Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Richard Schein


Practitioners of ecological restoration are increasingly adopting a genetic perspective when recreating historical landscapes. Genes are often endowed with the capacity to reveal specific and distinct relationships between organisms and environments. In this dissertation, I examine how genetic technologies and concepts are shaping ecological restoration practices. This research is based on two and a half years of fieldwork in Chicago. I employed participant observation and semi-structured interviews to compare how restorationists in two plant science institutions employ genetic concepts in their projects. One institution uses high-tech genetic methods to guide practice while the other uses lower-tech genetic approaches. Each group has distinct, yet internally diverse ways of deciding which seeds are ‘local enough’ to be included in a project.

This research theorizes how classification differences regarding native seeds are part of a broader set of genetic logics I refer to as ‘genetic epistemologies’. Specifically, I ask how genetic technologies circumscribe different ways of seeing and making landscapes. I compare how restorationists delineated valid seed sourcing regions for restoration projects based on their genetic definitions of ‘native’ species. Drawing from science & technology studies, political ecology, and cultural landscape geography, I illustrate how restorationists incorporate cultural preferences, funding imperatives, aesthetics, and discourses about nature into their particular genetic epistemology.

From this research, I offer the following conclusions. By incorporating genetic technology into ecological restoration, many practitioners feel their work will achieve more precision. Yet this perspective is typical of those who do not directly use genetic technologies. Scientists using direct genetic analyses are much more reserved about the potential of their technologies to match organisms to environments. Second, individuals or groups often come into conflict when attempting to apply different genetic epistemologies to the same problem. These conflicts are resolved in the course of planning and implementing a restoration project. Finally, direct genetic methods are only useful in restoration work involving rare or endangered species. Despite the limited utility of genetic technology in restoration, this approach is becoming influential. Chicago’s high-tech plant science institution is discursively reshaping the goals and approaches of native plant institutions that do not use these technologies.