Ethnography in/of practices of world and earth making

Authors: Matthew Kearnes*, University of New South Wales
Topics: Cultural Geography
Keywords: landscape ethnography; carbon sequestration; climate change; cultural geography
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 4:40 PM / 6:20 PM
Room: Bayside B, Sheraton, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Earth processes are increasingly being enrolled as unwitting, and at times reluctant, accomplices in efforts to address anthropogenic environmental change. In this context, new sites for rethinking the nature of ‘the field’ in ethnographic engagements with practices of environmental management have become apparent. Part of a broader project focused on ‘terrestrialising carbon’, in this paper I reflect on an ethnographic study of land-based carbon sequestration practices, that are central to efforts to achieve a balance between anthropogenic carbon emissions and direct carbon removal. Drawing on research conducted in the US, Australia and the UK, I explore the ways in which practices of land-based carbon retention are being drawn into projects of landscape restoration, overlain by a rich array of aesthetic sensibilities. Designed to “meet the triple challenge of landscape restoration, climate change and food security,” carbon sequestration and landscape restoration technologies are being enrolled in political assessments of the feasibility for directly manipulating climatic systems – often referred to as climate engineering or negative emission technologies, designed to directly remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Taking up a ‘landscape ethnography’ approach to this emerging ‘carbon frontier’, and the re-imagination of soil as a site of promissory and speculative world-making at the interface between the logics of carbon removal and agricultural intensification, I conclude by reflecting on the prospects for reimagining ‘the field’ in ethnographic approaches to environmental and climatic change.

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