Seeding Sovereignty: Sensory Politics and Biodiversity in the Karen Diaspora

Seeding Sovereignty: Sensory Politics and Biodiversity in the Karen Diaspora
This dissertation traces the sensory and political dimensions of Karen refugees’ co-movements with their seeds, plants, and agricultural practices in exile. It also tentatively explores understandings of sovereignty beyond the frame of the Westphalian nation-state through engagements with seed and food sovereignty in three locations that complicate understandings of territorial sovereignty. In this dissertation I explore what I call “agricultural forgetting” and how it occurs for Karen refugees in the context of the camp. Agricultural forgetting, I suggest, is the process by which linkages between people and plants are broken generationally. Such forgetting occurs in especially sudden and forceful ways in the refugee camp. This is in part because the camp, as a space of exception, ushers in new more-than-human social arrangements. Agricultural forgetting is deeply connected with Indigenous sovereignty, which is rooted in food and seed sovereignty as well as relational ontologies. Considering relationships between people and plants in the context of forced migration and exile provides a unique vantage from which to understand Indigenous sovereignty across borders. It also contributes to provincializing and ultimately moving beyond the concept of Westphalian, or territorial, sovereignty that has historically helped to produce and sustain understandings of humanity as overdetermined by (European middleclass) “Man” (Wynter 2003). This overdetermination, as manifested in the nation-state, has resulted in the exclusion of vast swaths of people from humanity.


Terese V. Gagnon

Defended in

1 Jan 2021 – 31 Dec 2021

PhD defended at

Syracuse University, Department of Anthropology


Social Sciences


Global Asia (Asia and other parts of the World)


Human Rights
Diasporas and Migration
War / Peace