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Photo by Louis Maniquet

Through Thick and Thin: Introducing Critical Zones

Susan Mathews

In a few weeks, we will be launching a new season of our flagship podcast, The Subverse. This year the theme that we’re exploring is Earth—no small matter!

We’ve learnt a lot from the last few years of working on the podcast—especially while making the last two seasons, which explored water and fire. Each season is the product of heavy research and planning, and somehow there is always material that we couldn’t incorporate into episodes, and interactions that we couldn’t spotlight. We’ve had the opportunity to talk to a number of incredible guests over the years, but there have been several people we’ve wanted to host but couldn’t for a variety of reasons, and so many topics we’ve wanted to discuss but haven’t been able to yet.

So, this year, we wanted to approach this differently. What if we took those bits and pieces and grafted them into something fresh? Create a separate zone of entanglement and co-shaping, nurturing and nourishing discussion and engagement. While spinning off the podcast in some senses, this zone will have its own orbit.

This is earth’s most biologically and culturally active region. In comparison to the size of the earth, it’s like a thin skin or a membrane.

To take us on this adventure, our colleague Bhumika Saraswati will host ‘Critical Zones’, a new social media project, over the next few months. Bhumika’s passion and unbridled curiosity are contagious, making her the perfect person to anchor this new venture. She will introduce this space on social media soon, but in this little prologue I wanted to tell you how this project came into being.

The term ‘critical zones’ is borrowed loosely from the earth sciences. It was popularised by Bruno Latour, a French philosopher. The definition that we’re using as our starting point is the thin, outer veneer of Earth’s surface extending from the top of the vegetation canopy to the depths of groundwater. This is earth’s most biologically and culturally active region. In comparison to the size of the earth, it’s like a thin skin or a membrane. But it’s teeming with life; it’s a critical part of earth’s physical body so to speak.

Oceans teem with natural life, another Earthly layer to be explored. Photo by Francesco Ungaro.

Sprawling urban life that is also a part of the Earth’s skin. Photo by Anirudh K.

For us this is where the thick of it meets the thin. Earth’s skin may be thin, but its narratives and stories/storeys are thick. We are also trying to be mindful of neglecting the oceanic in this terrestrial turn, or ignoring our expanding urban skylines. So, how do we encrust this thin skin with a thick narrative? What are the plural earthly multitudes that appear in this story zone?

I am aware that all these terms, including ‘critical zones,’ can be ideologically and politically fraught, and be the subject of internecine academic wars. The last thing we want to do is get caught up in a War of Words/Worlds. So I want to state at the outset that we are not keeping faith with any social or natural sciences here or adhering to any theories. Rather we are riffing off the term as it lends itself to multiple meanings, and that always feels like a good starting point for exploration.

Instead, we ask—what does it mean to work with earth as praxis, as moving ground, and using these shifting critical zones not just as geo-markers but as social, political, ecological and historical zones of enquiry and critique?

So, how do we encrust this thin skin with a thick narrative? What are the plural earthly multitudes that appear in this story zone?

In this storytelling endeavour, we will use all the mediums at our disposal—texts, visual tales, and first person narratives. Join us as we go on sensorial explorations, foreground the political and personal, and discover human and more-than-human voices.

Follow Dark ‘n’ Light on Instagram to find out more and co-shape this zone of discovery and inquiry with us.