About 20 STS scholars from around the world gathered for a three-day workshop, spending much of the time in the field.
We learned about Australia’s southern coalfields.
We toured a coal mine and considered the role of corporations in the production of knowledge of the underground.
We listened to activists, environmental professionals, geologists, coal industry representatives, and folk songs from the perspective of coal miners.
We focused on methodology: What research methods and analytical strategies can we use to observe and make sense of human interactions with subterranean materials and places?
We hoped to better understand and share the ways in which we come to know the underground spaces and places that are so difficult to see, explore and develop.
Our Australian colleagues, Matthew Kearnes, Paul Brown, and Sharyn Cullis, organized all of the local logistics and made this an incredibly eye opening and engaging event.
We have invested time into building this small scholarly community because we see an important opportunity for STS scholars to inform decision-making about the vast parts of our planet that lie beneath the surface.
Our questions can bring values and social justice to the foreground, asserting their relevance to policy debates, engineering education, and technological design.
In our network, we’ve seen the use of many of key STS frameworks, as well as new ideas about the anthropocene, materialities, temporalities, verticality, and flows.
What kinds of research practices can we use to form knowledge of the underground, from ethnography to technological tools of mediation?
Encountering the underground demands us to borrow from or collaborate with those in the natural and physical sciences, not just to observe scientists at work but for our own safety, access to the field, and understanding of what we observe.
We must grapple more openly with practices of speculation, and select research practices that overcome the lack of personal or ocular observation of the underground.
Should we aim to pluralize meanings of the underground—not just as repository, resource, or venue for exploration? Offer more complex narratives about human encounters with the underground, moving beyond simple binaries of “mining versus the community”? How are representations of the underground gendered?
There were also calls to emphasize connectivity and flows between the surface and subsurface, to avoid naturalizing these distinctions. This may open up possibilities to better grapple with problems requiring interdisciplinary knowledge.
To continue the conversation, join our mailing list. Look for the Google Group called STS: Underground Network.