In the past few years, a very serious agricultural pest epidemic has affected the southern Italian territory of Apulia, with thousands of olive trees dried out and a whole economic sector put seriously under threat. Despite having being framed mainly as a technical problem, related to the spread of a quarantine pathogen for which there is no cure known as Xylella fastidiosa, this paper aims at offering a rather socio-anthropological study of the outbreak, re-framing the debate in its more political terms. What does such an agricultural emergency implies for the whole agricultural model, and how does that affect subjectivities, emotions and identities of the local people in the area? Indeed, beside its economic value, olive trees express in that region a deep feeling of connection with nature and the territory, and therefore such a threat represents at the same time a threat to the history, the identity, and the landscape of a whole community. By using ethnographic material, combined with semi-structured and narrative interviews as well as the analysis of secondary data, the paper shows how each actor involved expresses a different ontological understanding of the olive tree as an entity, making use of different languages of valuation and expressing a different relationship with the surrounding nature and the environment.

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Visser, Oane
Agrarian, Food and Environmental Studies (AFES)
International Institute of Social Studies

Gatti, Fabio. (2019, December 20). What is the worth of an olive tree? Political ontology and epistemic conflicts in the case of Xylella fastidiosa epidemic in Apulia, Southern Italy. Agrarian, Food and Environmental Studies (AFES). Retrieved from