Shifting sands: the rhythms and temporalities of island sandscapes

Prof. Uma Kothari1,2, Dr Alex Arnall3

1University of Manchester, Manchester, UK

2University of Melbourne, Melbourne, VIC, Australia

3University of Reading, Reading, UK


This paper explores the different timescales and temporalities of the movement of sand. In recent years, growing scholarly attention has focused on the qualities of sand and the increasing demands for its use worldwide. However, the dynamics of this complex substance and the ways in which it flows through entangled human and non-human environments remains largely under-explored. In drawing on recently collected empirical data, this paper explores the speed, pace and cadence of the passage of sand in, around and beyond a small island in the Maldives. It argues for the need to adopt a more substantive comprehension of the choreography of sand as a place-making process that occurs across different, interconnected temporalities, and seeks to explore the emotional and sensory reactions that shifting sand provokes. These temporal dynamics have profound implications for how we understand islands in the context of global environmental change. The paper takes the reader on a walk across the island sandscape to reveal the mutually interlocking roles that human and non-human agents play in transforming its form, thereby creating an ever-changing sense of place.


Professor of Migration and Postcolonbial Studies, University of Manchester, UK and Vice-Chancellor Fellow, School of Geography, University of Melbourne

Making Melbourne concrete: Geographies of materiality and supply

Dr Tim Edensor

Melbourne University, Carlton, VIC


Melbourne’s built environment and infrastructure is rapidly growing. The city has always been amply bestowed with large quantities of high-quality building material: local clay deposits have supplied the large brick industry and basalt (bluestone) is widely available as a durable building stone. At present, these older materials are being rapidly supplemented and replaced with the enormous quantities of concrete required for the construction of huge infrastructural projects and city centre tower blocks. Once more the city is amply provided; plentiful sand and local bluestone, now crushed, provide the key constituents of Melbourne’s concrete. I focus on the changing geographies wrought by this trend towards granular materialities rather than solid units, the advantageous affordances of sand and aggregate for vertical urbanism and speculate about the future material implications of accelerated urban growth.


Senior Research Fellow, School of Geography, Melbourne University

Guiding carbon farming using interdisciplinary mixed methods mapping

Dr Alison L Browne1, Beth.F.T. Brockett2

1University Of Manchester, United Kingdom

2Natural England/Lancaster Environment Centre, United Kingdom


Drawing on our new paper in People and Nature, this presentation explores opportunities for increasing and maintaining soil carbon stocks through carbon farming in extensively managed grasslands, which form the backbone of livestock farming in upland regions of the United Kingdom. Extensively managed grasslands represent a major soil carbon pool that is both sensitive to long term management and important for climate change mitigation (Smith 2014; Ward et al. 2016). We demonstrate an empirical application of interdisciplinary ecological research, through a mixed methods mapping approach, which includes quantitative soil carbon modelling, ethnographic methods and place-based interviewing. We follow in the footsteps of Riley (2008) in considering the production and politics of knowledge within agri-environment systems; of critical physical geographers (Lave et al. 2014), who offer new methods for “redistributing expertise between science and affected publics in relation to environmental problems” (Landström et al. 2011, 1617); and the work of feminist and critical cartographers. We seek to demonstrate how interdisciplinary mapping of soil carbon processes can be deployed to reveal different versions of the farm including embodied and scientific senses of soil carbon, and knowing such can improve the communication of information between different stakeholders, and inform agri-environmental policy design.


Dr Alison Browne (Lecturer, Geography, University of Manchester) is an inter/transdisciplinary geographer working on water/energy/food/carbon/plastic in the UK/EU, China, India. She completed UG/PhD at Curtin University; and has been a Research Fellow at CSIRO, Curtin University, Lancaster University.

Restoring Broken Histories

Ms Lilian Pearce1

1ANU, Canberra, Australia


By the early 1900s, overgrazed arid areas of the American mid-west and Australia simultaneously found themselves confronting the effects of unfettered colonial land manipulation and extraction on old, tired soils. Around this time, the discipline of ecology was emerging in Australia, in response to soil conservation concerns. Between 1936-1938 in Broken Hill, in semi-arid Australia, a ‘campaign against the sand’ was launched to save mining practices, profitability, and lifestyle, by re-establishing a local arid-ecosystem around the city. This paper considers “The Regen” – one of the world’s first ecological restoration projects – within a history of settler transformations of the Australian crust. It draws on historical analysis and social research conducted between June 2015 and March 2017. Stories erupt of love, gender, health, and environmental justice, and silenced Wiljakali and Barkindji cultures. These stories contest notions of environmental order and control. The Regen has many positive values, but also acts to pacify ongoing realities of mining that make their way into physical bodies, mentalities and material legacies. A prosperous settler-industrial heritage amidst challenging ecological conditions is celebrated, but time and again, Broken Hill is buffeted by intersections of colonial imaginaries and ecological realities, ancient geologies and global economies.


Lilian recently submitted her PhD thesis: ‘Historicising Australian Ecological Restoration: Environmental Histories of a Cultural Practice’ through the Fenner School of Environment and Society, ANU. Since completing a Bachelor of Science with honours in Geography at UTAS in 2011, she has worked across disciplines in academic, government and practical roles, in urban, regional and remote settings. Her research interests span environmental history, political ecology and cultural geography. Lilian is a member of the Australian and New Zealand Environmental History Working Group, and the Victorian National Trust’s Landscape Reference Group.

Re-placing soil in cities

Dr Sarah Robertson1

1RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia


What role does soil play in sustainable residential designs and how does it reconfigure place-based human-nature relations in cities?  In design and planning practice, place-focused efforts promote human connection to place as important for human health, wellbeing and sustainability outcomes in cities. However, the challenges facing cities are more-than-human. In response to broad calls to decentre humans conceptually and in practice, a growing body of work in geography and the social sciences is drawing attention to the non-human or other-than-human beings and things that inhabit cities, and the relationships that define more-than-human entanglements. Much of this scholarship has focused on animals and more recently plants. Yet, in both theory and practice, the place of soil in cities has received much less attention. Given soil’s role as a foundational entity for life and as a foundation from which design-development processes depart, there is room for further work on its place in more-than-human cities and in interventions that aim to make cities more socially and ecologically sustainable. Drawing on empirical qualitative work on sustainable design and dwelling, this paper discusses the potential of human engagements with soil in cities as micro interventions that may help to reconfigure human-nature relations in urban realms.


Sarah Robertson is Research Fellow in the Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University. Her interdisciplinary research emerges from cultural and urban geographies and examines sustainable interventions at the residential scale.


From mountain to sea: The erosion and extraction of sovereign sands

Dr Katherine Sammler1

1California State University Maritime, Vallejo, United States


The black sands off Aotearoa New Zealand’s Taranaki Bight are made of titanomagnetite, containing high concentrations of iron. Their dark color and magnetic properties signify the coveted ore within, targeted for controversial seabed mining. These sands originate from the volcanic Mt. Taranaki, eroded by streams and rivers into the ocean, representing a direct material exchange from mountains to sea. Mt. Taranaki is the third geographic feature in the country to receive legal personality, meaning local Māori tribes will share guardianship of the sacred mountain with the government, as opposed to exerting human sovereignty over it. Within the context of longstanding disputes over Māori rights to the foreshore, the fractal property of coasts draw attention to the material politics of dividing land and sea, and therefore offshore resource rights. This sand exhibits geontological tensions between the entangled natures of life/non-life, subject/object, interior/exterior, and the mobility and spatiality of a granular body.


Dr. Katherine Sammler is trained as a geographer, with a background in atmospheric science and physics. She is currently an assistant professor at California State University Maritime in the Department of Global Studies & Maritime Affairs. She conducts research at the intersection of science and politics in the realm of oceans, atmospheres, and outer space. In all areas, her work considers the role of knowledge, law, and power in defining global commons, access, and environmental justice.

Following a disappearing resource: Research methods for study of the global trade in sand

Dr Vanessa Lamb1

1University Of Melbourne


Sand mining is now a globally significant problem causing serious consequences for rivers and coasts from where it is extracted. The gravity of the situation is underlined by a 2014 UNEP report showing that annual consumption of sand now more than doubles the yearly amount supplied by rivers globally. This paper will present a research methodology for studying sand and its extraction and trade in places, following sand as it is excavated from rivers and coasts, and then shipped and traded for use in as concrete and fill that shapes the modern urban form, as well as in the glass and microchips that mediate our digital age. I consider the material challenges posed for research methodologies of “following” and “teleconnecting” global flows when the resource itself is running out, with an aim to tease out tensions of presence and absence in global sand flows.


Dr Vanessa Lamb is a Geographer at the University of Melbourne. In research and teaching in the School of Geography, she focuses on human-environment geographies and political ecology of Southeast Asia. Dr. Lamb completed her dissertation, Ecologies of Rule and Resistance, focused on the politics of ecological knowledge and development of the Salween River at York University’s Department of Geography in 2014.

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