Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I Haven't Forgotten About This Blog

I am still waiting to hear about the status of my sabbatical proposal. It is taking much longer than I thought it would. While I wait I've been reading a variety of books, and websites and jotting down some notes that will be useful for the slow construction of my larger work. I've also spent a great deal of time reading the Bee-L and Organic beekeeping email lists. Grounded theory demands a great deal of work and careful analysis but I must say, so far, the project has brought me a great deal of satisfaction.

I will take a few snap shots this weekend of the barrier fence we've been putting up in order to hide the hives and divert the bees flight path over pedestrian traffic. But for any of the readers who are still interested, I am still online and getting ready for my first spring of beekeeping.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


I remember when I first heard about the bee epidemic that has since been labelled "CCD". I was up early on a cold windy morning in either February or March engaged in my normal pre-work rituals: packing up my knapsack, making some hot tea and eating a granola bar so that I could rush out to teach my 7:45 class at the university. As usual, my partner and I were listening to the news on National Public Radio, waiting primarily for the weather report. Most of the news was rather expected, mostly concerned with violence in Iraq or domestic economic woes, but then I heard a report that made me stop and listen more carefully; Beekeepers around the nation were reporting the mysterious disappearance of bees.

This was very disturbing news to me, a "pit of the stomach", "end of the world" type of anxiety. I was not a beekeeper at the time but did recognize the importance of bees to the "community of life". Emotionally, I felt a particular fondness to the insect, remembering those days growing up in Brooklyn, New York, watching bees forage in a backlot near my house I was fascinated by their diligence and appreciative of their tolerance of me as I touched and examined them. A decade or so later, my interests turned to the human species and I pursued advance degrees in sociology but a concern and study of other species remained. I bred Angel fish in graduate school, and kept a number of exotic reptile species as pets throughout my lifetime. I was obsessive about the research on any species I kept, studying all I could find about the animal.

After hearing the report, I began to research on the web and at the university's library what I could discover about the epidemic . My research took me far beyond the species itself to its imposed relations with human beings. I found that the plight of the honey bee illuminated those abstract concepts, processes and practices (e.g. agribusiness practices and IMF policies) I had bored my students with in Global Issues courses. Those frames beekeeper's of all stripes were constructing to explain the crisis offered concrete examples of frame building for my Introductory Sociology courses as well.

The connections I was drawing did not go unnoticed to those around me, especially my partner. Dinner and driving conversation changed as I shared my new found knowledge. Finally, after one of my long, and animated monologues on bees, Monta suggested that I pursue the research more systematically even, perhaps, creating a course in Global Issues which focused entirely on honey bees.

Friday, November 2, 2007

FDC Interview

Today, I was interviewed by members of the Faculty Development Committee concerning my proposed sabbatical. I began the session summarizing and clarifying my proposal. First, I gave them a clearer statement of my research questions:

1. How are beekeepers managing their bees in the light of environmental threats? I stated that the word "managing" not only includes apicultural management techniques but those cultural frames beekeepers use to make sense of the environmental threats and their possible solutions.

2. How are a beekeeper's cultural frames systematically related to his/her structural position within the beekeeping field? Like all fields, the field of beekeeping is characterized by an unequal distribution of various types of capital (e.g. economic, cultural)with beekeepers' position in the structure determined by the amount and species of the capital held. Does this structural position shape the position-taking of beekeepers on environmental threats ?

After presenting these two questions, I went on to discuss the development of a bee-focused global issues course and the researching and writing of an ethnography in a literate culture.

After my summary the committee asked me questions about my proposal and it's implications and importance to the institution. One person asked whether I thought of using bees in other courses like Public Policy. He'd noticed my discussion of agricultural policy in the proposal and thought it might fit in well with a course he and I have already taught together. As if he set me up, I told him I was already changing my Public Policy course because of my current research and would focus next semester on environmental policy.

Another person asked me about the liability issues which, in his case, was really a question of visibility. How would I protect the students from bee stings and prepare for possible allergic reactions? I responded by explaining the rarity of allergic reactions and some of the precautions (e.g. no bananas in class!) I would take. This didn't totally satisfy him, since his real concern was with assuring parents that their children would be safe from bees. Another faculty member simply suggested that the course be given an appropriate "warning label" and each student sign a waiver.

Now I must sit and wait for the institution's response to my proposal.