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Passive Flora? Reconsidering Nature’s Agency through Human-Plant Studies (HPS)


  • John Charles Ryan

    () (School of Communications and Arts, Edith Cowan University, 2 Bradford Street, Mount Lawley, Western Australia 6050, Australia)


Plants have been—and, for reasons of human sustenance and creative inspiration, will continue to be—centrally important to societies globally. Yet, plants—including herbs, shrubs, and trees—are commonly characterized in Western thought as passive, sessile, and silent automatons lacking a brain, as accessories or backdrops to human affairs. Paradoxically, the qualities considered absent in plants are those employed by biologists to argue for intelligence in animals. Yet an emerging body of research in the sciences and humanities challenges animal-centred biases in determining consciousness, intelligence, volition, and complex communication capacities amongst living beings. In light of recent theoretical developments in our understandings of plants, this article proposes an interdisciplinary framework for researching flora: human-plant studies (HPS). Building upon the conceptual formations of the humanities, social sciences, and plant sciences as advanced by Val Plumwood, Deborah Bird Rose, Libby Robin, and most importantly Matthew Hall and Anthony Trewavas, as well as precedents in the emerging areas of human-animal studies (HAS), I will sketch the conceptual basis for the further consideration and exploration of this interdisciplinary framework.

Suggested Citation

  • John Charles Ryan, 2012. "Passive Flora? Reconsidering Nature’s Agency through Human-Plant Studies (HPS)," Societies, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 2(3), pages 1-21, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:gam:jsoctx:v:2:y:2012:i:3:p:101-121:d:19460

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Allison Williams & Bill Holden & Peter Krebs & Nazeem Muhajarine & Kate Waygood & James Randall & Cara Spence, 2008. "Knowledge translation strategies in a community–university partnership: examining local Quality of Life (QoL)," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 85(1), pages 111-125, January.
    2. Claire Donovan, 2007. "The qualitative future of research evaluation," Science and Public Policy, Oxford University Press, vol. 34(8), pages 585-597, October.
    3. Gregor Wolbring, 2008. "The Politics of Ableism," Development, Palgrave Macmillan;Society for International Deveopment, vol. 51(2), pages 252-258, June.
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    More about this item


    plants; society; environmental philosophy; human-animal studies;

    JEL classification:

    • A13 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Relation of Economics to Social Values
    • A14 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Sociology of Economics
    • P - Economic Systems
    • P0 - Economic Systems - - General
    • P1 - Economic Systems - - Capitalist Systems
    • P2 - Economic Systems - - Socialist Systems and Transition Economies
    • P3 - Economic Systems - - Socialist Institutions and Their Transitions
    • P4 - Economic Systems - - Other Economic Systems
    • P5 - Economic Systems - - Comparative Economic Systems
    • Z1 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics


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