Sketches for Regenerative Scholarship

From the Series: Correspondence

Photo by Rob DeGraff, licensed under CC BY NC SA.

In recent decades there has been a shift across a wide range of disciplines away from fixist ontologies toward what might be called emergence ontologies. Examples include chaos and complexity theories (Mosko and Damon 2005); movements such as the Hearing Voices Movement, which have shaken the sovereignty of biology in the psychiatric sciences (Blackman 2016); writings on the Anthropocene (Meulemans 2017; Blaser, forthcoming); indigenous scholarship (Cajete 1994; Todd 2015); and efforts to build alternative and decolonized universities (la paperson 2017; Escobar 2018). These also include various ontological/ethnometaphysical approaches in anthropology where it is the very constitution of the world that is explored, rather than cultural difference overlaid on a universal nature (see also Blaser 2010; de la Cadena 2015).

The common thread that runs through this work is the acknowledgment that academic disciplines need to be reformulated in order to transcend rigid distinctions between natural and humanistic subjects of study. Correspondence, as Tim Ingold (2013) has developed the concept, is one approach to transcending such distinctions. Correspondence proposes an onto/epistemology: the world, in this light, is better understood as a continual process of mutual formation, and knowing in the world is better understood as participation in those ongoing, mutually constitutive processes.

Yet there are major obstacles to the uptake of such an approach. Contemporary universities do not know what to make of emergence onto/epistemologies, given that they tend to separate study from other spheres of activity. The assumption here is that scholars alone can lift themselves above emic cultures and generate etic theories (Ingold 1993); that they alone can leave Plato’s cave (Latour 2003) or adopt a view from nowhere, what Donna Haraway (1988, 581) has called “the god trick.”

In contrast, correspondence as an onto/epistemology embraces not only its positionality, but also the challenge of responsiveness in the midst of action. It prompts us to be deliberate about how scholarly artifacts fold their way into the research process, and about the effects that any scholarly practice always already has in the world (Gatt and Ingold 2013). In order to learn/study with multiple human and nonhuman others, the whole orthopraxy or conduct of our discipline needs to be revisited (Gatt 2018).

So, we might ask, what would an educational institution that embraces an onto/epistemology of correspondence look like? And what types of scholarship can we develop to support a regenerative, sustainable, decolonized way of life?

In what follows, we offer an example of the way in which one collaborative moment took shape around our experience of these questions, in the form of sketches and plans for a College of Regenerative Scholarship. For many valuable, challenging, and intersecting reasons our conversation across multiple media and digital formats cannot be displayed as we had intended it in this forum. Here is an alternate version in PDF format, wherein form, marginalia, and layered voices and traces play a role no less central than the textual parts.

Correspondence Draws on Anthropological Practice

The orthopraxy of most academic disciplines is founded on what Martin Savransky (2016, 16) has called the “ethics of estrangement.” In a unique way, anthropology suspends this ethics/epistemology during fieldwork, where it is precisely the immersion of a whole person in the ways of life under study that is understood to be the source of knowledge. The College would therefore incorporate the epistemological attitude of fieldwork in anthropology to the whole process of education.

Carrying Out Academic Studies and Thinking through Relevant Practices

Structuring education along these lines would entail important shifts in understandings of what work is done in and by a higher education institution: with whom, with what, and how this work is assessed. The College would build on a growing movement in higher education to address questions of social and environmental sustainability. It would incorporate into its curriculum core practices of reading, writing, and analyzing texts, including ethnographic ones. But it would also incorporate forms of activity that collapse the theory/practice divide. Growing, preparing, and enjoying food; reincorporating all forms of waste; tending land, animals, and buildings; relating to surrounding communities, humans, and more-than-humans will all be central to the work of critically exploring and addressing questions of subsistence, exchange, history, political forms, health and well-being, religion, and cosmology.

Sustainability and Equity Mean Being Embedded in Communities

In addition to the conventional practice of offering scholarships for students, enabling families, young people, elders, and any other form of kin, relations, or oddkin to be involved in the life of the institution will be an essential aspect of the College. Exploring questions of kinship, relatedness, and community in tandem with people of different ages and levels of engagement is not only manageable, it is also a vital political move that will enable the principles enacted in the College to be accessible to groups that are often “externalized” (Escobar 2008, 169).

Sustainability and Equity Require Decolonizing Scholarship

Building on decolonial work in indigenous studies, cultural studies, area studies, anthropology, and other fields, the College would draw on local practitioners and members of indigenous communities from around the world as visiting and permanent lecturers, on par with staff who are university-trained scholars (a model already in place at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in northern Italy). All members of the institution would participate as both learners and educators by rotating roles.

* * *

Over the last seven months, the two of us have been working together on a smaller-scale project called “The Town is the Garden,” which has emerged out of an openness to what diverse participants can bring to the educational process. Together with Lindy Young, the project gardener, we have grown fruit and vegetables; made compost; held a variety of workshops with different pedagogical principles; run a reading group; hosted public discussions; fermented; pickled; pressed; dehydrated; preserved and cooked whatever we could; curated performative meals with food that we had grown or foraged; given talks for visiting university students, primary school students, and anyone else who turned up. The project runs until March 2020 and is funded by the Climate Challenge Fund, Scotland.

Our opening post for this Correspondences series draws together different threads of our ongoing exchanges. We see it as essential to weave together the more typical critical/theoretical moves with which we open this piece; the experiments we are carrying out through “The Town is the Garden,” which have provided the common ground of experience for our joint work; and the layering of drawings, writing, imagining, and discussion found in the embedded images. Together, these offer the opportunity for us to engage in a process of reflection in the midst of action, which we view as an enactment of correspondence that could lead to a regenerative form of scholarship.


Blackman, Lisa. 2016. “The Challenges of New Biopsychosocialities: Hearing Voices, Trauma, Epigenetics, and Mediated Perception.” In Biosocial Matters: Rethinking Sociology–Biology Relations in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Maurizio Meloni, Simon Williams, and Paul Martin, 256–73. Malden, Mass.: Wiley-Blackwell.

Blaser, Mario. 2010. Storytelling Globalization from the Chaco and Beyond. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.

_____. Forthcoming. “On the Properly Political (Disposition for the) Anthropocene.” Anthropological Theory.

Cajete, George. 1994. Look to the Mountain: An Ecology of Indigenous Education. Durango, Colo.: Kivakí Press.

de la Cadena, Marisol. 2015. Earth Beings: Ecologies of Practice Across Andean Worlds. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.

Escobar, Arturo. 2008. Territories of Difference: Place, Movement, Life, Redes. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.

_____. 2018. Designs for the Pluriverse: Radical Interdependence, Autonomy, and the Making of Worlds. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.

Gatt, Caroline. 2018. “Introduction to the Special Issue: Collaborative Knowing. Considering Onto/Epistemology in Collaboration.” Collaborative Anthropologies 10, nos. 1–2: 1–19.

_____, and Tim Ingold. 2013. “From Description to Correspondence: Anthropology in Real Time.” In Design Anthropology: Theory and Practice, edited by Wendy Gunn, Ton Otto, and Rachel Charlotte Smith, 139–58. New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

Haraway, Donna. 1988. “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective.” Feminist Studies 14, no. 3: 575–99.

Ingold, Tim. 1993. “The Art of Translation in a Continuous World.” In Beyond Boundaries: Understanding, Translation, and Anthropological Discourse, edited by Gisli Pálsson, 210–30. New York: Berg.

_____. 2013. Making: Anthropology, Archaeology, Art, and Architecture. New York: Routledge.

la paperson. 2017. A Third University is Possible. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Latour, Bruno. 2004. Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy. Translated by Catherine Porter. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. Originally published in 1999.

Meulemans, Germain. 2017. “The Lure of Pedogenesis: An Anthropological Foray into Making Urban Soils in Contemporary France.” PhD dissertation, University of Aberdeen.

Mosko, Mark, and Fred Damon, eds. 2005. On the Order of Chaos: Social Anthropology and the Science of Chaos. New York: Berghahn.

Savransky, Martin. 2016. The Adventure of Relevance: An Ethics of Social Inquiry. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Todd, Zoe. 2015. “Decolonial Dreams: Unsettling the Academy through Namewak.” In The New [New] Corpse, edited by Caroline Picard, 104–117. Chicago: Green Lantern Press.