I’ve wanted to study Anthropology since I was twelve or thirteen years old. I can’t remember exactly what spurred me on to it – previously I’d fancied myself as a misanthrope, and wanted to study zoology and spend my days tracking platypuses/platypi/platypeople – but I suspect it had something to do with the National Geographic magazine subscription I was gifted by my parents around that time. (To be fair, I definitely still maintain some misanthropic tendencies; because let’s be real, sometimes people suck. But also… they’re kind of fascinating in their suckiness. So here I am). Though I no longer subscribe to the magazine for a number of reasons (one of which being a recognition of its problematic tendency to exoticize), at the time I loved reading and learning about different aspects of the world, both animal/botanical and human. If there’s one thing I know about myself, it’s that I love having my assumptions challenged, my certainties questioned, and my perspective(s) changed. National Geographic magazine was undoubtedly seminal in producing this self-realisation of mine, and thereby further cementing my interest in Anthropology.
That being said, for the first two years or so of my undergraduate degree, I struggled to pinpoint a specific interest to pursue. I already knew that I wanted to go into academic research as a career (PhD here I come!), and although there were definitely subjects I responded well to – such as Tamara Kohn’s Keeping the Body in Mind, and Monica Minnegal’s Anthropology of Nature – I still couldn’t decide for sure what avenue of research I wanted to pursue. By default, I ended up gravitating towards my other major, Criminology, and writing “something about prisons”. For this reason, I’m grateful that a mess up in my study plan forced me to complete a fourth year of undergraduate study, for although I’m still double majoring in Anthropology and Criminology, Anthropology is and will always be my first love. It was during this fourth year that I began to grow orchids as a hobby. In the space of a few months I accumulated around thirty orchids, attended several orchid shows, and purchased over a dozen books about orchids. It’s safe to say I became obsessed. Spurred on by concepts encountered in Anthropology of Nature, I began to question the cultural role of orchids, both historical and present. My thesis – which I will be completing next year – will explore specifically the relationship between orchids and colonialism. For example, many people are unaware of the fact that the vanilla plant – native to Mexico and one of the key figures in colonial agricultural trade – is an orchid (the only fruit-bearing orchid, in fact). I am fascinated by the human relationship with what we term the “natural” world, including animals, plants, and even rocks and minerals. For my PhD I am currently considering exploring the social perspective of environmental crime(s) when the “victims” are primarily plant life, and not animals.