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Accepted Contribution:

Doing and undoing with machine lubricating grease  
Gabrielle Fenton (UCLouvain)

Contribution short abstract:

The grasslands of the Scheldt’s estuary are located on ground that is continuously done and undone. This intervention explores the contentious role of drainage pumps in this doing and undoing.

Contribution long abstract:

Tidal flows, water shortages and water excesses wash in and out of the dairy grasslands of the estuary, meeting drainage infrastructures and environmental policies. The grasslands themselves are narrated by some as extremely productive ground that will feed the country and by others as necessary space for controlled flooding or water storage. At the end of a rainy winter, many tractors get stuck in heavy mud attempting to spread the first batch of slurry onto the grasslands. Responding to this, the locally elected waterboards attempt to dry them out. Meanwhile, environmentalists are re-wetting the grasslands they have acquired to attract certain species. The wetness of the ground becomes a site of conflict between local stakeholders, its affordances to be ethnographically explored as corresponding “with particular social, economic, and political arrangements” (Krause, 2017: 406).

This intervention proposes to start from an empty can of lubricating grease to reflect on the doing of the grasslands’ ground. The contents of this object was used to grease the bolts of one of the pumps installed by the waterboards between the 1950s and the 1980s. Found amongst many other of its kind, this 50 cm-high empty can highlights the heavy mechanical effort involved in doing ground. The intervention builds on long-term fieldwork following dairy farmers as they tend to the grasslands, encountering wetness and dryness. In particular, it focuses on the contentious role of the centuries-old waterboards that are strongly entangled with the farming communities and currently facing the Flemish government’s decision to dismantle them.

Roundtable RT178
Doing and undoing grounds: rethinking the groundings of anthropocene anthropology
  Session 1 Tuesday 23 July, 2024, -