Call for Papers: Soil Degradation and Shifting Agrarian Orders in Central Asia

Call for Papers

Soil degradation and shifting agrarian orders in Central Asia

Workshop of the working group “Salinization and soil degradation as threats to the agrarian orders in Russia, Kazakhstan/Tajikistan and Australia since 1945” at University of Tübingen’s Collaborative Research Centre 923, “Threatened Order – Societies under Stress”.

February 5th-6th 2018, Tübingen, Germany

Salinization, erosion and desiccation of agricultural soils is an unbroken trend across Central Asia. Rooted in Soviet agricultural development policies, this trend has been further exacerbated over the post-Soviet years, as agricultural infrastructure and supply channels have broken down, water has become scarcer and agriculture more commoditized. At a time when rural livelihoods have become more dependent on the income from impoverishing soils and rural environment has been increasingly depleted, known remedies are either difficult and costly to implement or might require controversial choices and cooperation that decision makers are unwilling or unable to address. In most cases, environmental burden resulting from soil degradation is unequally distributed, deepening already existing social inequalities. While soil degradation can pose grave threat to the established forms and practices of agriculture by introducing unsustainable health, economic or environmental costs, this very threat might also be instrumental in obfuscating or cementing the status quo. As soil degradation is always mediated by its (controversial) perception and interpretation, it can be a process triggering reflection, debate, change or even protest, and thus also shifts, losses and reconfigurations in local and non-local agricultural forms of knowledge and expertise.

The workshop seeks contributions that explore the ramifications of soil degradation on “agrarian orders” (that is, established knowledge, forms and practices of agricultural production embedded in ideologies and power relations) in different parts of Central Asia, with a particular focus on whether/how people and governments respond to and frame the “threat” of soil degradation across various agricultural settings. Our particular focus is on irrigation-related (i.e. secondary) soil salinization, but we are also interested in other forms of soil degradation and in case studies from neighbouring regions (Iran, Afghanistan, Xinjang…).

We ask: how do (or did) different agricultural systems (people, economies, polities) affected by soil degradation adopt similar or different ways of ignoring/coping/adapting/reacting/resisting a threatening change to the established agrarian order or ideologically embedded agrarian structure that surrounds them? What are the implications of this creeping environmental threat for the future of the environment itself, local populations and livelihoods? How do actors, policies, ideological framings and manifestations of environmental change interact/intertwine around the issue of soil degradation (mis-)management? What place does soil salinization have in relation to other forms of (perceived) degradation? We privilege an approach that prioritizes political ecology/political economy perspectives on soil salinization or other/related forms of soil degradation.

The workshop aims to combine papers from our research group with contributions from social (soil) scientists, agricultural economists, historians of agricultural environment, development experts working on the effects of soil degradation on past or present rural societies.
Our focus is mainly on local contemporary livelihoods and coping strategies; however, since agricultural legacies are crucial for understanding the present “threat” scenario, contributions focusing on the historical roots and dimensions of soil degradation will be particularly welcome.

Please send your title and abstract (150-200 words) together with your short biography (or link to your homepage) until 22nd October 2017 to:

[email protected]

If your paper is accepted, you will hear from us by 17th November 2017. Travel expenditures and accommodation could be partially or fully reimbursed and, if requested, visa support will be provided. Publication plans will be discussed over the workshop. To allow for enhanced feedback, original draft papers (6000-7000 words) will be pre-circulated among the workshop participants and discussants two weeks prior to the workshop. The language of the workshop will be English; however, we might also consider papers in Russian.

Questions can be addressed to Mustafa Coskun [mustafa.coskun(at)] and/or Tommaso Trevisani [ttrevisani(at)]