"Rediscovering soils" workshop
WHERE: University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK.
WHEN: 19-21st June 2017
Maria Puig de la Bellacasa
Soils are reclaiming their place as the foundation of survival for humans and other than humans on a fragile earth. Relegated to the margins for decades by advances in agro-technologies, today soils are being attended to by farmers, environmentalists, and scientists alike. Diverse groups are reclaiming the importance of ‘dirt’ as the lynchpin of biotic and abiotic processes on which a variety of life depends. Soils are increasingly hailed as key to addressing current challenges to human and ecological flourishing, including agricultural productivity, anti-microbial resistance, climate change and availability and regulation of foundational processes such as clean water and air.
This ‘rediscovery’ of soils calls for a rethinking of conceptual and practical frameworks for knowing and acting in a more-than-human world that goes beyond scientific realms and traditional spaces of soil practices. As a result, scholars are giving renewed attention to soils and their fascinating characteristics: omnipresent but invisible; ancient yet constantly re-made; globally significant yet heterogeneous; mundane yet unknowable; indispensable but de-valued; deeply inter-related with human labour but simultaneously independent of it; kept locally but with global effects.
The workshop “Rediscovering soils: knowledge and care in the worlds of soil” engaged with burgeoning scholarly attentions to soils, bridging across disciplinary, theoretical, and empirical boundaries. Bluntly put, none of us can, or should, go at this challenge alone. The current popular attention to soils and the intellectual soil renaissance provide an opportunity to re-address the distribution of expertise and responsibility, and find productive, scientifically robust, intellectually stimulating, and politically relevant ways of acting together. It is vital to build on the intellectual and practical legacy of scholarship in participative and inter-disciplinary ways to maximise the relevance and impact of research on soils in the social sciences, the humanities and natural sciences.
In this spirit, this two-and-a-half-day workshop brought together a diverse community of established and early career scholars investigating soils from a variety of theoretical and empirical positions. Organised by researchers working across the social sciences and the humanities, this workshop sets soils on the agenda of the social sciences and the humanities, but does so by reaching across the social sciences/natural sciences divide. At the heart of this effort is a desire to establish a constructive, critical, empirically-grounded exchange about soil and scientific practice.