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This article has a twofold ambition. It offers a history of landscaping at Søby brown coal beds—a former mining site in western Denmark—and a methodological discussion of how to write such a study. Exploring this specific industrial landscape through a series of projects that have made different natural resources appear, we show that even what is recognized as resources shifts over time according to radically different and unpredictable agendas. This indicates that the Søby landscape is fundamentally volatile, as its resourcefulness has been seen interchangeably to shift between the brown coal business, inexpensive estates for practically savvy people, pasture for grazing, and recreational forest, among other things. We discuss these rifts in landscape history, motivated by what we refer to as industriousness, to show that, at sites such as Søby, both natural resources and historical developments are made through particular ad hoc perspectives, providing their own means and ends. This view of natural resources and development processes calls for a detailed analysis of shifting landscape projects and has an essential methodological corollary, namely that fieldwork must be improvisational, situated, open-ended, and somewhat random. We thus develop a method of “dustballing,” which implies being blown here and there, combining historical records and ethnographic description in an associative kind of fieldwork that somehow navigates itself. Our aim is thus to let methodology and our story of a ruined landscape mirror one another to attempt a novel kind of natural history suitable for the Anthropocene.
Through a case study of Søby Brunkulslejer, a former brown coal mining area in Jutland, Denmark, this article focuses on how physical ground is not an inert background on which histories play out but is an active force in shaping ecological and social relations. Due to the particularities of the mining practices and geologic strata, this site—formerly used for agriculture—has become geologically unstable post-mining. Its ground now shifts in unexpected ways via sand drifts, landslides, and liquefaction. This article begins by exploring the social and environmental histories through which these novel forms of instability have emerged. It then examines the effects of these new kinds of geological instability, probing how they have sparked new land use practices and political debates that have, in turn, strongly impacted the area's patterns of biological life. Inspired by historical ecology, the article suggests how one might study the “historical geology” of a postindustrial Danish landscape, where social, geological, and biological relations are co-constitutive of each other. Methodologically, the article draws on ethnographic and archival materials, including interviews and participant observation with government officials, geoscientists, and local residents.
As industrial processes leave much of the planet in ruins, novel encounters are emerging. To study weedy succession in a former brown coal mining area in Denmark, as part of the Aarhus University Research on the Anthropocene (AURA) project, the authors undertake field observations over time and propose renewed attention to natural history. In this paper, the authors follow mycorrhizal fungi and trees as a conjuncture of natural and social histories that enable their colonization of mining spoils. Three procedures are described: first, a combination of local accounts and field observations of human and nonhuman engagements; second, a process of attunement to the forms through which fungi and trees coordinate underground; and third, collaboration with a molecular biologist to verify field-derived species identities for future analysis. The paper aims to show how natural history might expand studies of interspecies interactions that shape succession in anthropogenic landscapes. Author's Note: Please see the online supplement entitled “Mushrooms and Mycorrhiza: Paxillus,Pisolithus, and Pines: What can DNA tell us?” for more detailed information.
In recent years, as economic globalization and long-distance trade have increased, so has the unintentional transport of non-human species. During the past 30 years, the species diversity of harvestmen (Opiliones) in northern Europe has changed dramatically due to the arrival of new species from southern Europe. Here we explore the changing harvestmen diversity at two scales: 1) the scale of Europe, where we propose the hypothesis that these new, and in some cases invasive, harvestmen species have expanded northwards, aided by the increased traffic along the European transport network, and 2) the scale of specific sites in Central Jutland, Denmark, where we investigated the dispersion of non-native harvestmen species in a former brown coal mining area, as well as areas in the vicinity. We found that the proportion of harvestmen belonging to non-native species was larger in areas characterized by more car and truck traffic than in areas where human disturbance was less frequent. Thus, we theorize that the increase in vehicular transport and intracontinental trade is the main cause of the initially patchy distributions observed for non-native harvestmen in northern Europe. This study provides an example of how succession of non-native species can be driven by specific cultural landscape changes; thus we argue that this type of succession constitutes an important ethnobiological process.
The management of the Søby Brunkulslejer (the Søby brown coal area) landscape for deer hunting gives it a particular arrangement characterized by the alternation of dense forest, open clearings, and hochsitz (raised hunting blinds). Following the practices of landowners, hunters, and managers in the area, as situated and vernacular knowledges of deer behavior, perception, and habitat preferences (that is, as ethno-ethological knowledge), we show how the Søby landscape is constructed as an environment that entices and entraps large populations of deer, in particular the large and highly prized game animal, red deer (Cervus elaphus). Engaging with the ecological concept of the “landscape of fear,” which predicts that predation pressure structures how prey species utilize vegetation, terrain, and gradients between habitat types, we show how landowners actually work to generate a landscape of calmness in order to encourage large populations of deer to dwell on their property holdings. In working to produce the opposite of a landscape of fear, we show that it is the humans that end up feeling subject to surveillance and the risk of encounter, and modulate their activities and movements in the landscape according to anticipations of where deer are and how they behave. In the interactions between humans and deer that shape the landscape, other forms of affect emerge and in turn alter species relations.
On the western edge of the former brown coal mines in Søby, an area in central Jutland in Denmark that is now protected as a natural and cultural heritage site, a public eyesore hides behind dirt mounds and fences: the waste disposal and recycling facility known as AFLD Fasterholt. Established in the 1970s, when prevailing perceptions were that the entire mining area was a polluted wasteland, the AFLD Fasterholt waste and recycling plant has since changed in response to new EU waste management regulations, as well as the unexpected proliferation of non-human life in the area. Based on field research at this site—an Anthropocene landscape in the heartland of an EU-configured welfare-state—this article is a contribution to the multispecies ethnography and political ecology of wastelands. We argue that “waste” is a co-species, biopolitical happening—a complex symbolic, political, biological, and technological history. We combine ethnographic fieldwork, social history, wildlife observation, and spatial analysis to follow what we call “undomestication,” the reconfiguration of human projects by more-than-human forms of life into novel assemblies of species, politics, resources, and technologies. Waste landscapes, this article argues, are the result of unheralded multispecies collaboration that can be traced empirically by attending ethnographically to multispecies forms of “gain-making,” the ways in which humans and other species leverage difference to find economic and ecological opportunity.
The present work offers a renewed perspective on natural-kind classification in the field of ethnobiology, one that focuses on analyzing higher-order classifications as a form of narrative. By examining changes in classification of materia medica in three main medical/pharmacological texts from three time periods of the Tibetan medicine tradition, we see an overarching shift in classification from a focus on medical efficacy to one on material substance and morphology, thus suggesting influence from pre-twenty-first century western, Linnaean science. The work then links this historical narrative to the complexities of classification of materia medica among contemporary doctors of Tibetan medicine in the People's Republic of China, who utilize several classificatory schemata. The work encourages continued research in the area of diachronic classification, particularly in terms of what can be gleaned about cultural, political, and social changes in a tradition.
Polish allotment gardeners, who cultivate publicly owned urban space, constitute the largest group of city land managers in the country. Although research on allotment gardens in Poland exists, detailed studies about the uses of cultivated plants are absent. The aims of this study are to document plant richness and diversity of allotment-garden use and to explore the (changing) purpose of such gardens. Interviews, guided walks, and plant inventories were done, conducted among 46 urban allotment gardeners in three Polish cities in 2009. We documented 257 botanical taxa; the great majority were used as ornamentals (191 taxa), followed by food (66) and medicinal plants (5). However, names of edible varieties were rarely reported. In addition, very few protected and invasive species were registered in our study. Polish urban gardeners are attached to traditional food and ornamental plants (core repertoire), but they also show a moderate interest in novel plants (peripheral fashion). We observed an important shift in urban allotment garden management in Poland. Until the collapse of Communism, in the late 1980s, they had a chiefly productive character and today they are becoming more akin to pleasure gardens.
Decades of ethnobotanical observations have shown that knowledge varies significantly according to the identity attributes of participants, such as their religion, occupation, status, income level, geographic origin, and gender. Ethnobiology shares the imperative of all social science disciplines in tailoring gender-responsive methodologies and operating epistemologies. Particularly, researcher identity, performance, and preference for kinds of knowledge may have significant consequences. Here, we present a study centered around an extra effort to engage women's knowledge of sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa) in Turkey. In Turkey's Black Sea, Marmara, and Aegean regions, we conducted 142 extended ethnobotanical interviews with chestnut-utilizing participants using three distinct protocols: gender-unaddressed, men-only, and women-only. Based on participant contributions, we developed and analyzed a dataset which accounted for total reported uses, chestnut material typologies, direct and indirect plant traits, as well as unique and cultural reports. We compared the findings from these distinct protocols using Correspondence Analysis and two-way Analysis of Variance. Our results show that the knowledge reported by women-only was significantly more diverse than knowledge reported under men-only and gender-unaddressed protocols. This significant difference was most readily attributed to the higher frequency of unique and cultural knowledge shared during women-only interviews. Also, considering the routinely mixed-gender conditions under the gender-unaddressed protocol, our findings suggest that male presence, in any form, can mute, or render inadmissible, women's ethnobotanical testimony. These findings challenge the community consensus model of ethnobotanical knowledge and field methodologies that do not account for in-field gender dynamics. In conclusion, we articulate a way to amplify insights from intersectionality theory using ethnobotanical approaches.