Thinking with Soils: Material Politics and Social Theory

Great to see a new edited volume Thinking with Soils: Material Politics and Social Theory will soon be out with Bloomsbury.


The volume is edited by Juan F. Salazar, Céline Granjou, Anna Krzywoszynska, Manuel Tironi and myself. It’s been an amazing experience editing the book with such an amazing group of scholars, across four countries.

The geneses of the volume go back to two parallel encounters. First, is Going to Ground workshop I convened in October 2016 at USNW, with Céline Granjou and Juan Francisco Salazar. This workshop was designed as an opportunity to think both creatively and earnestly about the dirt we live on and off. The workshop brought together many of the contributors in the book to discuss how soil conservation and improvement practices are being marshaled in response to concerns over climate change, food security, and rural livelihoods, and how these might be indicative of the deep connections

between soil and social processes.

Second, the book also has its beginnings in a series of panels at the Knowledge/Culture/Ecologies International Conference held in Santiago, Chile, in November 2017, convened by Juan Francisco Salazar and Céline Granjou, where all five co-editors outlined the initial analytical coordinates for the book.

These panels also served as a catalyst to start a broader interdisciplinary discussion that had been brewing, and which we see as having been largely initiated by Maria Puig de la Bellacasa through her pioneering work in recent years. This discussion aimed to engage scholars from not only the humanities and social sciences but also the ecological and soil sciences, as well as soil practitioners, particularly those proponents of integrative science frameworks and social-ecological systems thinking. A premise of these conference panels was that, despite notable contemporary reconceptualizations of soi

l as a matter of care and concern, it is striking to observe how soil, and its manifold entanglements with plants, fungi, bacteria, and other forms of life, remains largely undertheorized or ignored in contemporary social theory. Despite soil’s vital ecological importance, its significance as a belowground three-dimensional living world remains elusive in

social and cultural research. The book is about developing work that is attuned and attentive to generating more ethical relations with nonhumans who both pervade and create livable environments, such as soil biota.

The volume includes the following chapters:

Preface Maria Puig de la Bellacasa


Chapter 1: Thinking-with Soils: An Introduction to the Edited Volume

Juan Francisco Salazar, Céline Granjou, Anna Krzywoszynska, Manuel Tironi and Matthew Kearnes

Chapter 2: Soil Theories: Invisibility, Relationality, Inhumanness 

Manuel Tironi, Matthew Kearnes, Anna Krzywoszynska, Céline Granjou and Juan Francisco Salazar

Chapter 3: Mapping soil, losing ground? Politics of soil mapping

Juliette Kon Kam Kim and Céline Granjou

Chapter 4:  Soils and Commodification

Salvatore Engel-Di Mauro and Levi Van Sant

Chapter 5: Knowing earth, knowing soil: epistemological work and the political aesthetics of regenerative agriculture

Matthew Kearnes and Lauren Rickards

Chapter 6: To know, to dwell, to care: towards an actionable, place-based knowledge of soils

Anna Krzywoszynska with Steve Banwart and David Blacker

Chapter 7: Soiling Mars: “To boldly grow where no plant has grown before”?

Filippo Bertoni

Chapter 8: Geosocial polar futures and the material geopolitics of frozen soils

Juan Francisco Salazar and Klaus Dodds

Chapter 9: Mend to the Metabolic Rift? The Promises (and Potential Pitfalls) of Biosolids Application on American Soils

Nicholas C. Kawa

Chapter 10: Reclaiming freak soils: from conquering to journeying with urban soils

Germain Meulemans

Chapter 11:  Soil refusal: thinking earthly matters as radical alterity

Manuel Tironi

Chapter 12: Geophagiac: Art, Food, Dirt

Lindsay Kelley

Its scientism, not sci comm …

Possibly the single best tweet on sci-comm, the deficit model and public engagement. Jack Stilgoe nails it again.


The Environmental Humanities programme at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney, Australia, is advertising three PhD scholarships in specific areas in the environmental humanities and science and technology studies (with collaboration from colleagues in a range of other areas).

1.) Protecting Indigenous Knowledge and Confronting Biopiracy
2.) The Impact of Artificial Intelligence on Education Policy
3.) Multispecies Studies: Rethinking Human/Wildlife Interactions
(See below for descriptions)

These Scientia PhD Scholarships are specifically designed to attract high quality PhD candidates across a range of strategic research areas.

PhD Scholarship benefits under the scheme include:
$40K a year stipend for four years
Tuition fees covered for the full 4 year period
Coaching and mentoring will form a critical part of your highly personalised leadership development plan
Up to $10k each year to build your career and support your international research collaborations

Candidates would most likely already have completed work at Masters level and published work with leading academic publisher to be competitive (or equivalent).

More information on these scholarships is available here.

More information on the Environmental Humanities programme is available here.

1.) Protecting Indigenous Knowledge and Confronting Biopiracy
Supervisory team: Daniel Robinson, Paul Munro and Danielle Drozdzewski.

This project analyses the commodification of nature/natural products and of Indigenous knowledge. It would seek to conduct a range of case studies, legal analyses, and ethnography, aimed at identifying biopiracy cases. It will also seek to analyse Indigenous mechanisms for protecting their environmental knowledge, including through customary laws and community protocols. This project will reflect upon implementation of the UN Nagoya Protocol to the Convention on Biological Diversity and its role in preventing biopiracy, as well as the World Intellectual Property Organization Intergovernmental Committee on Traditional Knowledge.

Details here.

2.) The Impact of Artificial Intelligence on Education Policy
Supervisory team: Kalervo Gulson, Matthew Kearnes and Andrew Murphie.

This project will be part of investigations into the ongoing and potential impact of artificial intelligence on both education policy making and analysis. PhD projects that address any or all of the following questions are welcome (1) what are the possibilities and challenges for education and education policy that are occurring and will occur by implementing artificial intelligence into governance, instructional and assessment settings? How might these possibilities and challenges relate to changes already occurring around algorithmic governance and big data in education? (2) what are the ethical, economic, and political biosocial considerations of implementing artificial intelligence into educational organizations? This includes issues of trust and transparency relating to the ‘black box’ of AI and prediction; and (3) how does artificial intelligence, including machine learning, use ideas from social policy, including policy and value networks, and how can policy analysts use these same ideas? What are the epistemological and ontological issues, such as those around representation, posed by AI for policy and analysis?

Details here.

3.) Multispecies Studies: Rethinking Human/Wildlife Interactions
Supervisory team: Thom van Dooren, Eben Kirksey, Lindsay Kelley.

Multispecies Studies is an emerging field of interdisciplinary research that draws the humanities into dialogue with the biological sciences and ethnographic methods to better understand the shifting and highly consequential relationships between human communities and wildlife in a period of escalating social and environmental change. Providing new perspectives on issues as diverse as biodiversity loss, climate change and globalization, work in this area seeks to better understand and intervene in human/wildlife interactions to produce more sustainable, equitable and flourishing outcomes for all parties.

Details here.