May 09 | Timescales, Memory, and Nuclear Geographies: A Conversation with Gabrielle Hecht and Julie Salverson

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

4:00-6:00 PM

Humanities 1, room 210

Source: Michael Brill, Site Design to Mark the Dangers of Nuclear Waste for 10,000 Years. Buffalo: The Buffalo Organization for Social and Technological Innovation Inc. (BOSTI). 1991, pl 15.

Source: Michael Brill, Site Design to Mark the Dangers of Nuclear Waste for 10,000 Years. Buffalo: The Buffalo Organization for Social and Technological Innovation Inc. (BOSTI). 1991, pl 15.

Writers and activists researching nuclear things face “the challenge of rendering visible occluded, sprawling webs of interconnectedness” (Nixon 2011, 13). This discussion features two writers whose work traces the sprawling webs of nuclear geographies, binding uranium mining and its dispersed radioactive legacies. Julie Salverson (Professor of Drama and Cultural Studies, Queen’s University) links the mines of Northern Canada with the U.S.’s use of nuclear weapons in Japan, and the later disaster at Fukushima, while Gabrielle Hecht (Professor of History and Nuclear Security, Stanford) examines the afterlives of neocolonial uranium mining by French companies in Gabon. Salverson and Hecht experiment with different conceptual and writerly methods to trace the geographies of these extractive economies and their uneven effects.

This discussion with Salverson and Hecht is moderated by UCSC’s Science and Justice Research Center. We invite event attendees to read a representative article from each author, email Lindsey Dillon at for a copy of the readings.

  • Salverson, Julie and Peter C. van Wyck. “Through the Lens of Fukushima.” Forthcoming in Through Post Atomic Eyes, edited by Claudette Lauzon and John O’Brian. McGill-Queen’s University Press.
  • Hecht, Gabrielle. “Interscalar Vehicles for an African Anthropocene: On Waste, Temporality, and Violence.” Cultural Anthropology 33, no. 1 (2018): 109-141.


Nixon, Rob. Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. Harvard University Press, 2011.

Jan 24 | Wiring Gaia at the Water-Energy Nexus: Indigenous Water Guardians and Decolonizing Water Science

Tuesday, January 24, 2017
11:40-1:15 PM
Rachel Carson College 301 (Sociology)

As emblematized by the ongoing protests at Standing Rock, water is a foundational element—biophysical, epistemological, and spiritual—in Indigenous societies and lifeways. Dr. Karen Bakker discusses how this crucial life source has come under increased threat due to the claimed necessity of extractivist development projects which impact the lives of all relations: human and more-than-human. Joining her in the conversation will be S&J Faculty Affiliates Ben Crow (Professor of Sociology) and Kristina Lyons (Assistant Professor of Feminist Science Studies).

On Monday, January 23 in Humanities 2, room 259 at 4:30PM, Karen and her UCSC colleagues will screen, KONELĪNE: Our Beautiful Land, directed by award-winning filmmaker Nettie Wild. The film just had its U.S. premier at the Palm Springs International Film Festival playing to a sold out house. KONELĪNE: our land beautiful is a sensual, cinematic celebration of northwestern British Columbia, and all the dreamers who move across it. Some hunt on the land. Some mine it. Set deep in the traditional territory of the Tahltan First Nation, KONELĪNE captures beauty and complexity as one of Canada’s vast wildernesses undergoes irrevocable change.

Karen Bakker is Professor, Canada Research Chair, and Director of the Program on Water Governance at the University of British Columbia ( She is currently the midwife (aka Principal Investigator) to a research collective of Indigenous community members, academics, artists, activists who are striving to decolonize water in both theory and practice ( A Rhodes Scholar with a PhD from Oxford, Karen is trained in both the natural and social sciences. She currently works at the intersection of political economy and political ecology, and publishes on a wide range of environmental issues (water, hydropower, food, energy).

Jan 23 | Film Screening: KONELĪNE: our land beautiful

Best Canadian Documentary, Hot Docs 2016

konelineTRANSCENDENT… epic spectacle. […]She lets the camera hunt for art in every frame, mining veins of abstract beauty rather than sharp nuggets of political narrative”  Brian D. Johnson, Maclean’s

ASTONISHING, stunningly beautiful. […] Equal parts sigh, song and cry.”  Linda Barnard, Toronto Star

BREATHTAKING, gripping. […] Finds beauty in unexpected places.” David Perri, The Northern Miner

WINNER of the Best Canadian Film of 2016 at the HOT DOCS Intl’ Film Festival, KONELĪNE: our land beautiful brings its sensual and visceral ride to UC Santa Cruz:

Monday, January 23, 2017

Humanities 2, room 259  4:30PM


Celebrated for using art to seek beauty and complexity where you least expect to find them, KONELĪNE (pronounced Ko-na- lee´-na)  is garnering rave reviews for its fair-minded and cinematically stunning exploration of northwest British Columbia and the extraordinary people who move across that land.  Set deep in the traditional territory of the Tahltan First Nation, KONELĪNE captures an epic canvas of beauty and complexity as one of Canada’s vast wildernesses undergoes irrevocable change.

Directed by award-winning filmmaker Nettie Wild, KONELĪNE delights in exploding stereotypes with scenes of breathtaking spectacle. Heidi Gutfrucht, both a big-game hunter and fierce environmentalist, swims her 17 horses across the unforgiving Stikine River. A Tahltan First Nation diamond driller bores deep into the same territory his elders are fighting to protect.  And a white hunter carries a bow and arrow while a Tahltan elder shoots moose with a high-powered rifle.

Cameraman Van Royko won the 2016 Award for Best Documentary Cinematography from the Canadian Society of Cinematographers for KONELĪNE, which is shot and projected in wide screen with surround sound.

KONELĪNE: our land beautiful is a cinematic poem that cuts through the rhetorical roar of our times. It’s turning heads and changing minds. Don’t miss it.  96 mins with conversation to follow.


KONELĪNE: our land beautiful is a Canada Wild production, produced in association with Telefilm Canada and the Rogers Group of Funds through the Theatrical Documentary Program; Super Channel; Canal D, a division of Bell Media Inc.; Knowledge Network; The Canada Media Fund; developed in association with The National Film Board and Creative BC; produced with the participation of Rogers Documentary Fund; the Shaw Media/Hot Docs Completion Fund; the Canadian Film or Video Tax Credit; and the Province of British Columbia Film Incentive BC.

Sept 13 | Blum Center | SEEDS, SOILS and POLITICS: An Anthropology Roundtable

Blum Seeds and Soils

Twenty anthropologists and ethnographers from across Africa, Asia, Latin America, and North America will discuss new forms of public and private governance over seeds and soils, how these influence farmers engagement, and how do citizens mobilize to regain control over the seeds and soils on which their daily sustenance, their health and well-being depend.

By considering the relationship of farmers with the living things of soil and seeds together with their relationship to different forms of national and international policy-making, anthropologists engage this comprehensive approach to examine how environmental change is co-created through policies and practices. They will share the outcome of their recent discussions in this roundtable.

Contemporary ways of cultivating and agricultural development strategies are framed by the marketplace: typically today such measures are privatized, corporate, and profit driven, and thus they frequently neglect or even devalue local survival strategies among the world’s poorest. Please join in this public panel that will address the ways in which states and corporations govern living objects that shape peoples’ sustenance, determine the survival of mankind, and the quality of life which have fueled the mobilization of citizens worldwide. Anthropologists have started to analyze the discourses and strategies of farmers, foodies and environmentalists who try to shed the status of consumer, stakeholder or expert and reclaim the status of citizens and of food sovereignty instead of food security. How is the issue of citizenship, the right to food, the claim to be protected from fake food and seeds reformulated? How do these notions impact on decision-making, and the notion/perception of economic democracy?


Co-sponsored by the Wenner Gren Foundation, National Science Foundation, UCSC Blum Center, Science and Justice Research Center, and UCSC Dept. of Anthropology.


September 13 | 2:00-4:30pm | Louden Nelson Community Center, room 1

May 24 | Reading Group: Eben Kirksey on Emergent Ecologies

Tuesday, May 24, 2016 | 4:00-6:00PM | Oakes College Mural Room

In an eEmergent Ecologies - book coverra of global warming, natural disasters, endangered species, and devastating pollution, contemporary writing on the environment largely focuses on doomsday scenarios. Eben Kirksey suggests we reject such apocalyptic thinking and instead find possibilities in the wreckage of ongoing disasters, as symbiotic associations of opportunistic plants, animals, and microbes are flourishing in unexpected places. Emergent Ecologies uses artwork and contemporary philosophy to illustrate hopeful opportunities and reframe key problems in conservation biology such as invasive species, extinction, environmental management, and reforestation. Following the flight of capital and nomadic forms of life—through fragmented landscapes of Panama, Costa Rica, and the United States—Kirksey explores how chance encounters, historical accidents, and parasitic invasions have shaped present and future multispecies communities. New generations of thinkers and tinkerers are learning how to care for emergent ecological assemblages—involving frogs, fungal pathogens, ants, monkeys, people, and plants—by seeding them, nurturing them, protecting them, and ultimately letting go.

Selected Readings: Emergent Ecologies: Chapters 5 6 7

Eben Kirksey is a permanent faculty member in Environmental Humanities at UNSW Australia and a Visiting Research Scholar at The Graduate Center, City University of New York. He is the editor of The Multispecies Salon and the author of Freedom in Entangled Worlds: West Papua and the Architecture of Global Power, both also published by Duke University Press.

Apr 20 | Digital Dreams and Their Discontents: Where do we go from here?

Wednesday, April 20, 2016 | 4:00 – 5:30PM | SJRC Common Room (Oakes 231)

A conversation with Erin McElroy (PhD Candidate, Feminist Studies, UCSC) and Sara Tocchetti (SJRC Visiting Scholar, Postdoctoral Fellow, Centre Alexandre Koyré, Paris, France).

Erin McElroy on the Digital Nomad

With the emergence of Silicon Valley’s “Tech Boom 2.0,” so too has emerged the figure of the “digital nomad”—a type of transient technologic worker tethered to Silicon Valley corporations yet able to embody new mobilities vis-à-vis the globalization of high-speed fiber-optics and sharing economy infrastructure. From San Francisco to new global outposts such as Romania, which boasts the world’s fifth fastest internet speed due to postsocialist technologic economization, the arrival of the digital nomad often incites contexts of gentrification, manifesting as increased rental prices, eviction rates, and forced homelessness/nomadism. Critical of this correlation as well as formative histories of nomadic racial fantasy, I also question what other uses of digital technology, such as that of the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, emerge not just to critique technologies of displacement, but also to fight for other futures of the digital?

Erin McElroy is a Doctoral Student in Feminist Studies at UC Santa Cruz and cofounder/director of the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, a digital cartography and oral history collective documenting the ecology of “Tech Boom” induced gentrification. McElroy brings a spatial analysis and collective ethos to their research, which studies materializations and histories of dispossessive technologies in Romania, employing ethnography, literary/cultural analysis, and archival work, and utilizing postsocialist analytics and feminist science and technology studies. McElroy holds a MA in Cultural Anthropology from CIIS and a BA in Cultural Studies from Hampshire College, and is an active anti-eviction organizer with Eviction Free San Francisco.

Sara Tocchetti on DIYbio and the Possibility of Critical Life Sciences

Drawing from the analogy with the personal computer and other personalized technologies, DIYbio members envision biology and biotechnology as a creative and personal technology to be made available to everyone. Such ideology of a ‘personal biology’ can be understood as a variation of ‘digital utopianism’ and seems especially attractive for young and/or disenfranchised students and researchers. Working through several case studies of DIYbio initiatives and engaging with a general sense of enthusiasm for such practices expressed in the STS literature, this presentation questions what type of critical space does digital utopianism occupies in the life sciences and STS and what forms of alternative practices we might need to recollect and/or imagine.

Sara Tocchetti recently received her PhD from the London School of Economics working on the DIYbio network, socio-technical utopias, theories of technology driven social change, and her own professional identity. Feeling stuck as an ex-biologist-not-yet turned into a science and technology studies scholar, she has moved on to study the history and present of radical science movements and is currently based at the Centre Alexandre Koyré in Paris on an Early Post-doc Scholarship from the Swiss National Fund. Her recent publications includes Is an FBI Agent a DIY Biologist Like Any Other? A Cultural Analysis of a Biosecurity Risk (Tocchetti and Aguiton, 2015) and Quelles tactiques critiques sur le terrain des promesses scientifiques [Which critical tactics in the field of scientific promises] (Aguiton, Bovet and Tocchetti, 2015).

Feb 17 | Soil Health and its Maladies: Field Notes with Farmers in the Global South

Industrial agriculture most often focuses on what we can see – that which is above ground, such as yields, production, cropping systems, and profits. Plant physiologist, David Wolfe, calls this a “surface chauvinism”, or the tendency to think that what we see on the surface tells the whole story when equally or more important is what goes on out of sight and below ground. Soil health is emerging as an alternative perspective among scientists and international agricultural development agencies to unsettle dominant perceptions of soil as simply a growth medium for crops that emerged along with the Green Revolution and its emphasis on “improved” seeds and agri-chemicals. Growing attention to soils as living bodies (perhaps with rights to flourish and determine their own course) suggests we need to repair or build anew our relationships with what some soil practitioners refer to as “the skin of the earth”.  Before we ask if “soil health” is a useful paradigm to inform this kind of reparative work, it is prudent to inquire: What is soil? Then: What is health? Who decides if a soil is healthy, and for whom does it matter? Where do the boundaries of soil health begin and end? Is there a continuum between soil-human-ecosystem health? Many farmers also find themselves in a transitional moment in which the destruction of their livelihoods is vitally linked to the destruction of local soils. How might the agricultural practices of diverse rural communities be informed by concepts of “soil health” - and not only health-oriented paradigms? We draw upon our research with small farmers in Uganda and Colombia to discuss the way emergent ideas about “soil health” may serve to build collaborations between soil scientists, agricultural extensionists, and farmers in the global South. We also explore how a concern for soils pushes us beyond human-centric frameworks, and towards understanding the shared ecological nature of justice, ethics, well-being, and food production.

Co-Sponsored by the departments of Anthropology and Environmental Studies

Kate Scow is Professor of Soil Science and Microbial Ecology in the Department of Land, Air and Water Resources at UC Davis. She is Director of the Russell Ranch Sustainable Agriculture Facility that hosts the Century Experiment ( Scow’s research program investigates the role of soil microbial communities in providing ecosystem services in agricultural and polluted ecosystems.  Specifically, she investigates linkages between diversity and greenhouse gas emissions, responses of soil functional diversity to long-term management practices, effects of co-contaminants in organic amendments on soil communities, and works extensively in Uganda on irrigation and soil management for enhancing vegetable production for smallholder farmers.

Kristina Lyons is Assistant Professor of Feminist Science Studies at UCSC with affiliations in the Department of Anthropology, Latin American and Latino Studies, and the Science & Justice Research Center. She is currently working on a book project entitled, Decomposition at Life Politics: Soil Practitioners and Vital Spaces in the Colombian Amazon. This manuscript is based on more than ten years of fieldwork in Colombia where she engaged in an ethnography of human-soil relations across laboratories, greenhouses, gardens and farms with soil scientists in the capital city of Bogotá, and small farmers in the Andean-Amazonian foothills of Putumayo. She has worked closely with rural social movements in southwestern Colombia, and her work has focused on the ways soils become (or not) matters of concern within the militarized U.S.-Colombia "War on Drugs" and its discontents.

4:00 - 6:00PM, Engineering 2 room 599

"Soil Health and its Maladies: Field Notes with Farmers in the Global South"
SJWG Rapporteur Report
17 February 2016
Rapporteur Report by Vivian Underhill
In an integrated, back-and-forth conversation, Lyons and Davis discussed soil, health, and their relationships with ecosystem and human dynamics. A product of their ongoing conversations since 2008, their interdisciplinary approach shifted from the micron-scale to global climate regulation, crossing and complicating scales of thinking, and showed the co-transformation of each other’s work through that long collaboration. Beginning with how they each know soil from their respective intellectual backgrounds and engagements with academia and farmers, they asked: what is soil? Then, what is health? And what do we mean by soil health, especially in regard to dominant perceptions that link soil with industrial agriculture? Scow, whose work focuses on soil microbial communities and their role in providing ecosystem services, provided her definition of soil as a “natural body of solids (mineral and organic), liquid, and gas that occurs on the land surface, occupies space, and is characterized by distinguishable horizons or layers, which are the function of additions, losses, transfers, and transformations of energy and matter.” Yet soil also includes the entanglement of life within its mineral/organic matter matrix, including a tremendous diversity of microbes, insects, fungi, animals, plants. As such, soil calls into question divisions between species and between living organisms and nonliving matter.

Lyons then discussed her engagement with Colombian scientists’ sampling and sampleprocessing practices, and the processes of alienation that occur through the act of sampling and processing soil – from removing it from the ground, removing its water content, sieving for individual size fractions, to burning off organic matter. In this way, the soil sample becomes only a representation of the original soil, produced through its engagements with the scientists, and loses its original complex relationality with the soils and ecosystem around it. Scow agreed, noting also the immense heterogeneity of microenvironments within a single soil. Referring to influential soil scientist Hans Jenny’s assertion that soil is a living system, she asked provocatively: “Is soil alive, because it takes in oxygen and breathes out carbon dioxide? Or is it just a place where living things live?”

Dr. Lyons then discussed soil’s relation to colonial histories, the emergence and development of
capitalism, and the Green Revolution, and how even soil science is deeply immersed in histories
and logics of colonialism. For instance, in the export of guano (a fertilizer high in nitrogen,
phosphate, and potassium derived from sea bird and bat excrement) from Peru to exhausted
European soils, we see a literal extraction of land from a colony to empire. She discussed how, in
Colombia, militarized growth-oriented development, the Colombian War on Drugs, and USAID
crop-substitution plans often circle around the soil, but do not often take up soil explicitly in that
discussion. Because of these geopolitical dynamics, soil becomes a matter of economic concern,
often tethered to a specific kind of agriculture that is more akin to soil mining than agriculture
per se. She also discussed how these tactics force farmers into specific relationships with soil that
mimic those of the Green Revolution and industrialized agriculture, severing the complex
dynamics of growth and decay that sustain small farmers’ relationships with the ecosystems and
soils with which they work and live. Kristina argued to bring the integrality back to the fore in
the way we understand soil.

Scow then discussed the ‘rocky history’ of the term ‘soil health,’ and its emergence as a term
within scientific and resource-management communities. Though embraced by the NRCS
(National Resource Conservation Service), there has been significant debate about what it means.
It may present an opportunity to return to a conception of soils as living beings themselves, with
their own requirements for health and well-being, yet what does this look like when implemented
on large scales? Scow explained that soil scientists currently measure a range of physical,
chemical, and biological parameters meant to indicate soil health, and asked: what is the
benchmark condition against which these parameters are measured to determine their relative
health? Further, in basing soil health on discrete measurements, what interrelations are lost?
What can’t be captured in these human-centered ways of studying and categorizing soils?

Lyons explained that for the small farmers with whom she worked in Colombia, there is no
stable entity called soil. Rather, they argue for selva-based farming, in which relationalities
between humans, plants, and soil are retained and nurtured, as an alternative to state-based
militarized agriculture or extractive industries. From here, they struggle to rebuild local food
autonomy and livelihoods and are engaged in struggle against USDA taxonomic standards that
label these soils as “poor,” leading state-based economic growth initiatives to plan for extractive
industry in the region.

These examples bring to the fore a range of questions about soil health, and what we mean by
that term. What is health, and health for whom? What do militarized and economized models of
health do to modes of living well and living well together? What gets taken up and what gets
occluded when we think about health as a paradigm to think and live with? What alternative
ways of living well and dying together might create a more capacious sense of health?

Donna Haraway (Distinguished Professor Emerita of History of Consciousness, UCSC) pointed
out the importance of thinking first about access to soil and land in conversations about humansoil
relationships and their degradation or health. She also suggested the possibilities that come
with thinking about healing, as an active process in relation to the soil, as opposed to the more
static ‘health.” Lyons responded that the immediate struggle is always to remain in place, not to
be displaced. As farmers transform their land and their farms, different possible worlds are at
stake as they resist the capitalization of farming. This process in itself is an immensely healing or
transformative process, but access to the soil in the first place is always necessary to then engage
in that healing process.

Birgit Müller (Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research) added her experience with
attitudes about soil health in regard to Canadian biotech farming, in which a discourse of caring
goes hand in hand with large-scale industrialized farming and widespread pesticide use. This
entanglement of harm and care applied directly to the discussion of the definition of “health:” is
health related to high crop yields, or to the actual wellness and function of the soil itself? Lyons
pointed out the ways in which discourses of “health” is often used to mobilize logics that support
the continuation of harmful practices.

Gillian (last name and affiliation unknown) pointed out the complicated biopolitics of thinking
through the heterogeneity of the soil matrix itself. For instance, pathogens, viruses, and
destructive species are also part of the soil’s complex relations. Should these pathogens also be
counted as part of the life that should be nourished, and how does thinking about life as not
always harmonious complicate our notions of health and human/soil relationships? Lyons
responded that this point brings up the questions of living and dying well, and the role of
decomposition in that cycle. She said that defining weeds and pests is a constant negotiation:
what needs to die in order for what else to live? But with the farmers she works with in
Colombia, there’s a sense of dying differently, in order to live differently: with dignity, in place,
unseparated, still in complex relations with the rest of the system around you. This mobilizes a
different scheme of biopolitics and necropolitics than what we usually think with.

Carol Shennan (UCSC, Environmental Studies) pointed out the problem of separating out the
soil in the term ‘soil health.’ There’s a difference between soil health and ecosystem or habitat
health, but they are intricately linked to each other and can’t easily be separated. Further, who
decided the kinds of benchmarks to be used for soil health? Scow argued for a more localized
and nuanced process of deciding health, rather than broad taxonomies. She pointed out that terms
like sustainability and soil health are not valuable in their actual scoring potential, but rather
because they catalyze thought and discussion about what they might mean.

This led to a conversation about the role of funding in the use or disuse of terms like soil health,
and their definitions. For instance, if the USDA has funding for scientific work, then projects
will be built around USDA terminology. Scow pointed out that broadly speaking, public policy
has largely not been directed toward soil until recently with AB 32 (a California bill to reduce
greenhouse gas emissions from all sources across the state) and growing interest in the role of
soil in carbon sequestration. Lyons explained that in Colombia, soils are not part of
environmental legislation. They appear partially in legislation on forests, water, etc, but not on
their own. In public policy, they only have some form of value because of their relations with
other aspects of their ecosystems, which brings up a range of ontological questions for soil
scientists and farmers: how can soil, a distinctly relational entity, and soil scientists, hold
political leverage on its own?

Related Readings:
The Roots of Your Health: Elaine Ingham on the Science of Soil by Lynda Brown
Soil and Human Security in the 21st Century by Ronald Amundson, Asmeret Asefaw Berhe, Jan
W. Hopmans, Carolyn Olson, A. Ester Sztein, Donald L. Sparks

Oct 07 | It’s About Time: How Perceptions of Time Influence Environmental Action

How do conceptions of time inform our perceptions of anthropogenic climate change and influence the political and societal will to respond? How can an appreciation for the timescales of civic policy help scientists to frame their findings for effective social change? How can we render scientific data actionable while retaining the depth of temporal knowledge? This presentation and panel discussion will provide an interdisciplinary approach to understanding the effects of human behavior on different timescales. By bringing together these different perspectives, we aim to theorize how perceptions of time can help communities, such as UCSC, implement both long- and short-range environmental goals and allow for more active engagement with environmental issues.

Elida Erickson, Sustainability Programs Manager and Interim Director, UCSC Office of Sustainability

Zoey Kroll, Internet Communications Coordinator, San Francisco Department of the Environment

Adina Paytan, Research Professor, Institute of Marine Sciences, UCSC

Organized by Science & Justice Training Program Fellows Carolyn Branecky (Earth and Planetary Sciences) and Samuael Topiary (Film + Digital Media)

Read Rap Report > It's About Time

October 7, 2015 | Physical Sciences Building, Room 305 |   4:00-6:00 PM 

It’s About Time: How Perceptions of Time Influence Environmental Action
SJWG Rapporteur Report
7 October 2015
Rapporteur Report by Carolyn Branecky & Samuael Topiary
The Panel Discussion
At this Science & Justice Training Program event, Zoey Kroll, Adina Payton, and Elida Erickson
discussed how different perceptions of time influence the ways they communicate anthropogenic climate
change to broader publics and the implications of this communication for political action. Carolyn and
Topiary moderated a discussion with the three panelists, followed by a question and answer discussion
with the audience. By focusing on the timescales that define each of the panelists’ efforts, we explored
some of the possibilities as well as the limitations on both communication and action which face the
environmental movement today.

The panel began with a presentation by Zoey Kroll, who provocatively suggested that ten seconds
was the timeframe she is most guided by in her work as the Internet Communications Coordinator at the
San Francisco Department of the Environment (SFDE). In suggesting that she has about ten seconds to
capture the attention of the average visitor to the SFDE website, Kroll stated that her work was defined by
her ability to communicate quickly and simply. Thus, she sees quickness as essential to working on the
long-term goals of municipal transformation. The SFDE provides easy to understand guidelines for
recycling and composting to help SF city dwellers and businesses to implement new city ordinances, such
as the plastic bag ban.

Dr. Adina Paytan, UCSC Earth and Planetary Sciences Research Professor, focused on the
techniques she uses to communicate the impact of human activities on the ocean environment. She
explained how her research spans a wide range of temporal scales, observing natural processes that occur
in one season to environmental change that evolves over millions of years with spatial scales that range
from the molecular to the global. Although her work explores these multitudes, she explained how she
relies upon human lifespans to communicate the gravity and relevancy of her data. Using the benchmarks
of generations within her own family, she plots the changes in ocean acidification levels, noting the wide
change between the years when she was born and when her daughter was born. Using these personal
markers in her research data graphs, Paytan suggests that in talking about long-term issues, she finds it
essential to put her data into the perspective of a human generation, stating that a 100-year lifespan is
about as much as people can really understand in terms of rates of change.

Elida Erickson, Sustainability Programs Manager and Interim Director at UCSC’s Office of
Sustainability, focused on institutional timescales at the university, stating that the Office of Sustainability was established seven years ago by students, focusing on the problems of food waste. She discussed the ways that timescales for environmental action can differ among the groups that she works with. On the one hand, college students want to see change happen within their 4-year term at the university and have been successful in some cases at catalyzing that change within their time here. Yet, from the administrative side, sometimes institutional policies, such as building permits in the case of one student project, can defer or prevent the implementation of creative solutions. In drawing a distinction between student timeframes and administrative timeframes, Erickson raised the issue of how working with committees has its own kind of timeframe and challenges, and suggested that working with administrators was the least fun part of her job. She also noted that the ambition and perspective of students wanting to achieve environmental goals on a student timeframe can help to push the administration to move faster than they might otherwise to implement environmental policy changes.

Conversation Following the Presentations
Both UCSC and the City of San Francisco have Zero Waste programs, whose shared goal is to
eliminate (in some sense of the word) waste by a given date. Kroll, representing the City of San
Francisco, and Erickson, representing UCSC’s Office of Sustainability compared the implementation of
these Zero Waste programs in a compelling way. Both of these speakers discussed the role which politics
plays in their work as well as the need to navigate institutional positions when strategizing on
communicating environmental action. Kroll suggested that she tends to think and work from a citizen
point of view, rather than from a City government's administrative perspective. Erickson suggested there
was a difficulty with fast change, suggesting that UC-wide initiatives, such as Zero Waste, which are
mandated from the top down, often leave people in the middle having to adjust.For example, UCSC is
“crawling” on a campus-wide composting due to the undesirability of a bin next to offices. She suggested
that while the voice of students can push the administration to be more responsive, it can also be pushed
aside more readily. Kroll suggested that in San Francisco, the idea of Zero Waste 2020 produces
excitement and creates a sense of a goal for people to work toward. She notes that to date, San Francisco
has achieved an 80% diversion rate and that 10% of the outlying waste has to be addressed with producer
responsibility laws.

The panel discussed the difference between achievable goals and “impossible” or aspirational
goals, such as Zero Waste, and mused about the ways in which achievable goals helps to foster personal
action, while “impossible” goals can be useful to galvanize a larger community movement. This line of
thinking was interrogated by Anthropology PhD candidate Kristin Lawson, who questioned the role of
time in relationship to differences between institutional and individual action. Kroll responded that
institutions and municipalities can affect change at the procurement level and spoke about the high
purchasing standards held by the City of San Francisco, which publishes a directory for approved sources,
which in turn, provides a pathway for industry to move in this direction. Kroll also discussed the way that
her personal experience of working on a collective urban farming project with a 2-5 year timeframe
demonstrated how working toward specific goals can head off a sense of numbness and disempowerment
that comes from doom and gloom climate change predictions. She added that, in San Francisco, one
hears is a lot of talk about “disruption” as a solution and she wonders if the feeling of urgency (about
climate change) must be combined with the experiences that help one feel one’s actions are making a
difference. Kroll focuses on how to make her work be as accessible and inclusive as possible.

Paytan picked up on the issue of “doom and gloom,” stating that she feels scientists need to be
more solution-oriented when communicating the negative consequences of their research, such as rapid
climate change, species extinction, and environmental destruction. Dr. Karen Barad (UCSC Feminist
Studies) pushed Paytan on the ways in which scientists communicate their work using standard notions of
time, questioning “the seduction of clock time” and its tie to capitalism. Barad wondered about the
temporality of urgency and its relationship to doom, questioning whether there might be a way to discuss
urgent time, which is not tied to doom, but rather allows the past and the future to carry more meaning.
Paytan countered that, although we receive distressing data about climate change, our planet has been
around for four billion years and has been through other huge changes, stating that she personally finds
comfort in knowing that we humans are not going to be here forever. Barad countered that she is not
comforted by how this kind of philosophical nihilism is often taken up politically, especially considering
the unevenness of how the planet is being damaged and by whom. She noted that scientists often have
lively alternative conceptions of time and can think about temporality more richly when our hands are not
tied to “clock time.” Barad continued by suggesting that although something like sea-level rise happens
at a certain rate within a fixed frame, the consequences of that rise are experienced very differently by the
people living in rich countries than in poor ones and wondered whether these effects should be put in
words of time or social equality.

Towards the end of the panel discussion, PhD student Ella Ben-Hagai raised the question of
whether zero waste goals were paradoxical to the push for economic development and expansion in both
San Francisco and at UCSC. She also provocatively wondered whether the zero waste programs were
causing these two enclaves to become islands of “sustainability” and created zones of privilege or
whether there was some notion of zero waste mandates as being more “trickle down” kinds of strategies
for other places.

The panel discussion concluded with a question about the politics behind scientific research and
an acknowledgment of the importance of having interdisciplinary conversations between scientists, social
scientists and humanists and which include voices and experiences from both inside and outside of the
academy, in helping to further discussions about environmental action and in order to build new alliances
to build a progressive agenda.

Post-panel Discussion Reflections
Following this panel discussion, we received written comments from our panelists reflecting on moments
that stuck out to them. The following quotes come from this written feedback:

“It was interesting to hear candid words from Elida about what it's like to work within a
university context, ... how terms are defined or redefined as campaigns evolve (Can Zero Waste
really mean 95% waste diversion?). The role of the Science and Justice Program in bringing
together a dynamic audience and panel cannot be understated.

“Having social scientists, humanists and physical scientists on the panel contributed to a
fascinating exchange of ideas. As a scientist and particularly a geologist I tend to define time as a
precise measurement related to the rates of rotation of planetary bodies (the Earth and the Moon)
and it was very interesting and educating for me to hear how others regard time in a much more
subjective manner and that time could be by personal and even societal experiences. I also
learned a lot about the challenges people have when they have to communicate timelines to a
broad community and accomplish set goals, both the campus sustainability goals and the City of
SF environmental Stewardship (0-50-100 roots) goals are impressive!”

Feb 20 | Plant Intelligence or Plant Signaling?

In recent years, plant scientists have been increasingly interested in complex forms of plant behavior, including in the ways in which plants communicate with each other by long distance electrical signals and by vesicle mediated transduction of auxins and other chemicals. For some scientists, the capacity of plants to anticipate, remember, and learn, is best captured by the concept of plant intelligence, in the emerging field of ‘plant neurobiology’, which focuses on plants’ capacities to share important information. For some researchers, the very term ‘neurobiology’ is a potentially distracting anthropomorphism which diverts attention from the actual capacities of plants which they see as utterly different from human conceptions of intelligence. Anthropologist Natasha Myers has studied practices of anthropomorphism in the natural sciences, and described how anthropomorphism can enable research questions as well as limiting them. In this event, Elizabeth van Volkenburgh will present her research on plant growth and adaptation to stress and then engage in a conversation with Natasha Myers around what is gained or lost by seeing plant communication as a form of intelligence.

Hosted by Andrew Mathews

Read Rap Report > Plant Intelligence or Plant Signaling?

Listen to event >
part 1: 

part 2:


Natasha Myers, Associate Professor of Anthropology at York University, Canada, is Director of the Institute for Science and Technology Studies. As an anthropologist of science and technology, her research examines a range of visual and performance cultures alive in the contemporary arts and biosciences. Her forthcoming book Rendering Life Molecular: Modelers, Models, and Excitable Matter (Duke University Press, 2015) is an ethnography of an interdisciplinary group of scientists who make living substance come to matter at the molecular scale. It explores how protein modelers’ multidimensional data forms are shifting the cusp of visibility, the contours of the biological imagination, and the nature of living substance. With support from SSHRC and an Early Researcher Award from the Ontario Government, she convened the Plant Studies Collaboratory to serve as a node for interdisciplinary research on plants in the ecologies and economies contoured by technoscience. In new work, she is investigating how the phenomena of plant sensing and communication are galvanizing inquiry in both the arts and the sciences.

E. Van Volkenburgh majored in Botany at Duke University (B.S. 1973), and worked for two years as a technician, at the Smithsonian Botany Department and at the Duke University Phytotron. She obtained a Ph.D. in Plant Physiology from the University of Washington (Ph.D. 1980) and was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Illinois, Urbana (1980-81), University of Lancaster, UK (NATO Fellow 1981-82), and the University of Washington (1982-1985). Following two years as Research Assistant Professor, she was hired as an Assistant Professor in Botany at the University of Washington (1987) where she remains as Professor of Biology, and Adjunct Professor of Environmental and Forest Science. Her research is focused on the physiological mechanisms regulating cell and leaf expansion in plants. This work includes photobiology, electrophysiology, and connections to ecophysiology and agriculture. She is also exploring the new field of plant behavior, and leads the Society for Plant Signaling and Behavior.

Co-Sponsors: Departments of Anthropology, Environmental Studies, Literature, and Sociology.

"Plant Intelligence or Plant Signaling?"
SJWG Rapporteur Report
20 February 2015
Rapporteur Report by Samuael Topiary
In this provocative presentation, a packed house audience was treated to a fascinating
exploration of the ways in which one biologist is exploring the idea of plant intelligence.
Prof. van Volkenburgh presented her long time research into the ways in which corn and pea
crops deal with stress. In this work, van Volkenburgh studies the differences between wild
and cultivated plants in their responses to light exposure and water conditions in order to
understand the genetic aspects of drought tolerance. Comparing growth rates under different
light conditions, she was able to understand that plant photoreceptors that absorb blue & red
light are not chlorophyll but rather that the plant’s cells manage their growth based on light
and water conditions. She further explained that for certain strains of poplar and corn
hybrids, growth rate predicts yield and that certain types of commercially bred corn seed can
be shown to have less advantageous yields under drought conditions since light signaling
pathways influence growth rate. She thus concludes that high yield corn hybrids, which had
been selected for density and shade avoidance have inadvertently limited the (wild) corn’s
natural drought tolerance. She also demonstrated the ways in which corn, although
genetically perennial, has been bred as an annual and thus modern maize hybrids are not as
sensitive to light.

Van Volkenburgh concluded with a quote from Ambrose Bierce (1909) who suggested that
plants belong to the philosopher's class. She suggested that if we can increase our awareness
of what plants do, we might be able to breed plants that can deal with food scarcity in

Natasha Myers, explained that she had originally trained as plant molecular biologist before
becoming an anthropologist. She explained that in her work, she studies stories about
energetic process and plant stress and suggested that there is a whole literature connected
with plant signaling and behavior, which addresses how plants respond to wounding,
environmental change. In looking to plants coping mechanism, Myers suggest that we can
learn how to cope with environmental changes. She also suggested that this is an
opportunity to imagine that plants are experimenting with ways of living and that whether or
not we accept that plants think, as we understand this term, we can see that plants also cope
with and transform in relationship to their environments.

Myers asked the audience to consider what we learn about curiosity from the ways that
plants explore the world? She pointed out the issue in the language we use to talk about
plants: whether to speak about plant behavior in a passive or an active voice, and how the
language we use points to the problems of telling stories which situate plants as agents with

How do we talk about plants' interestedness? Wary of the temptation to anthropomorphize
and raising the issue of its taboo in plant neurobiology, Myers challenged us to play with
and against this concept. She asked us to consider what is possible and to think about the
role of the passive voice in sciences, questioning whether conceptions of intentionality are
allowed into stories of biology. Van Volkenburgh responded to this provocation by asking
what anthropomorphizing means; whether it involves imbuing an object with human traits or
“my own human traits”? Highlighting the professional risks of being taken seriously as a
biologist, van Volkenburgh stated that she felt anthropomorphizing limited possibilities by
risking adding bias or limiting what could be imagined as possible within biology.

Myers followed up this idea by exploring the use of analogies as ways of opening up our
understandings of biology. She suggested that stories about interspecies co-evolution, such
as the intermingling of the wasp and orchid physiologies, offers new possibilities for
understanding. And yet, she points out that the literature seems to police pleasure. She
suggests that the scientific proscription against agency mirrors certain concepts in the social
science and humanities, such as theories by Foucault, which suggest that we have no
freedoms, and that this conceptualization is echoed in conceptions of biology, such as we are
just what our genes want. Myers asks: “does anything that is not human have intention?”
She suggests that if we push a little further and “plantify” our imaginations, perhaps
understandings of plant phenomenon can change our conceptions about ourselves.

Myers and van Volkenburgh discussed reasons to “plantify” concepts of communication and
cognition as offering possibilities to test assumptions currently in place in animal behavior
models. Van Volkenburgh cited Philosophy of Plant Cognition by Paco Calvo as a book
which draws attention to ways people look at plants and explores the concept of plants as
reactive as compared with humans as proactive. She suggested, rather, that we think of this
as a spectrum and matter of degree and preference; undermining the notion that humans
have some special or unique role in evolution and encouraging us to see all biological
organisms as connected. She suggested that there are two ways of looking at cognition: a
bottom up way of learning which accumulates the info that constructs knowledge; and a
difference way, where consciousness knows something in general and then takes info and
compares it with what comes as surprising or inconsistent with that vision and where the
element of surprise drives learning. In this second philosophy of cognition, plant cognition
is a better way to look for that kind of approach to knowledge and learning.

When asked about her feeling about the book The Secret Life of Plants, van Volkenburgh
revealed that it was the book that made her apply to grad school. However, she said that
funding at the NSF dried up and careers were sidelined and that she wasn't only one who
received pushback from older plant physiologists against this way of thinking. She said,
however, that what arborists, farmers and vegetable gardeners know what they know and
that she has had an arborist bend her ear about this kind of knowledge, but that generally,
scientists are not open to it.

Myers talked about research on electrophysiology done in the late 19th century in India,
looking at the behavior and misbehavior of metals and plant irritability, and how that line of
inquiry was denigrated by colonial science and racism. This line of research got swept up
into the interest in what psychotropic plants can do to humans. However, she suggests, now
is the moment for the re-legitimization of plant neuro-physionomy.

Donna Haraway (Distinguished Professor Emerita of History of Consciousness, UCSC)
stated that this panel brings up questions of metaphor and language, such as those used in
primate behavior studies where competition was quantifiable and friendship was ‘woo woo’.
She suggested that the “machinomorphic” language, which is seen as non-anthropomorphic,
really does the opposite. Haraway questioned the use of the word “neuro-physionomy,”
suggesting that changing the “neuro,” (which she suggested is “over-owned,”) might be too
up hill, but wondered if there were other words which could get at "the stuff plants are up
to" which are less colonized. Van Volkenburgh responded that the choice of the name was a
product of organizational compromises. Haraway followed up by asking her what are the
words she would use if she had control over the scene? Van Volkenburgh spoke about
another possibility which had been floated but it was felt the name had to be something that
is commonly recognized to mean 'what plants are up to.' Myers interjected that plants are
so much cooler than humans and why denigrate plants with these human terms? Why put
plants on level of consciousness when they're going to lose; they'll always be lesser us. She
asked why not foreground those things that plants can do that we can't and attempt to and
foreground these capacities, like photosynthesis, which would bring out another sensibility
of plant capacity and thus implicitly suggest how unskilled we are?

Beth Stephens, Professor of Art, identified herself as an ecosexual, tree hugger and talked
about doing workshop in which the participants hug trees and playfully asked about whether
the tree can consent? She suggested that watching a cellist hug her cello, or seeing books, or
the wood molding in the room, demonstrated the generosity of plants. She said that plants
are giving us oxygen and food, and what are flowers if not the ultimate in play—the
genitalia of plants? Stephens said that if we took anthropomorphizing seriously, we would
have to take responsibility for all the destruction of plants that we have wrought. She
followed up by asking about the possibility of plants using different types of signals,
wondering if they could use dishonest signals and whether plants have any capability of
intention? Van Volkenburgh responded that her definition of signal was rudimentary and
that a signal for her means only incoming information. Myers clarified that plants are
responsive to information coming from their environment, such as changes of temperature,
light, and heat. In plant behavioral ecology, plants generate bouquets and create an
atmosphere of senses that can be picked up and turned into signals for other plants and
animals. In this sense, dishonesty would be a kind of mimicry that thwarts the signal as
information, in other words, a kind of disinformation. This notion is of honest and dishonest
is stuck in a model of the world with internal vs external realities, in which organisms can
fail or succeed in representing and is based on a representationalist model of the senses.

Myers continued this line of thinking by asking: “why begin with doubt?” Plants can pay
attention and they have a willingness to stick it out. Their sensory antennae are such that if
they fail to pay attention, they are dead. Why not think of plants as beings that are sensing
and changing their environments and are anticipating the future. In this way, Myers
suggests, plants have a model of the future, seen in the vernalization process. Sunflowers
can be thought of as anticipatory, opening to where sun will come up. We have to shift our
assumptions about these concepts and think about what they might need to know about the
world to cultivate different kinds of respect for these organisms.

Feb 11 | Collaborating to Learn about Wicked Problems: Water, Food, and Energy in Rural India

Ashwini Chhatre, Professor of Geography at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Senior Research Fellow/Visiting Professor at the Bharti Institute of Public Policy, Indian School of Business, Hyderabad presented a talk about sustainable development in rural India as a wicked problem.  Hosted by Andrew Mathews, SJRC Acting Director, the discussion following the talk was moderated by Ben Crow, Professor of Sociology, UC Santa Cruz.

A wicked problem is difficult or impossible to solve because of complex interdependencies, and the effort to solve one aspect of a wicked problem reveals or creates other problems. This is particularly true for agriculture-based rural livelihoods in India’s vast hinterland, which require tightly, connected household strategies to secure water, food, and energy under the shadow of an unpredictable monsoon regime. Interventions to improve rural livelihoods, with the best possible intentions, fail to have an impact in an unacceptably high proportion of cases, and often produce unintended and undesirable consequences for society and the environment. For example, an intervention to increase organic manure to improve soil fertility can easily set off a cascade where cowdung is used as domestic fuel. Women will have to collect more firewood, perhaps from farther forests, decreasing forest condition. The firewood will be of inferior quality, increasing adverse health impacts from indoor air pollution. Greater workloads for women will translate into higher classroom absenteeism and some girls will drop out of school completely. The diversity of disciplinary lenses required to simply outline the boundary of such a cascade is challenging enough; to try and bring these diverse perspectives to bear on improving the actual outcomes is a herculean task. But the pattern of outcomes is not unusual at all. Such a pattern with respect to a long list of well-meaning development interventions can only be described as shooting in the dark, and occasionally shooting ourselves in the foot. This requires a creative response to the design and evaluation of interventions for improvement of rural livelihoods. It requires harnessing research, education, and practice in ways that enable a learning-while-doing approach to sustainable development. By definition, wicked problems do not have a solution. The sustainable development challenge can, however, be formulated as one of identifying the combinations of interventions necessary in specific contexts that improve the possibility of improvements and reduce the incidence of adverse outcomes. This presentation describes such a collaboration between NGOs, researchers, and public agencies in India, with an emphasis on the challenge of producing a body of knowledge that is credible, legitimate, and salient with all relevant actors across multiple scales.

Ashwini Chhatre has recently relocated from the University of Illinois to India from the US to serve on the faculty at the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad. Ashwini has an undergraduate degree in Economics from the University of Delhi and a Ph.D. in Political Science from Duke University. In between, he spent 11 years working with local communities and social movements on democratic governance of natural resources in India. Ashwini was the Giorgio Ruffolo Post-doctoral Fellow in Sustainability Science at Harvard University during 2006-07, and serves as a faculty member in the Department of Geography, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign since 2007. Ashwini’s research investigates the intersection of democracy with environment and development, with a more recent focus on rural livelihood dynamics in rainfed systems across agro-ecological and socio-political contexts. Ashwini has co-authored one book and published articles in Science, PNAS, Annual Review of Environment and Resources, Conservation Biology, Journal of Peasant Studies, World Development, and other journals.

Ben Crow is a professor of Sociology at UC Santa Cruz. He trained and worked as an engineer in London and Africa, and was an activist and volunteer in South Asia, before becoming a social scientist. His PhD is from Edinburgh University in Scotland, and he taught at the Open University in UK and at Stanford and UC Berkeley before coming to UCSC. He has done research on conflict and cooperation over international rivers in South Asia, leading to a book Sharing the Ganges: the politics and technology of river development; on traders, township markets and the making of social classes in rural Bangladesh (Markets, Class and Social Change: Trading Networks and Poverty in South Asia); on global inequalities (The UC Atlas of Global Inequality (online) and The Atlas of Global Inequalities, with Suresh Lodha). His current work explores how access to household water in low-income urban settlements shapes the time and constrains the prospects of poor households and how the global idea of adequate water access promoted by international institutions - ‘safe drinking water’ - limits understanding and social change to improve water access and reduce poverty.

"Collaborating to Learn about Wicked Problems: Water, Food, and Energy in Rural India"Wednesday,
SJWG Rapporteur Report
11 February 2015
Rapporteur Report by Samuael Topiary
Professor Chhatre provided an introduction to the “wicked problems” of sustainable development in rural India
where attempts to alleviate poverty and malnutrition and develop new approaches to agricultural development can
create unintended consequences. He provided us with stories, lessons and insights from his work on
interdisciplinary approaches which seek to link disparate perspectives from academia, journalism and NGO work in
order to change attitudes, restructure public investment in agriculture and produce desirable outcomes.
Professor Chhatre began by explaining that wicked problems are ones in which there is no clear solution to a
problem and that all efforts to address this problem create or reveal more problems. He suggested that this situation
creates a boundary problem whereby issues cascade across disciplines and make the original problem seem
impossible to address. In attempting to seek solutions to the huge issue of rural poverty and malnutrition in India,
Prof. Chhatre described a three-pronged approach in which small-scale “proof of concept” projects are created in
seven different locations in India. He stressed the importance of the scale of each project, which had to involve
several thousand people, in order for the scale to be large enough. These pilot projects involved the integration of
multiple layers of interventions: approaching the issue of rural poverty and malnutrition by intervening in different
aspects of agriculture and food distribution. These multiple layers include soil, seeds and water access, converged
with public investments. The multidisciplinary approach of his work included economic analyses of agricultural
subsidies (who receives what subsidies and where) as well as of food storage systems and places in which food
waste occurs.

Professor Chhatre described a system-wide approach to analysis which includes environmental cost considerations
and can generate alternative ideas, such as implementing incentives which advocate for better food production (what
plants can be most environmentally efficiently grown where) and the distribution systems (how can transportation
and storage needs be modified by growing more food locally). He stressed the importance of collaborating with
government agencies in order to generate knowledge and change behaviors, as well as the importance in generating
knowledge which captures the complexity of rural livelihoods. This approach thinks about agriculture in relation to
other systems and is founded on place-based knowledge about local cultures which can bring an awareness of
unintended negative consequences and can make improvements that learn from problems. This approach, a learning
while doing approach, leads to a research framework which can thus make claims about what works and what
doesn’t work.

After discussing this approach as a general interdisciplinary framework for research, Chhatre described three
concepts that “get in the way,” and serve as ideological blindspots which naturalize the status quo in ways that are
difficult to see. These concepts are 1) the Discount Rate as a predictor of the future; 2) price as indicator of
scarcity; and 3) productivity per hectare as a measure of performance. In each case, the economic assumptions
which underlie the capitalist system at work in agriculture are seen as obstacles which must be understood,
debunked and overcome.

Following Prof. Chhatre’s presentation, Ben Crowe asked how is he able to work with economists in the face of his
underlying critique of standard economic ideologies. Chhatre responded that he cannot collaborate with economists,
but rather he finds it more productive to work with philosophers. Because he questions underlying assumptions
about Economic Growth and “fetishized” assumptions about India’s rate of growth (generally understood to be 5.5%
annually), Chhatre suggested there would be no need to confront tropes of economic growth if people are better fed
and that the question for India should be focused on equity and distribution of wealth rather than growth. He also
suggested that one road to amelioration of India’s poverty issues is in open outcomes, where farmers have the option
of going to market on their own terms. A number of questions in the audience focused on labor issues and the notion
of the aspirations of young people growing up in rural areas.

Donna Haraway (Distinguished Professor Emerita of History of Consciousness, UCSC) asked about the issue of
scale and Chhatre’s early suggestion around thinking about abundance, rather than being trapped with scarcity
thinking. Chhatre responded by explaining that in order for NGO’s to act as a substitute to government and to
become an agent for government change takes a long time. The instinct for NGO’s is to help people directly, but this
does not produce long-term, systemic change. Therefore, Chhatre suggests there must be new approaches tried.
One of these approaches is using middle school children for data collection and reporting. For example, they have
the school children collect rain fall data and when certain flowers start blooming. In this way, they reduce the need
for expensive monitoring equipment, and include students in the process; allowing them to visualize ideas for
themselves and seeing themselves as the drivers of change.

Andrew Mathews asked how to avoid creating wicked problems. Chhatre clarified that his approach reframes
situations not as choices between but rather as a choice to put together elements differently in such as way that a
system of public investments can be put in place and combined in ways which work locally so that it is possible for
these new approaches to happen. For example, in creating an incentive for farmers to use organic manure in order to
replace chemical fertilizers they have to work through the cascades of effects that this change will create. So, being
able to see that this change in fertilizer means that the use of cow dung will be diverted from its previous use as fuel
which will also mean that women will have to spend more time transporting the dung to the fields and collecting
firewood or shift to inferior fuels. In other words, this shift to organic fertilizer will end up increasing a burden on
women and could also result in increasing girls’ absenteeism from schools. People intervening in soil don’t think to
ask about the state of the local forest or whether girls go to school. Chhatre’s approach shifts from a focus on
singular intervention to combining multiple interventions, which can account for the energy deficit and therefore
combine the shift to organic fertilizer with kerosene subsidies, so the cascade effect can be nipped in the bud and
women’s labor valued. This approach necessitates asking what else is missing and how to monitor that? Mathews
points out that this focus on multiplicities avoids “empty world thinking.”

The conversation continued with other questions about water systems and questions which address new ways of
understanding the legacy of the Green Revolution. Haraway added that this approach emphasizes actual knowledges
and practices of actual workings over modeling and abstractions or theory. She suggested that we have outmoded
notions of knowledge and that this complex systems theories in which multi-factor processes allow us to let go of a
certain need for precision. She stressed the importance of interdisciplinary communication and expressed optimism
for this approach.