The Back-To-The-Land movement and nature: a personal journey through "haptic geographies

Lead Research Organisation: University of Plymouth
Department Name: Sch of Geog Earth & Environ Sciences


The Anthropocene' has been suggested by the Anthropocene Working Group (AWG) to the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS) to define a new geological epoch which acknowledges human agency as a major player in shaping the geological structure of the Earth (Crutzen 2002; Steffen et al. 2007). By revealing the profound and complex entanglement of bio (life) and geo (earth), the Anthropocene concept elevates societal processes to geological scale and calls for a re-evaluation of some of the conceptual foundations of Western society (Castree 2014). Most importantly the Nature-Society dualism, central to Modern environmental politics, is being challenged from many critical perspectives (Castree 2001; Cronon 1995; Plumwood 1993; Haraway 1991; Latour 1993). Anthropologists have documented alternative conceptions of nature-society relations based on non-dualistic ontologies (Ingold 2000; Viveiros De Castro 2004; Bird-David 1999) and increasingly Western scholars are engaging with a relational ontology in which temporary assemblages of humans and non-humans are co-created in a dynamic dance of becoming (Whatmore 2002; Latour 1993; Haraway 1991). However, very little academic attention has been paid to the countercultural current that has been running alongside the totalising narrative of modernity epitomised by the Nature-Society dualism. Academics are now engaging with experimentations on-the-ground by social movements and marginal communities that attempt to respond to the philosophical and practical challenges raised by the acceptance of the Anthropocene concept (Gibson-Graham 2008; Halfacree 2006; Pickerill & Chatterton 2006; Smith & Jehlicka 2013; Alexander 2013; Guidotti 2013).
The Back-To-The-Land (BTTL) movement is very suitable for investigating alternative ontologies of nature because of its fundamental pursuit of connection with the natural world (Jacob 1997; Pepper 1991; Halfacree 2006). Its origins can be traced back to the 19th century Jeffersonian ideal of a self-reliant family homestead (Wilbur 2013) but it emerges again with the 1960s counterculture in the form of intentional communes experimenting with alternative socio-economic systems (McKay 1996; Wilbur 2013). However, while 70s and 80s communes actively dropped out of mainstream society but lacked in the performance of a truly alternative lifestyle, contemporary back-to-the-landers emphasise action and are willing to engage with mainstream society (McKay 1998; Halfacree 2006). Through socio-ecological practices embedded and embodied, the BTTL movement appears to be experimenting with "counter-culturenature ontologies" (Sullivan, 2013: 60) that depart radically from the modern prescription. Indeed, according to Halfacree (2007: 8), the BTTL movement can engage "directly to varying degrees with the diverse life challenges facing us in this new millennium" and indeed in the Anthropocene.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
1946466 Studentship ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 31/03/2022 Carlotta Molfese