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Soil transformations: theories and practices of soils in the Anthropocene 
Germain Meulemans (Centre Alexandre Koyré)
Ursula Münster (Oslo School of Environmental Humanities, University of Oslo)
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Traditional Open Panel

Short Abstract:

The soil humanities suggest redefining soils as both multispecies compounds receptive to human care and as polluted, toxic, or dangerous environments. We explore the implications of these new understandings of soils in the worlds of STS research, multispecies ethnography, activism, science, and art.

Long Abstract:

Soils, grounds, and land have recently received renewed attention in activism, science and the arts as both hybrid living entities and anthropogenic compounds – receptive to human intervention, care and destruction. Soils are notoriously difficult to define, yet of vital importance for terrestrial life including human life on Earth. Several authors recently suggested redefining soil as a body, as a process, as something always in the making (soiling), as artifacts or infrastructures, thus moving away from definitions of soil as a layer or as a resource. At the same time, soil-related metaphors have become popular in social theory and philosophy to describe both our societies’ broken bond with the environment (how we’ve been “losing ground”) and to describe more sensible paths to inhabit the planet (being “down to Earth”, conceptualizing the “terrestrial”, being “earthbound, etc.).

In this panel, we will explore the implications/effects of these new ways of understanding soils for us (STS researchers), but also for the people we think and work with (activists, scientists, artists, etc.). What might “being earthbound” mean in the actual practices we document in our research, and what other ways of conceptualizing and theorizing soil may arise from them?

Secondly, in the light of recent debates in environmental anthropology, we ask how “thinking with soils” (Salazar et al., 2020) brings us to rethink multispecies ethnographies. Can the soil humanities keep to a species approach when soil is a medium that both hosts, is composed of, and is made by a wide range of species and material processes? When thinking about anthropogenic soils, how can we bring together the rather hopeful thinking of soils as a multispecies compound receptive to human care and providing key ecosystem functions for climate, biodiversity and human survival, with more pessimistic stances about soil pollution/degradation and the risk it represents?

Accepted papers:

Session 1
Session 2
Session 3