Making time for soil
Technoscientific futurity and the pace of care
Maria Puig de la Bellacasa
Social Studies of Science 2015
The dominant drive for understanding soil has been to pace its fertility with human demand. Today, warnings about soil’s exhaustion and endangered ecology raise concerns marked by fears of gloomy environmental futures, prompting scientists and soil practitioners urgently to develop better ways of taking care of soils. Yet the pace required by ecological soil care could be at odds with the predominant temporal orientation of technoscientific intervention, which is driven by an inherently progressivist, productionist and restless mode of futurity. Through a conceptual and historical approach to the soil sciences and other domains of soil knowledge, this article looks for soil ontologies and relations to soil care that are obscured by the predominant timescape. Contemporary discussions of the future of the soil sciences expose tensions between ‘progress as usual’ – by intensifying productivity – and the need to protect the pace of soil renewal. The intimate relation of soil science with productionism is being interrogated, as ecology attempts to engage with soil as a living community rather than a receptacle for crops. In this context, and beyond science, the ‘foodweb’ model of soil ecology has become a figure of alternative human–soil relations that involve environmental practitioners in the soil community. Reading these ways of making time for soil as a form of ‘care time’ helps to reveal a diversity of more-than-human interdependent temporalities, disrupting the anthropocentric appeal of predominant timescales of technoscientific futurity and their reductive notion of innovation.
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