Plantation Garden

Max Drabwell-Mcilwaine introduces the plantation garden as a marker of resistance to the Anthropocene’s subjugation of both people and nature by colonisers, whose plantations strip places of variation and indigenous peoples of their social identity. In eras of enslavement, people nurtured biodiversity in private plots, fighting against the plantations’ bio-normativity.

Museum of the Anthropocene: Plantation Garden

Plantation Garden: Showing an illustration of a slave house and surrounding gardens.
Illustration of a slave house and surrounding gardens. Artist: Unknown

One of the points in history most widely considered as the beginning of the Anthropocene is early globalisation and the establishment of trade routes around the world. This begs the question, would much of human history have been mapped out differently if it weren’t for the brutalities of the slave trade? I will look at how the plantation played its part in the Anthropocene through the constriction and subjugation of both people and nature.

Donna Haraway suggested the term ‘Plantationocene’ to help us analyse the impact that these spaces have had in shaping the ecological and social world, and how the simultaneously extractive and restrictive practices exercised by colonisers have defined modernity and therefore must be considered when investigating climate change. It also brings into the spotlight the legacies of imperialism and how racial hierarchies have come to exist, as well as how ecological impacts are felt differently by different groups in society.

The colonial institutions that permeated much of the Earth throughout human history seem to have had one mission – to strip places of their variation and to take on the impossible task of enslaving nature. The plantation is where this is most visible, as uniform rows of crops exist where there were once multiple species of plants, insects, and animals, and the stripping of indigenous people’s social identity to ensure that they were viewed as workers and nothing more.

Haraway also describes a ‘cheapening of nature’ that was initiated with the first globalisation where dominant countries see nature as their own and exploit it with little regard for the ecological impacts they might have. She also says this cheapening of nature must now stop, as consciousness of our effects on the climate and the biosphere increase.

I also believe that it is important when inspecting the plantation to acknowledge the modes of resistance that manifested, which is why I have picked specifically the plantation garden as my object. In Anthropocene, Capitalocene, … Plantationocene?: A Manifesto for Ecological Justice in an Age of Global Crises, Davies et al (see notes) discuss the cultivation of private gardens and how slaves were resisting the bio-normativity of a plantation by nurturing biodiversity in their private plots where plants, insects, and fungi could find an oasis from an otherwise strictly controlled environment.

The plantation, however, is not a thing of the past. Although it is not as clear to the eye as slave plantations were, inequalities are still perpetuated by the modern-day plantation. Often huge areas of land are given over to large corporate entities to establish monoculture plantations, frequently at the expense of local indigenous populations’ livelihoods. This mirrors some of the exploitative practices that were seen in early plantations, whereby a powerful institution exploits nature at the cost of indigenous and enslaved people. It is perhaps more obvious when the plantation is funded by a foreign company. What also prevails are resistance practices, and the lengths to which people will go in order to defend their livelihoods and express their autonomy. Herein lies hope for a better Anthropocene.


The Plantation Garden was contributed by Max Drabwell-Mcilwaine, a third-year International Development student at UEA. Max says, “I’m someone who believes there is still the opportunity for a good Anthropocene. Next year I will be at UCL studying Environment and Sustainable Development, which I hope will stand me in good stead for attempting to ensure a positive future and a good Anthropocene.”

See Anthropocene, Capitalocene, … Plantationocene?: A Manifesto for Ecological Justice in an Age of Global Crises (2019, Davis, Janae, Alex A. Moulton, Levi Van Sant, and Brian Williams. 2019. Geography Compass, no. March: e12438.)

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