Publications

VITAL DECOMPOSITION

SOIL PRACTITIONERS + LIFE POLITICS

In Colombia, decades of social and armed conflict and the US-led war on drugs have created a seemingly untenable situation for scientists and rural communities as they attempt to care for forests and grow non-illicit crops. In Vital Decomposition Kristina Lyons presents an ethnography of human-soil relations. She follows state soil scientists and small farmers across labs, greenhouses, forests, and farms and attends to the struggles and collaborations between campesinos, agrarian movements, state officials, and scientists over the meanings of peace, productivity, rural development, and sustainability in Colombia. In particular, Lyons examines the practices and philosophies of rural farmers who value the decomposing layers of leaves, which make the soils that sustain life in the Amazon, and shows how the study and stewardship of the soil point to alternative frameworks for living and dying. In outlining the life-making processes that compose and decompose into soil, Lyons theorizes how life can thrive in the face of the violence, criminalization, and poisoning produced by militarized, growth-oriented development. 

Kristina Lyons

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English Version

SOIL PRACTITIONERS + LIFE POLITICS

VITAL DECOMPOSITION

BookPages: 232

Illustrations: 42 illustrations

Published: April 2020

Author: Kristina Lyons, Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Environmental Humanities at the University of Pennsylvania.

SubjectsAnthropologyEnvironmental and Agrarian Studies, Feminist Science Studies, Latin American Studies

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Spanish Version

suelos, selva y propuestas de vida

DEsCOMPOSIcIóN VItal

BookPages: 247

Illustrations: 39 illustrations

Published: April 2021

Author: Kristina Lyons, Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Environmental Humanities at the University of Pennsylvania.

SubjectsAnthropologyEnvironmental and Agrarian Studies, Feminist Science Studies, Latin American Studies

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BOOK AWARD

Honorable Mention:

2021 Bryce Wood Book Award from the Latin American Studies Association

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At each International Congress, the Latin American Studies Association presents the Bryce Wood Book Award to an outstanding book on Latin America in the social sciences and humanities published in English.

https://lasaweb.org/en/lasa2021/bryce-wood-book-award/

INTERVIEWS

The New Books Network is a consortium of author-interview podcast channels dedicated to raising the level of public discourse by introducing scholars and other serious writers to a wide public via new media. 

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BOOK REVIEWS

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Vital Decomposition: Soil Practitioners & Life Politics

Review by Meghan Sullivan

 

This exciting and innovative ethnography centers the often invisible, yet ubiquitous, materiality of soil. The book will, I hope, generate a renewed interest in the political ecology of soils and encourage future studies around human-soil relations within the social sciences.

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Review of Vital Decomposition: Soil Practitioners and Life Politics , Lyons, Kristina M.. Duke University Press, Durham and London.

 

Review by Kathleen M. Smits and Jessica M. Smith


In Vital Decomposition, Lyons brings to light themes that transcend the specific conditions of Amazonian soils and challenges the reader to question narratives of soil objectification that obscure the interdependent relationship between soils and people. Her analysis of decay, germination, and life challenges binary models of understanding and encourages us to think more of what can come to be. Death can make different forms of life possible. Farmers can be inventors. Scientists can develop “ojos para ella” or eyes for la selva. Different soil practices can create different kinds of humans, ethics, and intertwined ecologies.

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Vital Decomposition: Soil Practitioners & Life Politics

Review by Tyanif Rico Rodríguez

 

"Cuando alguien te diga que el suelo es solo una superficie, desconfía. ¡El suelo está vivo!”. ¿Cómo es aquella vitalidad del suelo? ¿Cuál es ese registro de lo vivo y para quiénes? Al analizar las relaciones entre personas y suelo, se puede dar dimensión a esta afirmación, así como un margen de respuesta a aquellas preguntas... 

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Stories of Soil, Soy and Lifeotherwise

Review by María Elena García

Through sensorially powerful ethnographic writing about relations between humans and soil in Colombia, Lyons tells us a story about soil farmers in the Amazon and soil scientists in Bogotá. She describes Colombian histories of war, displacement, and dispossession and the violence of US counternarcotics and development policies in the region. Perhaps most powerfully, she writes about hojarasca: the rich, decomposing layers of organic material found in the Putumayo jungle. This hojarasca inspires the activist farmers Lyons thinks with, and it animates her focus on resilience and the life-affirming possibilities offered by the alternative farming and gardening practices she so compellingly describes...

WHAT PEOPLE SAY

“Vital Decomposition weaves enthralling ecopoetic writing with the finest ethnographic storytelling.

Kristina Lyons tells us a compelling story of human-soil relations nurturing insurgent life from the very grounds of eco-social devastation.

An indispensable and inspiring read for hopeful decolonial naturecultures.”

MARÍA PUIG DE LA BELLACASA

Author of 

Matters of Care:

Speculative Ethics in More Than Human Worlds

“Making several important interventions in biopolitics, multispecies ethnography, and feminist science studies, Vital Decomposition is a riveting, engaging, timely, and intimate book.

It is the best kind of ethnography; it takes us to the small, marginal, and forgotten and examines the world through them, making us feel as though we've been looking at everything the wrong way for a while.”

KREGG HETHERINGTON

Author of 

The Government of Beans:

Regulating Life in the Age of Monocrops

“Her analysis aligns unapologetically with these farmers, offering both a powerful critique of capitalist agriculture and a rich account of alternative practices.”

“A strength of the book is Lyons’ rejection of the academic conceit of being more knowledgeable than her interlocutors.” 

ALEX DIAMOND

 

NACLA Magazine

If you have thoughts or comments about the book, please leave them here.

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Selected publications

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BETTERING CONFLICT: RIGHTS OF THE AMAZON IN COSMOPOLITICAL WORLDS (2021)

Revista de Antropología y Sociología: Virajes 23(2): 105-139

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(Spanish)

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RÍOS Y RECONCILIACIÓN PROFUNDA

La reconstrucción de la memoria socioecológica en tiempos de conflicto y "transición" en Colombia (2019)

Maguaré 33 (2): 209-245.

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(Spanish)

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CHEMICAL WARFARE IN COLOMBIA

Evidentiary ecologies and senti-actuando practices of justice (2018)

Social Studies of Science 48 (3): 414-437

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(English)

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DECOMPOSITION AS LIFE POLITICS

Soils, Selva, and Small Farmers under the Gun of the U.S.-Colombian War on Drugs (2016)

Cultural Anthropology 31 (1): 55-80

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(English)

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ILLICIT CROP FRONTIERS: COLONIALISM, COMMODIFICATION, AND COUNTERMOVEMEMNTS

Interview for essay on "(Il)licit Crop Frontiers: Colonialism, Commodification, and Countermovements" edited by Serena Stein and Katie Sandwell, Commodity Frontiers 2: 24-32

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(English)

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RIVERS HAVE MEMORY

The (im)possibility of floods and histories of urban de‐and‐ reconstruction in the Andean‐Amazonian foothills (2018)

City & Society 30 (3)

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(English)

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GUERRA QUÍMICA EN COLOMBIA

Ecologías de la evidencia y senti-actuar prácticas de justicia (2017)

Universitas Humanísticas 84: 203-234

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(Spanish)

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SOIL SCIENCE

Development and the "Elusive Nature" of Colombia's Amazonian Plains (2014)

Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology 19 (2): 212-236

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(English)

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TIMES OF PANDEMIC AND SOCIO-ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE

Book chapter in Essays about the Pandemic, pg. 167-176.

(2020)

Essays about the Pandemic

Cali: Universidad ICESI

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(Spanish)

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LOS RÍOS TIENEN MEMORIA

La (im)posibilidad de las inundaciones e historias de (de) y (re)construcción urbana en el piedemonte amazónico (2018)

AlaOrilladelRío: Centro de pensamiento desde la Amazonía colombiana

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(Spanish)

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SELVA, LIFE AND DEATH

A conversation in Images with Kristina Lyons (2016)

Cultural Anthropology, Supplementals

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(English)

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