Human societies depend on bees.

In the UK, insect pollination is worth £400-500m per year and in California commercial beekeepers transport truckloads of bees to pollinate orchards on an industrial scale. Across the world, glasshouse production of tomatoes depends on the supply of bumblebees commercially reared in the Netherlands and Belgium. At the same time, declining bee populations have seized the public imagination, shaping campaigns against the use of pesticides in agriculture, adding impetus to concerns about the decline in biodiversity of flowering plants in rural areas, and leading to an upsurge in urban beekeeping. Given the growing recognition of our entanglement with the world of the bee, and the dependence of agriculture, livelihoods and environmental sustainability on it, this project asks how the social sciences can contribute to understandings of bee-human relations.

The decline of bee populations has met with a strong public response. It is these high levels of emotion and care for bees that has inspired this project. It is unusual for insects to provoke such feelings in us. Our relationship with bees seems to go beyond the economic. We care about bees because we admire them, and perhaps see something of ourselves in their societies. Since ancient Greece (honey)bees have inspired political philosophy about how human societies should be organised. We wish to find out how contemporary society is shaped by bees, and how bees' lives are shaped by the ways in which we live. 


What are we doinG?

  • investigating the practices of three different kinds of beekeeper – commercial beekeepers in California and the Netherlands, urban beekeepers in the UK and Denmark, and ‘natural’ beekeepers in the UK 
  • Rethinking the divide between nature and culture by developing a methodology that allows us to see bee and human activities as taking place together.