BeeCultures - Anthropological research on humans and honeybees

Project Management: Dr. Martin Gruber
Duration: 10/2015 – 11/2020
Financing: University of Bremen

Humans have been collecting honey and wax from wild honeybees for thousands of years. People all over the world developed different forms of beekeeping. Bees play an important role in mythologies and has a prominent place in popular cultures. Honeybees have served as a metaphor for humans and their idealised societies. Triggered by reports of "Colony Collapse Disoder" (CCD), public attention has sifted to the ecological and economical role of the honeybee. My research at the intersection of natural and cultural sciences, highlights the multiple connections between humans and honeybees. I want to find out about different “BeeCultures” constituted by the practices and perspectives of different schools of beekeepers, scientists and artists as well as the emerging discourse on bees and beekeeping.

Bees matter to all of us!
Today, beekeeping is practiced in an intensive form in most industrialised countries. Beekeepers try to optimise the production of honey through the use of standardised hives, prevention of swarming, breeding of queens, and transportation of bee colonies. In addition to hive products, honeybees play an important role in agriculture. The cultivation of fruit and vegetables as well as oilseeds is dependant on bee pollination, especially in industrialised agriculture. The related agricultural production is believed to surmount the yield from wax and honey by ten to fifteen times, adding up to approximately 70 billion Euros worldwide. Without bees human nutrition will suffer. Since an increasing number of bee colonies are dying in the US and Europe – due to diseases, poison and environmental stress – pollination gets increasing attention. Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and bee health in general has evoked great media attention, and numerous initiatives aimed at saving the honeybee. Maybe most significantly, the number of beekeepers in Germany is increasing, after years of decline, especially in urban areas.


Conventional and alternative beekeepers in Germany and Cameroon
In Hamburg - a hotspot for urban and alternative beekeeping - I will investigate and compare the practices and perspectives of different beekeepers. A second focus of my research is the town of Ngaoundéré in Central Cameroon. Beekeeping in Cameroon usually consist of providing simple hives for wild swarms of bees and later harvesting their honey. In Ngaoundéré, the beekeeping scene is extremely diverse. I want to evaluate in how far the practices and underlying perspectives of Cameroonian and German beekeepers can be compared and fruitfully merged. With my research, I want to contribute to a conscious and sustainable beekeeping practise in Germany and Cameroon.

An interdisciplinary perspective on bee-cultures
The project is a follow-up of my previous research on traditional beekeeping in Africa and alternative beekeeping in Germany. I conduct research over five years, mainly in Hamburg and Ngaoundéré. But I also plan short-term research stays at places and with organisations significant for bees and beekeeping. I am especially interested how institutions such as science, art and the media construct the relationship between humans and honeybees. Throughout my research, I will collaborate with beekeepers, natural scientists and other "bee experts" from different field. My research will combine a range of ethnographic methods such as participant observation and qualitative interviews with an emphasis on audio-visual methods. My research will result in a book (Habilitationsschrift) and journal articles as well as in a feature-length documentary film.

Dr. Martin Gruber
Department of Anthropology & Cultural Research
Enrique-Schmidt-Straße 7
28359 Bremen
Tel.: +49 421 218 67618