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Between love and indifference - Affect(ion) and the making of the (Botanical) Garden

When: Wednesday, May 10, 2023, 3:00 PM - 5:00 PM
Where: Room 2.22, Graduate Centre Building, Queen Mary University of London, Mile End Road, London, E1 4NS


In this conversation, anthropologist Cornelia Ertl and herbologist Maya Jayaweera Thomas will explore the possibility of a more sustainable future by exploring the human-plant relationship in their making.

This hybrid event is part of the IHSS Environmental Futures Research Programme talk series.

What does it mean to love or hate plants? How are our feelings about plants crucial to the study of human-plant relationships? And how do our relationships and knowledge of plants contribute to how we navigate collective spaces?

In this conversation, Anthropologist Cornelia Ertl and Herbologist Maya Jayaweera Thomas, will explore the possibility of a more sustainable future by exploring human-plants relationships in their making. Together they will ask what a Botanical Garden is and look at the ways plants and people meet and interact there. They will reflect on how social norms shape our imagination about plants (what they are for and how they should be engaged with), the politics of care within and outside the Botanical Garden, and how the structures of scientific institutions can be challenged and/or reinforced through affect-led investigations.

Cornelia Ertl has conducted ethnographic research with gardeners in Berlin Botanical Garden to document and assess their daily interactions with plants.

Discovering how gardeners’ feelings oscillate between wonder, love, despair, and annoyance, her work explores how human-plant affect(ion) and the bodily encounters from which they emerge are interconnected.

Maya Jayaweera Thomas is a herbologist, writer, workshop facilitator and founder of The Modern Herbal, a creative consultancy dedicated to reconnecting plants and people. Her experiences have taught her that our relationship to plants is innate but as Cornelia’s research shows, not always straightforward.

Taking the exploration of gardeners´ feelings towards plants as a starting point, this discussion hopes to evaluate how emotions become necessary to think about a more sustainable future and our orientations towards it.

About the Speakers

Cornelia Ertl is a social- and cultural anthropologist and a research assistant at Freie Universität Berlin. Her MA thesis explores the social and ecological outcomes of the Interoceanic Highway in the Peruvian Amazon region, as well as local imaginations of the environment and the rainforest. She currently works on her PhD, which is embedded in a project on affect and human-plant relationships at Botanic Garden Berlin. Based on one year of ethnographic research, her work focuses on the affective dynamics between plants and gardeners emerging from daily routines and sensory encounters and explores distinct yet interconnected dimensions of relating to one another and “growing together” that are at play. Central topics are more-than-human agency, care, knowledge, feeling, response-ability and ambiguity. Her research interests include multispecies studies, human-plant relations, notions of Umwelt, infrastructure, sensory ethnography and speculative methods. You can contact her at 

Maya Jayaweera Thomas is a herbologist, writer and creative consultant specialising in plant medicine, food and growing. The modern herbal is a creative studio, home to a network of multi-disciplinary talent who work in innovative ways with the land. Maya’s background is in documentary filmmaking and script editing. Having left London a decade ago to pursue a life more closely connected to the land, she went on to gain a distinction from the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh in Herbology. Maya then worked with growers, plant medicine practitioners and chefs across the UK. On returning to London Maya’s work has centred on finding innovative ways to connect people with their environments through the stories of plants. Maya regularly collaborates with Chelsea Physic Gardens and has worked with the Garden Museum; Toast; Soho Farmhouse; Charleston Plant Festival; Rough Trade Books.

About the Event

This is a hybrid event. All are welcome to join, but please register via Eventbrite.

A link to join the talk remotely will be sent closer to the date. For those attending in person, a reception will follow the talk at 5pm.

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