Life itself in the Pacific: unbounded forms of life, relational life forms

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    This presentation concerns a theory of growth from Bolivip, Papua New Guinea, where taro plants (Colocasia esculenta) are taken to be sentient, wilful, pliant and playful children with body parts and sense organs that enable them to engage in and respond to social relations. Gardeners know, think about, and feel for their taro plants, personally, and will favour and please some by planting them with their clan kin and friends, and equally admonish and berate others by planting them in isolation or expose them to pests. Gardeners well understand the growth effects of different sites, and those of their own different relational connections to places and persons associated with sites. Gardeners speak about imparting water to the taro in order to dry them out, and describe various steps and paths that must be straight for the taros to stand up. Taro growth is also effected by activities in the Yolam cult house which exactly copies a taro garden, and where a repertoire of initiations cause the dramatic and graded changes to the form of growth in taro and men alike.

    Life Itself in the Pacific is a wider research project at St Andrews seeking to learn from recent theorisations of ‘Life Itself’, and to deploy this as a vantage point on Pacific metaphysics. Foucault, Franklin, Haraway and Rose have discerned, analysed and mapped the role of Life Itself as an emerging and ubiquitous imaginary, drawing upon advances in bio-technologies and their cultural accompaniments, to also expose the enabling cultural assumptions and the displacements and reworkings of natureculture.

    Whilst mindful of these examples, methods and assumptions, this presentation will describe and analyses a theory of growth rooted in quite different concepts and assumptions. A Pacific version of ‘life itself’ may also disrupt some of our terms in return.