At the end of March 2016, we attended UNDISCIPLINED ENVIRONMENTS: International Conference of the European Network of Political Ecology (ENTITLE).
The Coastal Reading Group (Bibi Calderaro, Christos Galanis, & Margaretha Haughwout) has been reading texts all year on the topics of ethics and wilderness. It occurs to us that politics, if its etymology refers to the management of bodies and resources in time and space, may always remain practically (un)ethical because it implies a totalizing frame. This became even more apparent in our experience at the conference, as we perceived a disparity across “European” and “New World” discourses of Political Ecology. Where the former tended to circle around materialist, economic representations of power and territorial relationships, the latter favored a decolonial approach whose representation was often intersectional and ontological (still, as Zoe Todd points out, ontology is just another word for the colonial).
We struggled with many of the panels at the conference for this reason, whose methods of representation and dissemination seemed to replicate disciplined colonial paradigms. As much as the majority of the panels evidenced the understanding that “we” are in a crisis, and as much as there seemed to be a consensus that a redistribution of power and labor relations would enable more just and equitable societies, radical pedagogies and alternative relational methodologies — with emphasis in embodied and experiential practices — remained the exception. While there were a multitude of calls and manifestos in favour of intellectual un-disciplining, the conference itself as a praxis for knowledge production, dissemination, and relations, remained a decidedly disciplined undertaking in itself. We longed for more opportunities to step away from our own safe boundaries.
The exceptions were provocative and we were encouraged by Kim Tallbear, the Queering Political Ecologies panels, by Ugo Mattei, as well as some of the conversations about degrowth. In these panels and talks, ways of knowing in community were emphasized as a way of enabling shared responsibility for more-than-human worlds. Artists and activists as well explored a range of possibilities with mostly performative engagements documented through photography, video and audio. Also included were praxis via social media, such as Cleo Woelfle-Erskine’s ‘My Dead Cutie’ project which took place over Twitter.
Our collaborative was interested in entering into a dialog with this range of political ecologists about the relationship between study, textuality and action. Praxis is the term Arendt used to describe embodied theory in action, and we wanted to think very seriously about the ways that research, argumentation, and data are applied onto or with human and non-human ecosystems; to what degree does the praxis of political ecological research, representation, and dissemination extend colonialism?
For our workshop at Undisciplined Environments, we culled from texts we’ve been reading: texts about human constructions of, and engagement with, ‘wilderness’, ‘nature’ and ethics. We stripped these texts of all punctuation and capitalization, printed them and then cut them into long strips of 3-4 phrases each. Participants were invited to treat this text as a finite resource, to remix and unearth new meanings from it before adding this resource to buckets filled with a mix of dirt, clay, seeds and water. We finally rolled these texts with the clay/soil mix into seedballs.
We then tossed and placed the seedballs among the grounds of the conference area. We also offered them to det gror i betongen, the urban commons project on the edge of legality in the southern part of Stockholm that we visited with conference-goers on Thursday, the final day of the conference. Soon, after the spring rains, these balls will sprout wildflowers for pollinators and nutrient-rich biomass grown from the carbon in our re-earthed texts.
We’d like to thank all the people at Undisciplined Environments for provoking us to think and work better, and to the hosts for including us in their rigorous 4 days of activity.
Recipe for Unearthing/ Re-earthing:
– choose 3-4 strips of text, taken from relevant texts of your choice
– these words are finite resources; you may only use each word once
– cross words off as you use them
– reassemble and unearth meaning
– cut up the words and phrases you used
– re-earth the cut up text to the bucket of seedball mixture, while uttering the words and phrases out loud as they drop into the soil
– you may mix your speaking with others’ to further engender unearthed meanings
– Mix together and form ½-¾” balls with your hands. Let dry.
Recipe for Seedballs:
– 5 parts dry clay (red is ideal)
– 3 parts dry organic compost or soil
– 1 part seed
– 1-2 parts water