Accepted Paper:

A proletariat of diggers. Worms as engineers in practices of soil construction  


Germain Meulemans (Centre Alexandre Koyré)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines the kind of collaboration at play in Ecologist’s attempts to construct soils by relying on worms as ‘ecosystem engineers’. It unpacks the contrasting and asymmetrical notions of ‘making’ that these entail, and considers how more symmetrical ones might impact our concept of collaboration.

Paper long abstract:

This paper seeks to attract attention to the capture of organisms and materials in certain kinds of human-animals collaborations. It studies the case of ecological engineers' (EI) practices of soil construction, in which large parts of the operatory chains are left to non-human organisms -namely worms. Ecological engineering has recently come to take the idea that all organisms are 'ecosystem engineers' as central to its approach to ecosystem design and construction. In the field of soil construction by EI, worms are convoked as allies in projects aiming at coping for the loss of fertile and stable soils resulting from classical human engineering practices described as asymmetrical. This paper will examine the claims of a redistribution of agency in making in EI's convoking of worms, question the different, notions of making and engineering at play in them, and argue that they too are asymmetrical. It will also argue against the classical definition of EI as the intentional manipulation of other organism's practices of niche-construction. In doing so, I will avoid the trap of presenting EI as a practice that entails domination over worms and nature, but envisage it as an experimentation of novel bounds between humans, worms, rain, earth and rock.

Panel P23
Collaboration and partnership in human-animal communities: reconsidering ways of learning and communication