The Breeders Eye

MODEReflective Writing
DATEMarch 2022
LOCATIONInstitute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences, Aberystwyth

THE BREEDER’S EYE or close attention in multispecies communities

figure 1


The Breeders Eye: “a theory respecting the breeder’s decision-making process … The integration of all levels of knowledge and consciousness” (Timmermann, 2006)

As an artist operating across disciplines, ‘the Breeder’s Eye’ offers a chink of light in an unfamiliar world. Heidegger described art as a means of ‘worlding’ – opening new modes of being-with or being-in (Dasein) the world (Heidegger and Stambaugh, 1996), which necessitates a kind of synthesis of the semiotic and the material. Ecofeminist scholar Donna Haraway further develops the idea of worlding through sympoiesis1, elucidating conceptual development from genetic biology and Lynn Margulis’ work on the symbiotic theory of cell evolution (Margulis and Fester, 1991), saying: “in polytemporal, polyspatial knottings, holobionts [sympoietic entities] hold together contingently and dynamically, engaging other holobionts in complex patternings.”(Haraway, 2016).

In attending to these ‘knottings’ and ‘patternings’, I will shine a light on the processes of speculation and worlding that manifest in the application of ‘The Breeder’s Eye’ in modern oat breeding, the sympoietic beings involved and the multispecies communities they inveigle themselves into. It would be impossible to develop this as a linear narrative, since it requires the entangling of different stories/epistemes and “It matters what we use to think other matters with; it matters what stories we tell to tell other stories with; it matters what knots knot knots, what thoughts think thoughts, what descriptions describe descriptions, what ties tie ties. It matters what stories make worlds, what worlds make stories.” (Haraway, 2016). In the absence of a linear path, these stories will instead occupy an assemblage of polytemporal frameworks which I have represented as the ‘Deep Forest’, the journey of ‘Speculative Un/Knowing’, and the ‘Rhythmic Present’, illustrated through the layered illustration, Figure 1 and explored through a combination of artistic and research practices.

To understand how this methodology will help me illuminate understanding of the intuitive/cultural qualities of ‘The Breeder’s Eye’ and also decenter the human subject through their multispecies relations, we can be informed by geographer Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s illustration of the polyphonic assemblage: ‘Since the time of the plantation, commercial agriculture has aimed to segregate a single crop and work toward its simultaneous ripening for a coordinated harvest. But other kinds of farming have multiple rhythms… These rhythms were (plants’) relations to human harvests; if we add other relations, for example, to pollinators or other plants, rhythms multiply. The polyphonic assemblage is the gathering of these rhythms as they result from world-making projects, human and not human” (Tsing, 2017).

This is a storying of oat breeding, but it is also an exploration of the entanglements of knowledge.

draft stories

Given, M., 2020. Attending to Place and Time: Seasonality in Early Modern Scotland and Cyprus. Eur. J. Archaeol. 23, 451–472.

Haraway, D.J., 2016. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Duke Univesity Press.

Heidegger, M., Stambaugh, J., 1996. Being and time: a translation of Sein und Zeit, SUNY series in contemporary continental philosophy. State University of New York Press, Albany, NY.

Margulis, L., Fester, R. (Eds.), 1991. Symbiosis as a source of evolutionary innovation: speciation and morphogenesis. MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.

Timmermann, M., 2006. The Breeder’s Eye – Theoretical Aspects of the Breeder’s Decision-Making, in: Proceedings of the COST SUSVAR Workshop on Cereal Crop Diversity: Implications for Production and Products,. ITAB, Paris, France, pp. 118–123.

Tsing, A.L., 2017. The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. Princeton University Press.