An ethnopedological survey of soil culture in the Austrian province Burgenland

Project overview [here...] Soils fulfil a variety of tasks in social and cultural everyday life: As arable land they are an elementary part of the cultural landscape and as such a decisive part when it comes to the establishment of cultural and personal identities; as area under cultivation and plant habitat they are the foundation of biodiversity; as cultural part of a society they can be in close relationship with spiritual practices or myths and hence be deeply rooted in beliefs and within the moral system of a society.

The global debate about the handling of natural resources – like soil, water and air – is long since core topic of a scientific discourse about climate- and environmental protection. A common approach to this global debate is the discussion of local and actor specific forms of knowledge. Studies indicate, that local actors have a different, more practice oriented and a culturally determined view on their environment. Their access and their personal points of views are thereby driven by personal requirements as well as socio-cultural processes within the own culture.

Our project looks at the interaction between humans and natural resources within Austrian agriculture through focusing a culture of soil. The research will be conducted in Austrian province Burgenland. Over the project runtime of 36 months, we will survey the cultural dimensions of soils within this region using ethnological and ethnobiological research methods.

What does ethnopedology actually mean?
Ethnopedology is part of ethnobiological research focusing on the aspects of soil. It is an interdisciplinary field on the intersection of technical-, natural- and social sciences and humanities. Ethnopedology can be understood as the debate of knowledge, beliefs, practices and behaviour of people in connection with pedological phenomena (e. g. ideals, rituals, moral concepts, cultivation technics or the knowledge of texture, quality and condition of soils).

Why this research project?

Soils are, besides oceans and the atmosphere, the most important reservoir of carbon and are in direct connection to those. Soil erosion, the combustion of biomass and a decrease of soil fertility are leading to a release of carbon (e.g. in form of CO2). This results in an increase of carbon in the atmosphere and effects climatic changes.

To understand the dynamics behind soil and land management practices we have to learn more about the symbolic value of soil and related activities. This is particularly important within conversion programs and the further development of new (experimental or organic) farming methods. Debates on agricultural cultivation, soil sealing, river controlling or road construction are mostly based on technical planning approaches. Although dealing with environmental protection of landscapes and natural refuges, these debates hardly ever consider the cultural dimensions of soil and landscapes. One possible way to implement new strategies in such a debate would suggest, not only to emphasis technical and economic possibilities or ecological advantages in courses and training programs, but also to draw more attention on sociocultural and aesthetic factors. We argue that therefore that the key to change the present predominating agricultural system can be found in the alteration of social values and norms.

Project Team

Project management Christian Vogl – Professor of organic farming and leader of the working group Knowledge Systems and Innovations at the Department of Organic Farming at University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna. Co-project management Helmut Eberhart – Professor at the Institute of European Ethnology at the Karl-Franzens-University, Graz. Member of staff Sebastian Wahlhütter – PhD in the field of soil based knowledge systems at the Institute of European Ethnology at the Karl-Franzens-University, Graz.


Lokales Wissen über Boden zwischen Praxis und Theorie / PhD thesis / Sebastian Wahlhütter [download] Poster of the project [download]