Accepted paper:

What lies beneath: sampling beyond (the) surface(s)


Griet Scheldeman (University of Aberdeen)

Paper short abstract:

Arctic scientists use a plethora of techniques to acquire their natural samples. Drawing on ethnographic research with scientists in the field, I explore how prodding in and between different types of organic matter takes us beyond the surface.

Paper long abstract:

Ecological psychologist Gibson defines a surface as 'the interface between any two of the three states of matter- solid, liquid and gas'. Ecological anthropologist Ingold states that the world has no surface, instead surfaces are in the world, not of the world. Working with environmental scientists, I experienced this view being enacted in daily discourse, in sampling practices and in theoretical analysis. The world as one sphere with life, be it animal, plant or rock moving in and through it. I use two ethnographic examples from current fieldwork in Spitsbergen to illustrate. The first details the practices of marine biologists sampling water, ice and a muddy seafloor for animal and plant life, all from the comfort of a ship floating on the sea's surface. The second example describes glaciologists, going beyond the surface of the glacier to study crevasses and what happens inside and below. In this paper I do not take surfaces as concealing what lies beneath, rather I suggest that surfaces reveal. This challenges the common dichotomy between surface versus in-depth knowledge. A surface is where things meet. 'On the surface' is thus where it matters. Many surfaces are in the world, yet, pace Ingold, perhaps surfaces are also of the world, since the world and life as we know it, exists through them.

panel WMW12
Surfaces: contesting boundaries between materials, mind and body