

Last Modified:

21 Dec 2022 18:00


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