News of the decline of bee populations has captured the public imagination, leading to an upsurge of interest in bees and beekeeping. Urban beekeeping is on the rise in cities across the world, and gardeners are planting wild flowers on which bees and other pollinating insects can forage. In London, architects design urban spaces for bees to live in, and protestors dressed in bee outfits have staged demonstrations outside parliament in Westminster. Earlier this year, beehives were even installed at the Scottish Parliament.
But what can anthropologists possibly have to say about bees? The clue lies in our historical fascination with bee societies, and the connections that we draw between the lives of these social insects and human utopias. The analogy between bee society and human society goes right back to Aristotle, whose texts on natural history compare bees and humans, seeing the bees’ “king” as evidence of the political organization of bees.