Meditation One

Linnaeus named Lonicera after 16th century naturalist, Adam Lonicer, born in Marburg and famed for his work on herbs. Nitida is derived from the Latin nitidus, meaning ‘shining’ or ‘bright’.  Lonicera nitida ‘Baggesen’s Gold’ was a cultivar developed by Niels Immanuel Baggesen, born in Odense and naturalised in England in July 1926.

 The naming of the beings of the five (or six) ‘kingdoms’ of living things is governed by taxonomic protocols. Under Linnaeus’ hierarchical binomial system, each of the plants in our plot has a scientific name made up of two parts: a collective generic name which is the collective name for plants that share certain key characteristics and a specific name which is the species. The full species name (‘binomial’) is both. Our plot harbours Rosa canina, Prunus spinosa, Geum coccineum, all three genera belonging to the family Rosaceae. Species may be further divided into varieties like Lonicera nitida ‘Baggesen’s Gold’ and Berberis thunbergia ‘Pink Queen’. Genera are grouped into families. Neat as this seems, biologists disagree about what constitutes a species. Some argue that individuals are part of the species organism, not a member of a species kind. In practice labels are slipped and the boundaries between varieties, species and genera are endless shifting.

Scientific names are often Latin or Greek, but protocol requires they are Latinised – declined following the rules of Latin grammar. The classical tradition was repurposed and reinterpreted by European colonialism. Nomenclature often honours European collectors, expedition sponsors and the surgeon/naturalists who served on many voyages of ‘discovery’.  Look for the Symphytum ‘Hidcote Blue’ – named for the garden of Major Lawrence Waterbury Johnston, garden designer and ‘plant hunter’. Thus, the binomial system renders the observer visible. It also sets plants in systems, typically ignoring the names that pre-colonial inhabitants gave to plants and animals thereby occluding not only names but understandings of the relations between plants, animals and humans developed over generations.

Migrants, migration activists and scholars know very well the importance of labels. Refugee/highly skilled/visitor/expat, each have their connotations, given weight and meaning by law, practice and the press. Ian Hacking has theorised how bureaucracies and human sciences ‘make up people’. His work on ‘dynamic nominalism’ argues that social-forensic categories from autism to trans-identity change how people feel about themselves and their experiences. Names interact with the named, human action is tightly linked to human description producing new subjectivities, new areas of expertise and intervention and new ways of being in – and being of the world. The observer signalled by migration labels is a ‘we/us’ and the act of labelling itself contributes to the production of citizenship. If uprooted from our plot and moved to Algeria the Rosa canina will still be recognised as a Rosa canina. The Algerian human visitor will change from a migrant to a citizen.

In both ecology and migration our classifications reflect the interests and actions of those humans who had or have the power to name and whose knowledge is recognised as knowledge, but they do so in very different ways. What can we learn applying the binomial classification to people on the move: Migrantum Londonensis Priti Patel? How do the classifications and nomenclature we inherit shape the ways we inhabit the planet?

Meditation One: Readings

  • Brockway, L. (1979) ‘Science and Colonial Expansion: The Role of the British Royal Botanic Gardens’ American Ethnologist 6 (3): 449-465.
  • Franklin, S. (2017) ‘Staying with the manifesto: an interview with Donna Haraway’, Theory, Culture and Society 34 (4): 49-63.
  • Goff, B. ed. (2005) Classics and Colonialism. London: Duckworth.
  • Hacking, I. (2007) ‘Kinds of People: Moving targets.’ Proceedings of the British Academy 151: 285-318.