Soils of War

Principle Investigator: Dr Roxani Krystalli

Project Overview: This project investigates how our understanding of peace and conflict shifts when it is grounded in soil. How do nature, place, and landscape illuminate different experiences of violence, care, harm, and repair? The impetus for this project has stemmed from critically reflecting on my past failings and future orientations. First, I recognized that my work on harm and repair to date has often treated nature as backdrop to the stories of human experience that unfold in the foreground. This framing does not adequately reflect either how my interlocutors in conflict-affected areas have experienced their relations to nature and place or the complex power dynamics that shape those bonds. Scholars of political violence have predominantly examined harms to nature through legal lenses and/or through an emphasis on how these harms affect humans, such as through the experiences of land dispossession and forced displacement. Interdisciplinary scholarship in anthropology, ecology, geography, and indigenous studies, among other fields, complements that frame by seeking to understand relations to nature and place without centering the human. 

​Second, during my decade of working in environments of political violence as a researcher and humanitarian practitioner, I have increasingly turned my own gaze to moss and wildflowers, to birds and rivers. These sites do not merely represent an escape or a form of solace (though they have provided both at times); rather, they are veritable companions that have shaped how I think about relations of care. This realization may have originated in conflict-affected environments, but it also applies to settings in which political violence is not as readily observable–sites at which other forms of oppression, marginalization, exclusion, and harm persist. This project seeks to center the moss, wildflowers, birds, and rivers and, thus, to reorient where we look for conflict and peace. I turn my attention to sites that political violence scholarship has often neglected: botanic gardens, wildflower meadows that grow in the wake of bombings, online communities that gather to share knowledge on plants. These seemingly disparate sites tell stories about nationalism and colonialism, about community and activism. How does beauty hide violence and co-exist alongside it? How are sites of beauty also sites of violence, and how are sites of violence also sites of care? And what notions of politics come to the fore when we take these stories seriously? ​

This project is currently in the early phases of development, with an expected launch in 2021. Please check back soon for more information.