The Wild Library: ecological learning

More-than-human ways of knowing: bees

Blue-banded bee on Dianella in my garden, 2023.

One of the strongest mental cravings that drew me to research is to spend time on synthesis. I love the complexity of seeing the connections in everything. As a person who tends to see the bigger picture in anything from pulling my car into a drop-off-zone with others in-front and behind me, or standing back and watching the dynamics of a group people obtaining a piece of cake from the table for morning tea (particularly when individuals become aware there is less pieces of cake than people), I love seeing this. Being an observer of patterns, flow, behaviours and relationships is just something I have always seen, in the human and more-than-human world.

Until about two years ago, I had no idea that the whole displine of systems thinking has tools for trying to map and explain such ways of seeing interconnections. To me, so far, systems thinking (as a discipline) feels like it has the exciting potential of communicating the wonder of the world of childhood, wrapped up in cryptic grown-up jargon.

Synthesis from a systems thinking perspective is the core objective, so I’m definitely very interested in breaking through the language barrier.

Synthesis: In contrast to analysis, which is the paradigm of the reductionist worldview, the objective in systems thinking is synthesis. It is about understanding the entire system at once and finding the balance between reductionism and holism. Synthesis is the ability to see all of the interconnections.

Maloney, J. (2020). Systems Thinking: A Balance Between Reductionism and Emergence. Intelligent Speculation.

Systems thinking will be a significant part of my research, and so far it feels like a fortress that I am trying to break into by wiggling one stone from the wall at a time. I currently imagine this in the form of much-loved imagery from my past that pops into my mind, Samuel Palmer’s 1879 etching, The Lonely Tower:

In the middle of this torment, as I’m imagining myself hanging off that wobbly tower, prising small stones out to find the next foothold, my supervisor sent me an article which hit me in the heart. This was a good thing because for a while, my brain had been ruling with old ways of thinking about ideas as buildings on hills. I’m very keen to move away from mental models about buildings and built environments, which seem to dominate my ways of thinking.

It’s not often that an academic article can make you gasp in wonder, but the 2020 article was about more-than-human concepts of sustainability and includes a beautiful exploration about bees and their way of knowing and green spaces:

Rupprecht, C. D. D., Vervoort, J., Berthelsen, C., Mangnus, A., Osborne, N., Thompson, K., … Kawai, A. (2020). Multispecies sustainability. Global Sustainability3, e34. doi:10.1017/sus.2020.28

The timing was beautiful. It was sent to me on the same day that a book that I have been wanting to read arrived, which is also about a bees way of knowing:

Buchanan, S. (2023). What a bee knows: exploring the thoughts, memories and personalities of bees. Island Press.

On that day (officially now thought of as ‘bee day’ of my research), I had chosen to wear a bee brooch to remind me to look further into supporting blue-banded bee nesting habitat in our garden, based on feeling inspired by the amazing work of Mel Logozo (@rewildingsuburbia) who is making a nesting habitat for these incredible bees.

It’s not a message from the universe, it’s synthesis and pattern in time. By moving from lonely human towers, to bees and their habitats. What is there to learn from this?

I love these connections in time when something is brought to your attention and focus through a connection in time.

For a while, it’s all about listening and learning from bees.