Sociality, matter, and the imagination: re-creating Anthropology

Sociality, matter, and the imagination: re-creating Anthropology

PhD candidate Anna Kuprian attended the 2018 ASA Conference, Oxford. Funded in part by The North theme to present a paper as part of a panel titled: Homo faber revisited.

This panel explored large-scale engineering projects aimed at returning landscapes to the wild.

Anna Kuprian's paper and overall research focus is on human-environment relationships in the Arctic region, with Iceland offering a unique perspective as this island is often said to be one of the most ecologically devastated countries in the world, with 90% of forests and 40% of surface soil lost since human settlement in the ninth century. 

Iceland has the oldest soil conservation service in the world, with over 110 years of restoration measures, it is an example of a collaborative human effort to return environments to their 'natural' state.  Based on 18 months of fieldwork with ecologists, foresters, conservationists, farmers, and other local people in Iceland, Anna's paper presentation explored human imaginations, scientific expertise, and practices on the ground involved in the deliberate re-makings of Icelandic environments.

Anna's paper presentation at the ASA Conference in September, was centred on the Alaska lupin (Lupinus nootkatensis), a plant deliberately introduced to Iceland in 1945 for the purpose of revegetating the country's vast barren areas.  The lupin was used within large-scale revegetation and afforestation projects, and the public was actively encouraged to participate in the purposeful re-shaping of Icelandic environments.  However, what once was a uniform believe in the 'miracle plant' has given way to a complex debate over its (un-)rightful place in the country. The plant is now widely viewed as an 'alien invasive species', and large-scale eradication projects envision another, and more 'wild' future for Icelandic landscapes.  By exploring the tensions between different discursive and material practices involved in the lupin debate, Anna's paper offered an interesting perspective on how environmental change is dealt and lived with by people in the North.

Anna's paper also looked at how communities and ecosystems in high-latitude regions respond to the effects of climate change.  By increasing carbon sequestration from the atmosphere, the lupin is a particularly cost-effective tool for climate change mitigation in Iceland. At the same time, negative impacts of 'alien invasive species' such as the lupin are expected to increase due to climate change, including biodiversity loss, species extinctions, and habitat loss.  In the debate over the lupin, different visions of global and local responsibilities in relation to climate change emerge and meet.  Anna's paper offered an analysis of how scientists, activists, wildlife managers and other local people negotiate these different responsibilities and strategies and how people in Iceland are already living with uncertainty in times of rapid environmental change in multiple, creative ways.