Date of Award

Summer 8-2016

Degree Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Anthropology and Sociology

Committee Chair

Bridget Hayden

Committee Chair Department

Anthropology and Sociology

Committee Member 2

Jeffrey Kaufmann

Committee Member 2 Department

Anthropology and Sociology

Committee Member 3

David Cochran Jr.

Committee Member 3 Department

Geography and Geology


This thesis investigates the complex and dynamic communicative relationship between beekeepers and their managed honey bee colonies, providing insight into the relationship between bees, their stewards, and the interface between nature and culture. It also helps unravel the ways in which this interspecies relationship changes a beekeepers’ perception of what it means to be human. Data collection features extensive participant observation with 21 semi-structured interviews with Southern beekeepers.

The interrelationship between communication and interaction, as well as diverse ways in which messages and cues manifest in the bee yard are explored through olfactory, optical, touch, and mechanical modalities. Variables including attire, smoke, movement, veils, and gloves. This magnifies the ways that these factors may impact the delivery of messages central to the delivery of successful interspecies communication. Literature that helps elucidate the communication and interactions between beekeepers and honey bees is currently limited, however the importance of probing into these issues cannot be denied. If beekeepers can successfully learn to understand the messages of honey bee “language,” they can improve the management and the overall well-being of their beehives.

The results of this thesis confirm that whether it is conscious or subconscious, beekeepers do communicate with their honey bee colonies. Furthermore, the research underlines that this communicative interrelationship can profoundly alter the worldview and ecological perceptions of an individual beekeeper and may even inspire greater environmental awareness. Conclusions emphasize socio-ecological perceptions of beekeepers and illuminate the role of honey bees in transforming human perceptions of nature and the environment.