Updated: Sep 28, 2019
“It’s not that they sting you. It’s that they don’t sting you.” Beekeepers and the narrative construction of human-honeybee relationships
By Kate Marx
There are seemingly endless accounts available of the bond that is often formed between humans and other mammals. Far less, however, has been written on interactions between humans and animals of more pronounced physiological difference to us, for example, insects. The purpose of this study was to investigate how far it is possible for a human to experience meaningful interactions with, or even to form an attachment bond to, an animal of extreme phylogenetic difference to us, namely, the honeybee (Apis mellifera).
Preliminary research was conducted through an online survey posted on the UK’s most popular beekeeping forum. Three quarters of survey respondents indicated that they viewed their interactions with bees as a ‘relationship’ with the bees. The survey was followed up by in-depth interviews with four beekeepers, chosen to represent as varied a cross-section of beekeeper society as possible, in terms of attitude, method and experience. Through a narrative research approach three common themes were explored. These were the notion of communicating with bees, elements of risk and reward in beekeeping, and the human-bee co- creation of the hive space. Duranti’s description of culture as knowledge (1997), both propositional (‘know that’ information) and procedural (‘know-how’ information) was useful in exploring these themes. It was found that beekeepers experience their interactions with bees in intense, embodied ways that encourage them to form strong attachment bonds to their bee colonies.