Accepted paper:

Elemental Breakdown


Maria Puig de la Bellacasa (University of Leicester)

Paper short abstract:

Soil bioreclamation works with organisms to tackle harmful chemical compounds, recirculating substance in the ecosphere. This paper looks at these earth-remediating biogeochemical experiments as a modest promise of alter-ecological rebalancing, conveying an obligation to support elemental breakdown.

Paper long abstract:

The formation and breakdown of chemical compounds is a continuous process. Elements such as nitrogen and carbon circulate and recombine through a variety of complex biogeochemical choreographies vital for life in the ecosphere - e.g. water, nitrogen and carbon cycles. A myriad of organisms - plants, fungi, bacteria - are involved in constantly generating and breaking down compounds, retaining and passing substances around, making them available for reuse. These biogeochemical relations that took aeons to be established started to become affected by human activities about ten thousand years ago; becoming increasingly disrupted since the industrial and agricultural revolutions in particular by the spread of manufactured chemical compounds. Within an atmosphere of deep concern about the ecological effects of these global disturbances some scientists and activists engage in bioreclamation of disrupted soils, working with specific organisms to support them in breaking down compounds, bioprocessing toxic or excessive substances. While breakdown usually reveals the vulnerability of the world and the need and importance of repair, it takes another meaning as a deliberate undertaking in efforts of microbial, phyto- and myco-remediation, in biodegradation research or in the processing of human toxic waste by treatment of biosolids for fertiliser. The fragile promise of ecological rebalancing in experiments with supported breakdown is impure and situated, as substances can be released back into ecologies already disrupted by elemental excess and intoxication. Yet these efforts also suggest a more than human ethos that acknowledges the vital necessity of breaking down in earth remediating alter-ecologies.

panel T122
Elements Thinking