Beekeeping in, of or for the city? A socioecological perspective on urban apiculture.

Published online
22 Oct 2021
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
People and Nature

Sponsler, D. B. & Bratman, E. Z.
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The term 'urban beekeeping' connotes a host of meanings-sociopolitical, commercial, ecological and personal-beyond the mere description of where bees and beekeepers happen to coincide. Yet, these meanings are seldom articulated explicitly or brought into critical engagement with the relevant fields of urban ecology and political ecology. Beginning with a brief account of the history of urban beekeeping in the United States, we draw upon urban ecological theory to construct a conceptual model of urban beekeeping that distinguishes beekeeping in, of and for the city. In our model, beekeeping in the city describes the mere importation of the traditionally rural practice of beekeeping into urban spaces for the private reasons of the individual beekeeper, whereas beekeeping of the city describes beekeeping that is consciously tailored to the urban context, often accompanied by (semi)professionalization of beekeepers and the formation of local expert communities (i.e. beekeeping associations). Beekeeping for the city describes a shift in mindset in which beekeeping is directed to civic ends beyond the boundaries of the beekeeping community per se. Using this framework, we identify and discuss specific socioecological assets and liabilities of urban beekeeping, and how these relate to beekeeping in, of and for the city. We then formulate actionable guidelines for maturing the practice of urban beekeeping into a beneficent and self-critical form of urban ecological citizenship; these include fostering self-regulation within the beekeeping community, harnessing beekeeping as a 'gateway' experience for a broader rapprochement between urban residents and nature, and recognizing the political-ecological context of beekeeping with respect to matters of socioecological justice.

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