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MESH Research Fruits

Public Lecture: Anthropogenic Soils | Recuperating Human-Soil Relationships on a Troubled Planet

Professor Daniel Münster and Professor Ursula Münster (University of Oslo)

February 2, 2023 | 17.45 – 19.15 | Neuer Senatssaal, UoC main building

Soils are central for our understanding and responses to the contemporary environmental crisis. The survival of all terrestrial life, including human life, depends on the availability of healthy living soils. In the Anthropocene, soils are among the ecosystems critically affected by industrial and agricultural land uses. While the thin layer of planetary topsoil has formed over millennia, our soils are increasingly shaped and affected by human (anthropogenic) activity: These include multiple forms of soil degradation and erosion through chemical contamination, radioactivity, and the loss of nutrients, but also practices of soil care. Working with soil for millennia, human communities have developed a great diversity of technologies for enhancing, cleaning up, and restoring soils for food production, and after natural and technological disasters.

In this talk, we present the environmental humanities led project Anthropogenic Soils that studies the ways people in different parts of the world have invented, practiced, and imagined ways of recuperating soil health. We argue that soils need to be conceptualized not as natural resources to be exploited, but as anthropogenic, as lively and dynamic natural-cultural composition responsive to human recuperation and healing. The project combines studies of repairing contaminated, toxic, and depleted soils in different parts of the globe –from South Asia to Norway and the Arctic –as well as artistic and multimedia research into the ways in which Indigenous writers and artists offer alternative modes of relating to soils, and for building possible future of earthly survival.

Closely collaborating across the humanities, social sciences arts and life sciences, SOILS combines ethnographic, multispecies and praxiographic methodologies with speculative and artistic research to generate new knowledge about emergent human-soil relations.


Professor Daniel Münster (Department of Community Health and Global Medicine, University of Oslo)

Daniel Münster is Associate Professor of Medical Anthropology at the Department of Community Health and Global Medicine at the University of Oslo, Norway. His ethnographic work in South India is located at the intersection of health and the environment. He has conducted anthropological fieldwork in Tamil Nadu (Tanjavur District) and Kerala (Wayanad). In Wayanad he has explored farmers perspectives on wildlife and forest conservation. He is currently involved in a research project that explores more-than-human health in agriculture with a focus on soil repair technologies. A second project explores the contributions of spirituality to environmental movements. His ethnographic work on South India has been published in journals such as Contributions to Indian Sociology, Development and Change, Focaal, Modern Asian Studies, Journal of Political Ecology, Current Anthropology, Environmental Sociology, and Asian Medicine.

Professor Ursula Münster (Oslo School of Environmental Humanities(OSEH), University of Oslo)

Ursula Münster is Associate Professor of Environmental Humanities and the Director of the Oslo School of Environmental Humanities (OSEH), University of Oslo. Her research combines approaches from multispecies studies, political ecology, feminist STS, and environmental anthropology to study how more-than-human relationships change and evolve in the Anthropocene. Her long-term ethnographic fieldwork in South India has focused on gender, protected forests and the effects of resource extraction and forest governance on the relationships between people and wildlife at the forest frontier. Her focus on interspecies conflict and care in India contributes to debates on conservation and the possibilities of coexistence in anthropogenic environments. Her more recent work focuses on soil recuperation in landscapes shaped by extractive activities.