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Can the plant speak? Giving tobacco the voice it deserves

Russell, Andrew

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The idea of non-human objects speaking has an illustrious pedigree. Using Holbraad’s (2011) question ‘can the thing speak?’ as a springboard, the author asks what it means to say that tobacco might speak. Accepting a degree of ventriloquism in giving a voice to plants, he tracks examples of tobacco (and its paraphernalia) speaking in English literary sources, demonstrating that the postmodern turn to ‘material agency’ and object sentiency, voice and intentionality is, in fact, nothing new. Taking Miller and Latour’s conceptions of hybridity in human/non-human relationships seriously, he argues further that tobacco can speak, or remain silent, through a number of different human and corporate locutors. Where tobacco speaks in its own words, its voice – in contrast to the ‘tinny but usable’ voice of a mushroom spore – becomes that of an imperious autocrat intent on world domination.


Russell, A. (2018). Can the plant speak? Giving tobacco the voice it deserves. Journal of Material Culture, 23(4), 472-487.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 2, 2018
Online Publication Date Sep 20, 2018
Publication Date Dec 1, 2018
Deposit Date Oct 15, 2018
Publicly Available Date Oct 16, 2018
Journal Journal of Material Culture
Print ISSN 1359-1835
Electronic ISSN 1460-3586
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 23
Issue 4
Pages 472-487


Published Journal Article (Advance online version) (115 Kb)

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Copyright Statement
Advance online version © The Author(s) 2018 This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License ( which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (

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