Top > Media > Of Bee Space and Species Being; the architecture of extraction


Ministry of Information

Mary Taylor

Mary Taylor makes things happen and watches people in New York City and Budapest. Founding member of the Open University and of Think Tank X, artist and situation-maker, she teaches anthropology at Hunter College and Cooper Union in New York.

Of Bee Space and Species Being; the architecture of extraction


Of Bee Space and Species Being; the architecture of extraction

In 1851, the Reverend Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth designed a new kind of Bee hive. His design was inspired by his discovery of what he called "bee space". This term represents the measure of space (1 cm -3/8 inch) which, if left in the hive for bees to operate in, facilitates more efficient extraction of honey. Bee space effectively assures that bees will not engage in many of the complicated architectural practices of building a hive. It will neither build a comb in the space nor cement it shut. It will simply deposit honey into the frames easy to remove, provided by the beekeeper.

In "On Architects, Bees and Species Being", David Harvey quotes Marx: "what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises its structure in imagination before he erects it in reality".

Marx, Harvey writes, was not simply referring to the sophisticated architecture produced by bees. Rather, he was disputing the idea that "worker bees"-those without visions for positive transformation of the world, are necessary to the function of society in general.

As Harvey points out, it is easy to think of bees with more respect that Marx seems to here, on the basis of our knowledge of their incredible abilities and behaviors (upon which we rely to survive!). But Harvey asks what we might learn from thinking about the bees about our own exclusive species capacities. He asks if human imagination, made so much of by Marx in Capital, can, when imprisoned by institutional, legal, and political structures even begin to imagine a socialist alternative.

Let's return to the bees, who have been having a difficult time of late. "Colony collapse disorder", characterized by the disappearance of entire colonies of bees from their hives, has become an important event in our lifetimes. Honeybees, caught in a relationship of extraction, have suffered disorders deriving from the promethian human quest for higher rates of extraction, including monocropping and the use of pesticides. Among these disorders are those which include the loss of the incredible spatial abilities that allow bees to do their work of pollination.

It is bee space that prevents bees from building hives the way their species being would have it, while allowing humans to extract honey more efficiently. The transformation of the bees' environment into vast swaths of land with one single crop has resulted in what amount to deserts for forager bees seeking flowers as well as a kind of bee prostitution in which bees from all over the country are brought together to fertilize such swaths, at the cost of the spread of disease. All this to the end of the highest rate of extraction of bee labor and bee product.

If our species being includes the ability to envision a better world and to transform its material in that image, then what might be the bee space or spatial arrangements, designed for extraction of our labor and product, that blunt our imagination and suck out our energies and our abilities to do just that?

1851, the year the Langstroth hive was invented, marks the transition from the rise of the miraculous industrial revolution in England to its emergence around the world. It is also the moment when Baron Haussman was busy transforming Paris into a city of extraction...(more later).