Using natural history in the study of industrial ruins

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  • Elaine Gan, University of Southern California
  • ,
  • Anna Tsing, University of California, Santa Cruz
  • ,
  • Daniel Sullivan, Harvard University

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.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Ethnobiology
Pages (from-to)39-54
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018

    Research areas

  • industrial ruins, more-than-human sociality, natural history, unintentional human ecologies, weedy succession

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