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Environmental Anthropology 2021: Hope, Ruination and Environmentalism

14-15 October 2021, School of Humanities, Tallinn University, Estonia

14-15 October 2021, School of Humanities, Tallinn University, Estonia.

Please follow the links for the workshop programme, thematic focus and to register for the event.

We are pleased to announce the second biannual meeting of the EnviroAnt Network for Environment & Anthropology.

For the 2nd Biannual EnviroAnt Workshop, we invite Anthropologists, Activists and Artists to tell the stories of environmental destruction, while attending to the hopes, aspirations, and mythologies that materialise in urban, industrial, and rural landscapes.


EnviroAnt Workshop, Tallinn 2021 programme

Please note that the timezone for this conference is Eastern European Summer Time (EEST, UTC +3)

Day 1, 14 October 2021

09:00   Welcome and Introduction

09:30   Keynote 1: Rasa Smite and Raitis Smits

Sensing Environments. Artistic Practices and Methodologies Revealing the Eco-Systematic Relations

 Atmospheric Forest (2020). Rasa Smite and Raitis Smits

Our senses have always been “mediated”, but with more recent enhancements of various ‘immersive’ technologies, our 'sensoriums' have intensified and become more mediated than ever before. Environmental monitoring sensors and remote sensing tools used in environmental sciences and landscape research are extending our knowledge, perception and experiences. Yet, we ask, which practices, tools, technologies may help us better to ‘sense’ the environment? What are the methodologies for creating the meaningful relations (with it)? And – what art can do? If the 'constructivist' approach has been used to a large extent in environmental research and other fields, ‘experiential' capabilities such as sensual and immersive properties of the environment have been mainly used in art practices that create immersive interaction through experience, reflection and speculation.

We will introduce our artistic practices of exploring various environments, real and virtual, sonic and visible, as well as invisible – from pioneering internet radio experiments pushing the boundaries of an “acoustic cyberspace” and artistic investigations in electromagnetic spectrum, to more recent 'techno-ecological' art projects exploring the landscapes using sensing technologies, data sonification and visualizations to reveal the invisible activity in nature ecosystems.  such as bacteria activity happening in the swamp ecosystems or volatile emissions of the pine trees in the forest and atmosphere.

To create “Pond Battery” (2014-2015) and “Swamp Radio” (2018) artworks of “Biotricity” series, we performed artistic interventions installing “bacteria batteries'', sensors and transmitting devices in ponds, swamps and other wetlands in North Europe and North America. Environmental data were collected, sonified and visualized making visible the invisible activities in nature such as bacteria living in a pond or swamp sediments producing electricity.

Our recent artwork “Atmospheric Forest” (2021), an immersive VR environment is created using remote scanned 3D forest environment, and visualzes the data of the fragrant emissions of pine trees, revealing complex patterns of relations between climate change, forest emissions and the atmosphere.

By showcasing how sensing technologies and immersive tools used in artistic practice are well suited to reveal our interdependence of living organisms on each other and their environment, we would like to discuss future strategies, tools and methodologies for establishing two (or multi) directional link with our environment. Moreover, we argue that focusing our attention on “terrestrial co-existance” (Latour) and combining both ‘constructivist’ and ‘experiential’ approaches may help us to find less hazardous routes into the future and to create interactive relations with 'more than human' environments.


10:45   coffee

11:15   Pecha Kucha Panel 1: Contesting the relations of landscape, art and environment

1.         Sandro Simon (University of Cologne).

Bidonmondes: Sensing Friction, Grasping Hope.

2.         Carlo A. Cubero, PhD (Tallinn University, Estonia)

Time at Lahemaa National Park: Thinking with a Camera.

3.         Jeanne Féaux de la Croix (University of Tübingen, Germany)

The Naryn and Syr Darya: Displaying a Virtually Ruined River to Release a Riparian Otherwise in Central Asia?

4.         John Grzinich (Estonian Academy of Arts)

An Ear to the Earth: Sensing otherness through listening practices.

5.         Laura Kuusk (Estonian Academy of Arts)

From action to practice: Working with art and environment.

6.         Kitija Balcare (University of Latvia)

What will remain after us? Site-specific theatre in Latvia in times of pandemic.

7.         Alessandro Rippa and Carlin Maertens (LMU Munich)

Hunting, conservation, and multi-species entanglements: Outlining a visual project from the Italian Alps.

8.         Marie Lusson and Christelle Gramaglia (French Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment Sciences (INRAE)

Repairing the rivers of the Anthropocene: the story of a socio-visual experiment to move from technical action to care.

9.         Eeva Berglund (Aalto University)

The social in environmental imaginings – thoughts from a teacher.

12:15   Discussion

13:00   Lunch

14:00   Artist’s responses / excursion

Evening dinner

Day 2, 15 October 2021

09:00   Keynote 2: Annika Lems (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle/Saale)

Precarious Politics of Placemaking: Why the Historicity of Environmental Future Imaginaries Matters

10:15   Coffee

10:45   Pecha Kucha Panel 2: Ruined pasts, ruined futures

1.         Nikolaos Olma (Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient)

“No Future, Only Ruins”: De-industrialisation and Toxicity in a former mining town in Kyrgyzstan.

2.         Dragan Djunda (Central European University)

Hope at the ruins of energy transition in rural Serbia.

3.         Michaela Haug (University of Cologne)

Solidarity and Hope in Ruined Forests: Envisioning a Just Transition in the Palm Oil Industry

4.         Man-kei Tam (The Chinese University of Hong Kong)

Activism after Fukushima: Citizens, Experts, and Farmers on a “Decontaminated” Landscape.

5.         Joonas Plaan, (Tallinn University and Estonian Fund for Nature)

Nature tourism in Anthropocene landscapes.

6.       Markéta Zandlová (Charles University)

From ruins to sustainability: creative world-making.

11:45   Discussion

12:30   Lunch

13:30   Keynote 3: Stine Krøijer (University of Copenhagen)

            Activism and its futures in landscapes of broken developmental dreams

14:45   Coffee

15:15   Pecha Kucha panel 3: Hope and activism across boundaries

1.         Larisa Kurtović and Yanna Jović (University of Ottawa)

Saving Lake Nula: Postindustrial Natures and Post-Extractive Futures in Postwar Bosnia Herzegovina.

2.         Eunice Blavaskunas (Whitman College in Walla Walla)

Resurgence: Outbreaks of Bark Beetle and Nationalism in the Białowieża Forest, Poland.

3.         Maike Melles (Frobenius Institute for Research in Cultural Anthropology)

Environmentalism and the Problem of Epistemic Superiority: Hierarchies of Knowledge between Landowners and Land Workers in the Spanish Dehesa Landscape

4.         Ruy Llera Blanes and Carolina Valente Cardoso (University of Gothenburg)

‘Building Communities’, Hope and Citizenship Frameworks in the Face of Drought, Devolution and Death in Southern Angola.

5.         Helen Vaaks (Lahemaa National Park)

Endangered species, threats and conservation: The life of freshwater pearl mussels in the hands of humans

6.        Arev Papazian (Central European University)

‘Careless’ fishermen and puzzled activists: conflicting stances toward the ecological change of Armenia’s Lake Sevan

7.         Jeannine-Madeleine Fischer (University of Konstanz)

Toxic Tours through Cancer Alley

16:15   Discussion

17:00   Final remarks


Thematic focus: Hope and Ruination in Contested Landscapes/terrains

Thematically, this conference will focus on the interplay between hope and ruination at play in the politics of making and remaking landscapes. Environmental Anthropology has long been concerned with landscapes as more-than-human, contested spaces, and as temporal markers that materialise people’s ideals and fears. Environmental degradation has been a key concern to environmentalists, but equally to environmental anthropologists and scholars in related disciplines alike. Taking contested landscapes/terrains as its starting point and material anchor, this conference invites efforts to tell the stories and lamentations of environmental destruction. At the same time, we invite participants to attend to the hopes, aspirations but also mythologies that, too, materialise in urban, industrial, and rural landscapes. What place is there for optimism in environmental anthropology?

Hosted in Tallinn, exactly 30 years after its independence from the Soviet Union, the conference will draw specific attention to soviet, post-socialist, and capitalist regimes of landscape (trans)formation. How does the allocation, but also contestation of private, military, and public spaces shape environmental relations? What role do European and state relations play in contemporary environmental degradation and exploitation, activism and conservation? How do landscapes/terrains come into being or transform, and how do they continue to exist in relation to such mechanisms of power?

Environmental Anthropology between Activism and Mediation

In line with the thematic focus described above, the conference will facilitate discussion and exchange between environmental anthropologists (inviting also scholars and practitioners in related disciplines) on the question how environmental anthropology might intervene in contested landscapes/terrains.

One of the core strengths of anthropology is its ability to grasp the complexity, or ‘messiness’, of social and environmental relations. This nuanced view can be productive in bringing refinement into polarised debates,  allowing exchange between opposing actors and even reconcile seemingly opposing needs. But it may also paralyse, silencing the voices that are unable or unwilling to tune into positivist and one-liner dominated public debates. How do anthropologists balance their commitment to understanding the intricacies of the world with the need or desire to speak out and take a stance? What narratives are needed in order to secure liveable futures for people, nonhuman species and landscapes across the globe, and what narratives could anthropologists produce to make use of their discipline’s strengths? And what roles might anthropologists take in the environmental debates of today, vis-à-vis their interlocutors and other human and nonhuman stakeholders?


Following up on the successful inaugural meeting in 2019 in Cologne, the event will take place over two days and consists of three keynote lectures followed by one panel each, containing innovative involvements crossing disciplinary and sectorial borders, Pecha Kucha presentations from delegates, and discussions welcoming contributions from the audience.

Pecha Kucha is a presentation format in which the presenter has 20 slides that are displayed 20 seconds each. This provides the speaker with a total of 6 minutes and 40 seconds to present their work and allows for quick and effective transmission of ideas when meeting in person. It is also particularly suitable for hybrid and online meetings, as people’s attention spans tend to be shorter when looking at a screen. The Pecha Kucha presentations will be thematically clustered in groups of four, allowing ample time for discussion. All presentations will be plenary and there will be no parallel sessions.


  1. Contesting the relations of landscape, art and environment
  2. Ruined pasts, ruined futures
  3. Hope and activism across boundaries

Each of these panels is explored in conversation with the overall theme of the workshop, with additional aim to find innovative and practical ways to address these intersections. To realise such aims, we are inviting participants from other fields to engage with the themes, as well as with the surrounding post-socialist landscapes. With such cross-sectorial impact focus, the event hopes to highlight and develop the relevance of anthropology in addressing the challenges of environmental crises and to contribute to the search for solutions.

We welcome contributions from within anthropology and related disciplines (e.g. environmental humanities, sociology, critical geography, etc.) that correspond with the thematic focus of the conference, focussing on hope and ruination in contested landscapes across the globe or in the post-soviet context in particular.

Organising board: Aet Annist (University of Tartu and Tallinn University), Linda Kaljundi (Tallinn University), Kristin Kuutma (University of Tartu), Franz Krause (University of Cologne), Arvid van Dam (University of Bonn), Katrine Callander (University of Kent), Alexandra Cotofana (Zayed University Abu Dhabi)



+371 67228478 (office)

+371 26546776 (Rasa Smite)