HOTB2020 Panel 4.3: Situated Knowledges



Panel 4.3: Situated Knowledges

“Regenerative Dwelling in the Age of Collapse: A Story”

Giulia Lepori and Michal Krawczyk (Griffith University)

“Embodied Ecocriticism: Action and Agriculture as Environmental Texts”

Bethany Williams (UC Davis)

“Wildfire in an Uncertain Time: Photography and Regeneration”

Andreas Rutkauskas (University of British Columbia Okanagan)



Q & A

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Note that questions and comments can be intended for individual speakers, the entire panel, or anyone who has posted to the Q&A. Respond directly to a particular question/comment by way of the little “reply” below it. The vertical threadlike lines are there to make it easier to see which part of the discussion (i.e. “thread”) you are taking up. 

16 replies
  1. Jemma Deer says:

    Bethany, I really enjoyed your talk on Embodied Ecocriticism. I’ve also been thinking about thought as not just an embodied process but also as a physio-chemical and metabolic process, and one amongst others. A couple of questions: do you think the roles and responsibilities of a thinking body are different from those of a non-thinking body? (I worry that such a question might too readily assume that we can distinguish human cognition from other forms of information processing, but, at the same time, I do believe that there is a certain responsibility that comes with being human.) Or maybe to put it another way: if we need to remember and recognise how far thinking is an embodied process, might we also need to recognise that human embodiment is also a thinking process? If our bodies affect our thoughts, how do (or should) our thoughts also affect our bodies and the things they do?
    I’m also interested to hear what agricultural fictions/nonfictions you have been working on or reading? Can you recommend any?

    • Bethany Williams, University of California, Davis says:

      Hi Jemma –

      Thank you – you’ve brought up such wonderful ideas and questions! I agree unequivocally, that there is a certain responsibility that comes with being human. So how have so many of us ignored, misunderstood, or otherwise gotten that responsibility so very wrong for so very long? Perhaps because we’re identifying ourselves, our thoughts and responsibilities, as something uniquely human in a way that is decidedly out-of-nature. If we are (co)existing in a way that acknowledges and is attentive to our more-than-human counterparts, trying to figure out those roles feels somehow less vexing. Perhaps “facilitation” might be a good word to describe that kind of work, in that our roles and responsibilities are to facilitate bio-regionally / socio-culturally specific and attentive forms of multi-species co-creation. Sometimes that means stepping in, sometimes that means stepping back. There is never a definitive answer or final state of stasis… it is necessarily ongoing. We will get it wrong sometimes, but as we continue to listen and learn from our counterparts, we can understand and try to fix these mistakes.

      I also like your re-framing of embodiment as a thinking process. Woah! In much of my bodywork (a never-quite-the-same combination of stretching, dancing, moving around, breathing, meditating in motion), I am trying to quiet my mind, but you’re right – a version of thinking and thought is still at play. But it seems like a categorically different kind of thought. When this happens in concert with bodywork, a sense of coming to conclusion or achieving peace or… even arriving at answers! … occurs when I stop trying to think so damn hard. It is a sort of non-linear thought, more composting that composition 😉 I’m not sure that answers your question, but I think it’s circling…

      Giulia and Michal? Andreas? Care to chime in?

      If we allow our thoughts to truly impact our bodies, we would likely begin living very different lives, and that is scary. This is the “action” piece of the work. We know and believe so much “in theory” without following through in practice – what would it look like if we did? For me, it looks like moving out to the sticks and spending more time gardening than anything else. Of course, this is a luxury many cannot afford. But relatedly, how I think about what I can/cannot “afford” has shifted. I may live in a camper, but I spend less time sitting at a desk and suffering from sciatic nerve pain. Who can put a price on that? But, more to your point, I think this starts small, and is an ongoing process of really learning to listen. Pondering what our lives would look like if we listened to our bodies is a great place to start.

      Applicable reads include:
      Emergency Magazine ( – but check out the print version!)
      The New Farmer’s Almanac (Greenhorns –
      Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower
      Leah Penniman’s Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land
      Janisse Ray’s The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food
      Helen and Scott Nearing’s Living the Good Life + Loving and Leaving the Good Life
      Patricia Damery’s Farming Soul: A Tale of Initiation
      Ernest Collenbach’s Ecotopia
      Pam Houston’s Deep Creek: Finding Hope in the High Country
      Mike Madison’s Fruitful Labor: The Ecology, Economy, and Practice of a Family Farm
      Starhawk’s The Fifth Sacred Thing
      …and anything Wendell Berry 🙂

      • Jemma Deer says:

        Thanks so much for these responses, and for the generous list of recommendations. Everything there is new to me, so much to look into 🙂 If you have the time or interest, my own video (in panel 7.6) fleshes out a bit more my own thinking on human responsibility from an evolutionary/multispecies standpoint:

        Thanks again for a beautiful presentation. Another thought on getting one’s fingers dirty (or soil-y) – did you know that the noun soil (as in earth/humus) is etymologically distinct from the verb soil (as in to make dirty)? The noun soil comes from the Latin ‘solum’ (ground), while the verb to soil comes from French ‘sulhar’, which in turn came from Latin ‘suculāre’, diminutive of ‘sus’ (pig). Rather rude towards pigs, since they are not dirty creatures, but interesting that the homophonic association between soil and that which is dirty is coincidental!


      • Giulia Lepori says:

        Dear Bethany and Jemma,

        I enjoyed your intra-panel conversation. Even if quite late, I do care to chime in as one of the reasons I started my doctoral project was to follow the thread of combining thought with action. Somehow, in the beginning, I thought that the permacultural lifestyle (like any other radical/alternative manners of dwelling) meant an alignment of thinking with acting. And yes, according to my fieldwork experiences, there is some truth in it – a bit like what Bethany wrote, thoughts impact the bodies in the sense that there is a certain coherence between what is known and how it is acted upon. However, it isn’t so simple, so reductive! There is the question that Jemma mentions of how thinking in itself is a process, an action (so, is there really a separation between thinking and acting?). I mean, of course, if our thoughts are affected by our bodies then the opposite ought to be true, as the mind is an element of this world too – utterly inseparable from the body. Nonetheless, It doesn’t matter which cultural tradition informs our living – whether we rely more on the upper or lower part of our organism to direct our lives – eventually the duality is present because of what Jemma talked about in her presentation: the ability to have self-consciousness.
        This said, what if we gave self-consciousness an extended value? I intend one that considers the self as not only ours/human but of the world, of the more-than-human relations that constitute us. In the ecological humanities, this is not a new idea (see Bateson, Mathews, Lovelock, for example). Yes, true from modern philosophical points of view, it is not the turtle that orders thoughts and things into categories that are given ethical qualities. But what if it was? We certainly cannot presume that our languages and thoughts would be the same if turtles or other beings were to stop existing (like it’s happening). And this takes me to what Jemma called the extinction of thought – is this the price to pay for the extinction of living creatures? Human evolution – any evolution – is so connected and dependent on the environment that it is necessary to reflect on what type of humans we are becoming in the age of speedy collapse and extinction. To be sure, this age reminds us that the speed of mind doesn’t follow the physical one: both a curse and a power at once. I guess where I am heading is: we can change our thoughts quite rapidly, but as they are enormously affected by the physical reality they won’t work within the same timescale. Here Bethany’s observation about ‘non-linear’ thoughts ‘more composting that composition’ is quite poignant to me: if I allow to see my self as the many selves it is made of, I glimpse the vision of human ‘worlds’ as multitemporal and multispatial. Therefore, to link it with Jemma’s end of her talk, the quickness of our acting should perhaps accept the mutiplicity of times and spaces that create the world. Considering what seems to differentiate us – the imaginative abilities connected with language use – we could treasure Calvino’s idea of quickness for the literature of the new millenium. What is the rhythm we want our collective story to have? If we think that we are close to the end, how can we divert it by imagining alternative digressions?
        I hope I didn’t leap too much from one thought to the other 🙂 but I’m very fascinated by these contradictions! Thanks


  2. Giulia Lepori says:

    Dear Bethany, we loved your video-talk! We were sitting comfortably on our bed after a weekend camping close to Brisbane. Scratching our backs as we listened to your voice, we also listened to the rain pouring outside. Resonant. We enjoyed the way you presented your awareness of the environmental and social injustices that support our lives. As foreign PhD candidates in Australia, not only do we carry our different European backgrounds, but we also try to grapple with the fact that we are hosted by a land that is unceded and tells the story of a multiplicity of encounters, which are (and have always been) more-than-human. I, Giulia, often wonder what is the need of ecocriticism today. How to combine thought with action? If thinking is already an action per se, then is it enough to do ecological critique without getting the hands dirty? Yes, to some it might be. And that’s OK. As you said, not every ecocritic should be a farmer. However, I feel the need to combine thinking with practices which results are more tangible in the present. I agree that the environmental humanities (and ecocriticism) can benefit from transdisciplinary approaches that make full use of our bodies. Particularly as these can remind us that humans are inextricably bodyminds. I am and we are very happy to be in the same panel. Please, tell us what you think about our presentation. Looking forward to read more from you. Cheers

    • Bethany Williams, University of California, Davis says:

      Giulia and Michal –

      Wow – your video is such a visual treat (those shots from the surface of the pond!), filmed beautifully as an exploration and companion to the concepts you explore. I think the practices of hope you introduce are absolutely key in figuring out how ecocriticism might ‘matter’ today, or how we might begin to combine our thoughts and actions. There is so much good and important work on negative affect in/as/of the Anthropocene, which makes sense: the situation is dire. But I’ve found that in my work and in my personal life, hope and possibility and (re)generation and abundance are better motivators for action. These also happen to be the hallmarks of permaculture / agro-ecological systems of production. By committing to listening, observing, and working with the nonhuman actors in these systems, we find that we are no longer operating in systems of scarcity. As you noted, this takes committed work and situated acts of care, often for prolonged periods. And it does not negate death, loss, or apocalypse, but exists within/alongside it. As you said, “no illusions, just magic”!

      I also really appreciate the work you’re doing in telling this story, this act of narration as worlding / storytelling as existence, as a form of critique. If we believe that “It matters what matters we use to think other matters with; it matters what stories we tell to tell other stories with; it matters what knots knot knots, what thoughts think thoughts, what descriptions describe descriptions, what ties tie ties. It matters what stories make worlds, what worlds make stories” (Donna Haraway, Staying With the Trouble), our modes of critique need to be drastically expanded.

      Resonance indeed! Can’t wait to keep chatting –

      • Giulia Lepori says:

        Hi Bethany, thank you for your comment and compliments!

        We feel that we are on the same wavelength! Much gratitude for reiterating some of the concepts that support our work, such as practicing hope and acts of care. Definitely, these are greater motivator than concentrating on the bads of reality. This statement can easily take us to the question of whose crisis we are living and the fact that we are all on the same boat, but as Marco Armiero said, “not with the same privileges!” What is bad for us might be normality for someone else and vice versa. Or, and this phrase will bring about ethical issues, what is bad for us as in humans could be good for nonhumans. Where do we draw the line? Andreas might have some thoughts on this…?
        Here is where ecocriticism, for example, can help us tell different/new stories, which can also have an effect on our way to divide the world into good and bad. By adopting multispecies and elemental perspectives, by letting the nonhuman be our co-author, we can be reminded of the complexity of the world’s life. Such complexity and interconnectedness need to be feeding our imagination.


  3. Andreas Rutkauskas says:

    Giulia, Michal and Bethany,

    Thank you all for bringing questions of embodiment and the land to this panel. Admittedly, I had not considered this angle in the preparation of my paper, yet I believe that we share some fundamentally similar values regarding the correlation between our bodily actions as researchers, and the ways in which we disseminate our research.

    As a visual artist, I am intrigued by your refreshing emphasis on the microcosm. Research practice pertaining to landscape is often concerned with the macro – aerial or satellite representations of change over time. In the case of Giulia and Michal’s presentation, providing the viewer with the donkeys’ names personalizes our relationship to this place. In your presentation Bethany, the viewer can connect to your embodied experience in the earth thanks to the close-up footage of your hands at work.

    Bethany, I was moved by your articulation of the disproportionate exposure of BIPOC communities to health hazards associated with climate change / ecological collapse. In the case of wildfire, this is certainly reflected in the disproportionately great number of Indigenous communities that inhabit the wildland urban interface.

    Giulia and Michal, your presentation made me consider concepts of regeneration of the land as moving towards something new, rather than a historically ‘authentic’ format. I am wondering if you have any thoughts pertaining to concepts of Indigenous and introduced species? Bethany, perhaps you have something to add as well?

    Overall, I found both of your aesthetic approaches to be inspiring, and a fantastic departure from typical conference presentation formats. While I hope that we may continue this conversation in person someday, I commend you on the ability to provide an experience that went beyond what a face-to-face symposium could possibly offer. Thank you for allowing me to embody these landscapes virtually!

    • Bethany Williams, University of California, Davis says:

      Andreas –

      Thank you for your presentation – I can’t help but wish I could witness your photos at scale and in person! And thanks for kicking off the next phase in this conversation.

      Before I tackle your questions, I’d like to begin where you ended in your presentation, and take a moment to appreciate your optimistic outlook on how COVID might help folks get used to altering behavior in terms of confronting larger ecological crises. You noted the spectrum of reactions to restrictions and mandates, but seem to suggest that perhaps we are now collectively more open to individual actions being able to impact the common good. This is an angle I hadn’t considered, and really hope you’re right! I think it’s possible that this pandemic serves as a reiteration, and yes, maybe an introduction to the idea that caring for others is the best thing we can do for ourselves as individuals.

      Your work serves an important need in cultivating these kinds of conversations. Creating a critical foil to the disaster/hero complex created by mainstream media in representations of fire, fire fighting, etc. (and noting that fire knowledge and controlled burning are absent from these representations) is absolutely essential. We have to start telling new stories. I especially appreciated how you acknowledge those species adapted to living with fire, and their different models of living-with/within fire. Along those lines, “self-pruning as a strategy for fire protection,” is a lesson we could all learn! Living west of Davis CA for the past four years, I witnessed many lethal and nonlethal fires roll through, and each year I was forced to consider what I take with me if/when forced to evacuate. When I thought about it, the list was short. Part of rebuilding our relationship with fire necessitates a reconsideration of our relationship with stuff.

      The connections between these issues feel intuitive and rich.

      In terms of native/indigenous plant species vs. non-natives or introduced species – woah. Yes! This is a huge conversation, something I’ve thought a lot about, and a topic that healthy fire regimes and conversations about them might actually be able to help shape in very positive ways. In California, much of the conversation surrounding invasive species is couched in terms that reflect and amplify hateful attitudes toward migrant workers, immigrants, and undocumented people. It’s not uncommon to hear a farmer curse the yellow star thistle and their immigrant workers in the same breath, and with the same sort of language. Invasive! Noxious! Toxic! Harmful to life and livelihood… but what I know about invasive species is that they thrive on damaged land. They take over land that has been blighted by monoculture, industry, or general lack of care. The conversation tends to focus on the plant, rather than the damage human have done to enable their presence there. “Permies” – or permaculture practitioners – prefer to call these plants “pioneer plants.” I think this is helpful in re-framing how we see these plants (they really pull themselves up by their bootstraps, don’t they), but simultaneously, remind ourselves that we are all invasive species in this place.

      On that note, how does your working group Living with Wildfire plan to incorporate Indigenous fire knowledge into your work? I realize that this work may be on pause right now, but I’m still eager to hear!

      Many thanks!

      • Andreas Rutkauskas says:

        Bethany, thanks for your thoughts. Seeing as how the impact of COVID-19 continues to evolve weekly, I was admittedly reluctant to speak about the potential ecological benefits in my presentation. I recorded the footage five weeks ago, and the situation has already changed drastically in the Okanagan Valley. At the time of recording, tourism had been halted almost entirely, but now the annual influx of visitors from across the country has returned. Fewer cars on the roads and fewer flights continue to provide a drastic reduction in carbon emissions, as British Columbians are encouraged to vacation in their own ‘back yards’, rather than travel inter-provincially. Your skepticism regarding long-term change is understandable however, as environmental regulations in both Canada and the U.S. are being eased in order to help stimulate economic recovery.

        I appreciate your comment regarding ‘stuff’ above. For the past five years, I have lived a fairly nomadic life, and was able to pack my personal belongings and move with nothing but a Subaru and a bike rack. I believe in selling, recycling, or donating any objects that I do not use regularly. Too many of us collect unnecessarily, and the pandemic has also revealed correlations between uncertainty, stress and a rise in consumerism.

        Regarding the Living with Wildfire project and Indigenous knowledge, we are really just in the listening phase at the moment. The university has regulations governing research and collaboration with Indigenous communities in the time of COVID, therefore things are really on pause in this area in particular. While I am the artist in the research group and my images may provoke change within certain communities, other collaborators are truly in positions to affect regional planning and policy decisions. In this capacity, we hope to incorporate Indigenous knowledge in the form of visualizations and modelling future fire scenarios when in a position to impact change at a regional, provincial, or federal level.

    • Giulia Lepori says:

      Dear Andreas, thank you for your fire-friendly video! We already feel the effect that your words had on our perception of fire. The urgency to reconsider this element is fundamental within the broader question of how to live with/in land during the Anthropocene. And, of course, Australian Aboriginal fire management also has much to contribute to this re-discovery.
      We appreciated your visual artistic work both as a form of documentation and as a mediation that positively and critically mitigates mass-media representation of fire. As we listened to you and watched the images, we thought of an art-activist project that is efficiently able to bridge the communication between different types of audience. Along Bethany’s lines, we also hope that your reflections on the possibilities of change brought about by COVID-19 turn out to be right. Certainly this symposium is a great example of newer forms of adaptions that we need to welcome in order to regenerate this era.
      Our video-presentations, as you noted, already are examples of hybrid methods of investigation and how to spread the research. Your art practice, in particular, addresses all public with much broader scopes beyond the academia. We are happy to get to know it/you!
      Another comment of appreciation: we enjoyed your mention of an aesthetic of regeneration after wildfire, which subverts the narrative of destruction. And, being dedicated to “telling new stories” (as Bethany wrote), we liked that you conclued with the idea of keeping fire within our imagination. That’s how we can weave other stories…
      Regarding your question about Indigenous vs introduced species, yes, we’ve been giving it a lot of thought! First of all, deciding what’s Indigenous and what’s introduced in the plants’ realm is quite tricky considering that, as humans, we populated/colonised all possible corners of the world creating wonderful and colliding multispecies-elemental encounters. In many cases, our mobility as a species is the reason behind plants’ mobility. In Australia we can think of, for example, blackberries and the common broom (aka English broom), which are defined as invasive colonising species and are indeed a direct consequence of colonisation. As Bethany observed, such pioneers plants thrive where land has been exploited or blasted, to use Tsing’s term, by humans. Perhaps, it is time to start taking care of why it is so and what are the lessons to be learnt by the plants themselves. Therefore, our starting point is again the acknowledgement that such is the land we inhabit: degraded. How to live ‘well’ in these land(scapes)?
      In our Australian fieldwork, in Victoria, the above introduced ‘weeds’ are not sprayed with agrotoxics produced by some big multinational company (which is the popular approach to ‘the invasion’, by the way very similar to how asylum seekers “refugees” are being treated during this pandemic, as in hide the problem instead of caring), they are tamed by another introduced animal species that is goats (see Artist as Family and Goathand cooperative). By eating these predominant plants they lower their level of vegetation, which allows more light to reach the ground giving the possibility to Indigenous species to flourish again. A strange sensation? An ‘introduced’ species is controlled by another ‘introduced’ species in the ‘Indigenous’ biome of Dja Dja Wurrung Country. Similarly, in Sicily, the disa that we nominated in the video is considered invasive in the area where the Centre Thar do Ling is. Predominant and taking up too much space, Dondolo and Giorgiana love it! They’ve been eating it for years now, defecating and urinating as they move along the land. By the time the communities of plants will reach an adequate level of regeneration, we will be old. Should it be approached by uprooting it all or poisoning it dry? Or shall we take the responsibility of the damages that we’ve inflicted on the land through our anthropocentric manners and collaborate with other-than-human spatialities and temporalities?
      We hope that this replies a little to your question. Thank you for moving the conversation to this topic and for the compliments too! We’re also curious to know more about the development of your project.
      Bye for now

      • Andreas Rutkauskas says:

        Dear Giulia and Michal, thank you for your comments and reflections on my prompts.

        I resonate with the concept of combatting an invasive (or introduced) species through the introduction of other introduced species. I have been thinking about how a return to the ‘way things were’ is an utter impossibility. We need to embrace hybrid models of landscape restoration, which begins with a public understanding of some of the things that lay at their feet. This brings me back to my earlier compliment regarding the footage in your presentation, as well as Bethany’s.

        During the field course that I taught last summer, which I mention in my video, one of our first exercises was to walk on the land and discuss what species we could name. It was astonishing to find that none of my students could name Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata), which is the civic flower of Kelowna, and one of the most prevalent Indigenous species in the region. One student made the observation that ‘it looks like a sunflower’, which is indeed correct, as it is a member of that family. Knowing the names of the plants that surround us is the first important step in understanding the history of how plants have colonized the places where we live, recreate, and grow our food. Our collective loss of language to describe ecology is concerning.

        I hope that presentations such as ours can reach a broad audience outside of the academy. True progress comes when we go beyond preaching to the converted.

        • Giulia Lepori says:

          Dear Andreas,

          Thank you for the heart-warming last phrase of your reply! Michal and I were very grateful to engage in this multiple dialogue.

          Definitely art and literature can help in the recovery/restoration (or creation?) of language loss. Here I don’t so much intend the botanical names, which can be accessed more easily, but the ethnobotanical ones – and the stories behind them. Some of these stories, if found again, can uncover the ancestral human attachment to the world and could affect current modes of perception/action.
          I was just reading some notes from last year’s conference on UK forestry and I was captured by the reflections made by Fiona Stafford (keynote: Why Trees Matter). She talked about how the widespread aesthetic appreciation of trees in painting (Ruskin, Constable) and poetry (Burns, Clare) corresponded with UK reaching the peak of deforestation. It was in that moment, when the lack of memory of druidic tradition (for exmple) was starting to affect consciences, that people began reflecting on disappearence.
          Thus, linking this to your considerations about the LIving with Wildfire project, I believe that your art will have as significant an impact as other contributions. Also, your work made me remember this artist – Cecylia Malik, and her 365 photographs of trees during a period of protests against foolish logging in Poland.
          In her photos she performs with the trees. In some of your photos, the regenerated plants perform alone. The message, I reckon, is still the awakening of dormant feelings of care.

          Public understanding, as you wrote, is key to this work.

  4. Anne Pasek says:

    I just finished watching Giulia Lepori and Michal Krawczyk’s presentation. I really enjoyed the richly sensory sounds and images that accompanied your commentary. Your choice in camera angles and repetition worked well, I thought, to bring us into the textures and rhythms of permacultural work/relationships.

    That said, I have two questions about this account, and about permaculture in general:
    1) You frequently frame the landscape with literary points of reference: a text, semiotics, a story, etc. I’m wondering what lies behind that decision. What does this vocabulary advance that more conventional ecological or anthropological language does not?
    2) Do you worry that you might be giving too celebratory an account of permaculture? I wonder, for instance, about your hosts’ access to land tenure in the first place, as well as the wider economic and social relations that extend off the land. There’s also, as Andreas mentions above, room for anti-colonial critiques of the forms and central figures in permacultural knowledge production. How, in other words, does this land connect to territories and communities beyond the pastoral?

    Thank you in advance for your thoughts, and thank you again for your presentation.

  5. Giulia Lepori says:

    Dear Anne,
    Thanks for your kind feedback and for the questions you raised.

    Regarding the first one, we are glad you noticed the use of such language. It certainly has a purpose. Our interest in ‘landscape’ both as a concept and a material entity indeed starts from the anthropological reflection on landscape by Tim Ingold. His work is focused on redefining our perception of what land is in general, taking the much-utilised word ‘landscape’ back to its etymology—land that is shaped. This perspective informs our vision of land being shaped by more-than-human communities as these are shaped by it, which means that land(scape) is the assemblage of more-than-human agencies and expressiveness. This said, we find that the ‘literary’ or ‘linguistic’ vocabulary sustains the idea that humans are not the only communicative beings in the world. In our investigations, we have found that the ecocritical framework (see Iovino and Oppermann; ecocriticism is one among many in the environmental humanities) provides a language that conceives matter—in this case, land—as ‘storied matter’ and/or a text. We are using the material ecocritical approach to read the permacultural sites of our fieldworks and subsequently write down our interpretations as ethnographic stories. This is relevant on two counts: on the one hand, it shows that we do not communicate just with verbal acts, but also with nonverbal actions such as listening, walking, embodying the contour of the terrain…; on the other hand, it bestows storytelling abilities on more-than-human beings and elements. Other-than-human agency and communication might be quite obvious at an academic level, however the general civil way of behaving (particularly in the West-ernised world) does not reflect such knowledge. Therefore, considering—and this panel is a reflection on the issue—that most of our knowledge today is not situated, we believe in the necessity to transform humanistic approaches by beginning with reframing the language that we use. By allowing literary and artistic perspectives to encounter, for example, permaculture—to be sure, it is not the only pathway—we can present the creative capacities of composting, tree growth, life in a pond, among many.
    For the second question, we feel far from giving celebratory accounts of permaculture. To begin with, we are aware that this is not the only way of living with/in the land and each one of us chooses what is most appropriate to their needs, possibilities and cultural background. Upon this reflection, it is important to underline that one of the guidelines of permaculture is ‘start where you are, use what you have, do what you can’—perhaps that is why it is embraced worldwide at different levels. We are very attentive towards the possibility of self-enclosure that such lifestyles bring with them, but then again, each life way is self-enclosing to some extent even when dominant.
    Yes, our hosts managed to buy the land, which, considered the socio-economically/environmentally degraded context of rural inland Sicily, was cheap for Italian standards. But we feel that the point is not discussing their access to land and how they make a living monetarily by engaging with the rest of society. We could use another paragraph to describe the variety of cases of permaculture sites or practices that we encountered during our researches, to exhibit their varied socio-economic situations and attempt demonstrating that, no, it is not something that only privileged people can do. However, we often like to remind that permaculture is a philosophy of practice that was created by white privileged people attentive to social and environmental injustices for their counterparts, so it is not a surprise that a lot of the practitioners have such background.
    As for us, we’d like to share with you that we feel very privileged to do what we do and to be able to stick to what is hopeful in a world of much-shown disaster. One day we wish to meet with a piece of land where to continue to deepen our ecological awareness.
    Regarding your last interrogation, we are not sure that we can apply the anti-colonial and pastoral concepts, which have a distinctly Anglo mark, to the Southern Italian circumstances of Thar dö Ling. To be sure, Southern Italy has a longstanding history of colonisation by the very state government. It is also because of such history that some people are deciding to dwell ‘permaculturally’—some with land, some who share, some renting—in order to try to develop ways out of the crisis that has been permeating Europe for the past 12 years or so.

    Thank you for your attention, hopefully we replied clearly enough. We’re also curious to see your presentation!

    • Anne Pasek says:

      Thanks for your detailed response!

      I’m also interested in the kinds of vocabularies we can build or repurpose to describe nonhuman or more than human forms of communication. Language, at least for my purposes, seems a bit freighted with structuralist histories, though I agree that there are interesting alternative currents to explore. Ingold, as you mentioned, is an enlivening entry to that conversation. I myself find cybernetics and media theory to hold a lot of promise to this end, though not without their complications. Natasha Meyers’ work on the choreography of plants is one other direction here, and interestingly ‘nonrepresentational,’ as the geographers say.

      I appreciate your push back on the questions of race, class, and land tenure. My question is certainly situated in my position as a settler in North America, where questions of land relations are freighted with prior and ongoing histories of Indigenous dispossession and racial capitalism. These tensions seem to be present — and sometimes openly discussed — in permaculture circles in the continent. I’m curious if they register at all in Europe. I think my concern about celebratory accounts comes back to the existing, very human, politics that persist in more than human encounters. On both continents, I think, it’s hard to imagine a scale up of the relational practices of permaculture outside of wider, repatriative/rematriative shifts in land use and political economy.

      Another way to phrase this might be, what’s the connection between the restoration of degraded land relations and the reconfiguration of wider social relations beyond the landscape, as you and your informants understand it? How does one lead into the other, and vice versa?

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