This case study proposes three scenarios exploring human-soils relations. As sense-making devices, these scenarios discuss how different ontologies of soils shape different actions, be them soil management practices in agriculture contexts or Research and Innovation (R&I) practices.

The three scenarios are summarized below:

  • Eyes on the prize – this scenario is tributary to a dichotomic view regarding the human sphere and the (soil) nature sphere. This can be articulated in different approaches: one urges a fundamental respect for and need to save nature by conservation or by controlling land use change; the other is concerned with the problems and possibilities resulting from the human alteration of soils and seeks salvation in technology-based interventions meant to mitigate human impacts.
  • Cultivating each other – builds on the view that nature is intrinsically social, with socio–cultural and biophysical contexts continually co-evolving. In this scenario, agroecology and the soil management practices following its principles embrace the lessons that nature soils teach humans about the way they function. Therefore, we and the soils cultivate each other – they cultivate our understanding of their own dynamics, we cultivate them to nourish ourselves.
  • Full circle of life – calls for new ontologies of soil nature that are able to accommodate not only individual species and their competing interests, but also environments and relations that undergird and enable life flourishing. In exploring the notion of relationality that includes humans and nonhumans, this scenario describes approaches to human–soil relationships that embed care and/or situated spirituality. These views open new forms of soil investigation and practice that acknowledge the biophysical agency of soil ecosystems, their sociocultural constitution, and the dynamic interactions between them. In this scenario, the microbial is taking centre stage, as a result of the growing recognition of the vital role soil organisms play in most soil functions.

This case study was elaborated within the project “S&T&I FOR 2050. Science, Technology and Innovation for Ecosystem Performance – Accelerating Sustainability Transitions”, conducted on behalf of the European Commission.

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Credit: Organic by Levi van Veluw