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Ecological Belongings

Listen to the SOIL playlist: Curated by Zakia SewellLink opens in a new window for @Ecobelongings

Ecological Belongings:
Transforming Soil Cultures Through Science, Art, and Activism

Soils are easy to neglect as we walk on them, yet they are vital to most of earth's lifeforms. Our abuse of soils as a “resource” is heralding a global soil crisis and bringing new attention to this hidden element of our landscape. Human-soil relations are changing.

Led by Maria Puig de la Bellacasa and funded with an AHRC Leadership Fellowship, this project explores the cultural aspects of these transformations in the UK. By focusing on a highly industrialised society, we explore how new ecological cultures are taking shape in response to a crisis of relations with non-human nature.

Traditionally, dependency on soils for agriculture situates them culturally as emblematic of belonging to place, land, territory and nation. However, these strong associations have been weakened by industrialisation, urbanisation and globalisation, as well as by the rejection of exclusion, xenophobia and nationalism that they have historically supported. In contrast, our research focuses on nurturing emerging cultural significations of soils in technoscientific societies that generate alternative notions of ecological belonging. Moving beyond soil's status as a necessary resource, we focus on the increasing social and cultural concerns for human participation and dependency on ecological processes. Embracing soil's cultural ambivalence as a repository of memory (both material and spiritual), we seek new understandings of contemporary relations with soil and insights into emerging ecological cultures. We hope to generate new narratives that connect soil’s cultural and ecological significance to engage with today's environmental crisis.

The project combines ethnographic fieldwork and interdisciplinary engagement activities. These include including art-research interventions and soil storytelling workshops with participants exploring soil cultures in scientific, activist and artistic practices. One outcome of the activities will be to collectively and creatively generate stories (generated in the research and workshops) and visual illustrations (by the Artist in Residence) aimed at accounting of new ecological relations with the soil and to be published as fanzines for inexpensive para-academic dissemination.

Dr Puig de la BellacasaLink opens in a new window leads this project in collaboration with Lucy MichaelsLink opens in a new window Research Associate, Giulia ChampionLink opens in a new window Research Associate, and Nico Vaas the project's Artist in Residence.