Recently I’ve been trying to give my brain a break from marinading in China-Africa issues by reading the biologist Merlin Sheldrake’s mind-bending new book Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures. He points out that scientists in the 19th century scoffed at the concept of symbiosis, insisting that any relationship between plants and fungi had to be either defined by conflict or parasitism. Ha, I thought, how revealing that European scientists couldn’t imagine mutually beneficial relationships – after all wasn’t Europe’s entire relationship with Africa historically defined by conflict and parasitism?
It’s a joke that will make our readers in European development circles wince, but really – the joke makes itself (and indeed – the first European explanation of symbiotic plant-fungus relationships used the metaphor of slavery.)
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