I am a cultural and environmental geographer broadly researching the relations between humans, other species, and technologies. I am particularly interested in how developments in science and technology implicate the lives of animals and environmental governance within the overlapping crises of climate breakdown and mass extinction.
Prior to becoming a Nottingham Research Fellow in January 2023, I worked as a Postdoctoral Resarcher in Science and Technology Studies at the Université de Liège (Belgium), on the ERC funded project 'The Body Societal: Unfolding Genomics Infrastructure in Cattle Livestock Selection and Reproduction'. In addition to my position in the School of Geography, I am also a member of Nottingham's Institute for Science and Society. I have a PhD in Geography from the University of Cambridge, an MSc in Nature, Society, and Environmental Governance from the University of Oxford, and a BSc (Hons) in Ecological and Environmental Sciences from the University of Edinburgh. During my PhD fielwork in Spain and Frence (2018-2020) I was a visiting researcher at the Institut de Ciència i Tecnologia Ambientals, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.
When working in field biology and conservation ecology I became interested in the cultural and historical contexts affecting the changing roles of science and technology in contemporary society. My doctoral research focussed on emergent technologies in the promise of 'de-extinction', which can be understood as the attempt to reverse the ecological effects of species extinction through deliberate intervention, often in the form of cloning or genome editing. As a Postdoctoral Researcher in Belgium, I examined the role of big data, machine learning, and artificial intelligence in shaping livestock selection practices seeking to produce 'climate friendly cattle'. In 2020, I co-founded the international, interdisciplinary Digital Ecologies research group with other early-career researchers. Through drawing on digital geography, more-than-human geography, political ecology, and new media studies, we explore the digital mediation of nonhuman life and its ecological implications. I am an editor of the upcoming Digital Ecologies: Mediating More-than-human Worlds (Manchester University Press, 2023).
My Nottingham Research Fellowship (2023-2026), entitled Synthetic Biogeographies, draws from these past areas of research experience within the interdisciplinary context of synthetic biology, which involves the use of genome-editing technologies to alter, manage, and control life at the genomic scale. The implications of such technologies pose a plethora of cultural, political, economic, and ecological questions, requiring social scientific attention at a scale that matches the pace of technological deployment. Throughout the fellowship I will examine how these emergent biotechnologies are already recalibrating more-than-human geographies in the empirical contexts of regenerative agriculture, de-extinction, and rewilding.
I maintain a range of ongoing collaborations with artists and designers. My research explores how science and technology is understood, communicated, and critiqued by those in the arts working outside the vernacular of scientific expertise, and how broader publics are brought into conversations about the ethics and politics of biotechnologies through artistic intervention. From February-September 2023, my work with artist Christian Kosmas Mayer on the extinction and de-extinction of the bucardo (Capra pyrenaica pyrenaica) will show at the Deutsches Hygiene-Museum Dresden in the art-science interdisciplinary multimedia exhibition 'Of Genes and People'.
You can follow me on Twitter here and view my full list of publications on Google Scholar here.
Please feel free to contact me in English, Spanish, French, or Catalan. My pronouns are he/him/his.
My research is broadly situated in more-than-human geography, and interested in the roles that science and technology play in shaping ontologies, epistemologies, and ecologies. This work is broadly organised into the following themes:
I. Synthetic biogeographies
The modern food system is increasingly blamed for the Anthropocene: the present epoch where human practices have shifted the planet into a new and dangerous state. Meat and dairy overconsumption is threatening food security, the loss of livelihoods, and widening socioeconomic inequality. Technological, scientific, and economic responses to the Anthropocene propose to govern the climate through the food system itself. In this research theme, I examine the role of synthetic biological tools such as genome editing using CRISPR-Cas9 in responding to the climate and biodiversity crises, particularly in the context of regenerative agriculture. In addressing this topic, I will be conducting ethnographic fieldwork in the Netherlands, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America.
II. De-extinction and spectral ecologies
What might it mean if extinction does not last forever? I have grappled with this question in my research since the start of my doctoral work, which examined the case of the bucardo, the only extinct animal to have been brought back to life-albeit briefly. Ultimately, I argue that the presence of novel biotechnologies changes the very meaning of life, and unsettles preheld epistemologies of extinction and species. More recently, I have revisited this theme in collaboration with artists to explore the implications of aspirations to resurrect extinct biota, and broaden the scope of discussion through public artwork. De-extinction technologies like cloning and genome editing, and their social imaginaries, are deconstructing the firm ontological binary between extinct/extant-and by implication, absence/presence, loss/recovery-which I call 'de/extinction'. Extinction haunts landscapes and ecologies, and the spectres of extinction are made more palpable by the development of de-extinction technologies. I outline the theoretical and empirical grounding of this work in Environmental Humanities, the Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, and cultural geographies.
III. Digital ecologies and the meditation of more-than-human worlds
How are more-than-human worlds encountered, governed, and through digital media? In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, when countries around the world enforced strict lockdown measures, the digitisation of quotidian life was accelerated at an unprecedented rate. During this time, nonhuman life also found new prominence and cultural meaning online, which I have been collaboratively examining with Jonathon Turnbull, Jamie Lorimer, and Bill Adams. Aspects of this work have been published in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Dialogues in Human Geography, Cultural Anthropology, and the Geographical Journal, in addition to being featured on BBC Radio 4. This work, in part, led to the foundation of the Digital Ecologies research group, which has collectively published an analytical framework for understanding the meditation of more-than-human worlds in Progress in Environmental Geography. Empirically investigated through the case of 'nestcams' that livestream the daily lives of peregrine falcons online, I have been working with colleagues to elaborate 'technonatural history' in both theory and method, which has been published in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers.
IV. Weird geographies
The contemporary ecological condition is one of 'global weirding', a term coined to describe both anthropogenically changed worlds and the experience of dwelling within them. I have recently been exploring the provocations of New Weird Fiction, a subgenre of science fiction, as a means of imagining alternative futures and conceptualising the radically altered environments produced by human degradation. Weirding is attentive to spatiotemporal transgressions and natures of out place, and understanding these changes and difference is of growing importance, which I have outlined in Progress in Human Geography along with other colleagues.
Funded research projects
- 2023-2026: Principle Investigator: 'Synthetic biogeographies: Hacking life for the Anthropocene', Nottingham Research Fellowship, University of Nottingham (£215,000)
- 2022: Co-Investigator with Charlotte Wrigley and Jonathon Turnbull: 'Terraforming Terra', Green Transitions Environmental Humanities Grant (NKr 100,000)
- 2022: Co-Investigator with the Digital Ecologies team: 'Digital Ecologies in Practice', Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (€8,000) with further support from the European Research Council and the Olso School of Environmental Humanities
- 2020-2021: Co-Investigator with Jonathon Turnbull and Jamie Lorimer: 'Anthropause ecologies: More-than-human perspectives on COVID-19', Harding Fund, Hertford College, University of Oxford (£1,500)
- 2017-2020: Full PhD Studentship: 'Celia's ghosts: Liminality and Authenticity in De/extinction', Vice-Chancellor's and King's Award, University of Cambridge (University fees, stipend, and research expenses)
Recent research media engagement
- 'The last bucardo', multi-media installation (2022), collaboration with artist Christian Kosmas Mayer. Deutsches Hygiene-Museum, Dresden, Germany. 11 February - 10 September 2023.
Photography by David Brandt
ADAM SEARLE, JONATHON TURNBULL and WILLIAM M. ADAMS, 2023. The digital peregrine: A technonatural history of a cosmopolitan raptor Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 48(1), 195-212 JONATHON TURNBULL, ADAM SEARLE and JAMIE LORIMER, 2023. Anthropause environmentalisms: Noticing natures with the Self-Isolating Bird Club Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 48(2), 232-248 ADAM SEARLE, 2022. Spectral ecologies: De/extinction in the Pyrenees Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 47(1), 167-183
JONATHON TURNBULL, BEN PLATT and ADAM SEARLE, 2022. For a new weird geography Progress in Human Geography. 46(5), 1207-1231