Profitable, laborious and chaste

I’m reading a book called Buzz: urban beekeeping and the power of the bee, by Lisa Moore and Mary Kosut (2013). The authors read the practices of beekeeping through a sociological lens, and call their study an “api-ethnography.” Yes, they have a sense of humour–bees can’t be interviewed or participate in the same way that human research subjects can, but the authors created their own research strategies to successfully manoeuver through the social territory of the honeybee.

One major area of exploration for the authors is our tendency to anthropomorphize honeybees–they are “cute and fuzzy” and lend themselves to cartoon-like renditions rather easily. These characterizations make bees less threatening and more accessible, but we also load heavier baggage onto bees: “Bees are described as industrious (“busy as a bee”), helpful, driven, purposeful, cooperative and smart.” (p.126) Certainly these attributions reflect our cultural expectations and values, and perhaps tell us more about ourselves than they really do about bees. When I read the above passage, I recalled a similar description in Charles Butler’s book of 1609, The Feminine Monarchie.  Last year, I used Butler’s bee proverbs in an art piece; I was so taken by his charming collection of phrases.  Interestingly, Butler’s descriptions of bees are: profitable, laborious and loyal, swift, bold, cunning…”   We haven’t changed that much apparently since the 1600’s in our relationship to bees, or at the very least, in our descriptions of them.Profitable-as-a-bee---Butler-copy