School of Geography
 

Image of Adam Searle

Adam Searle

Nottingham Research Fellow, Faculty of Social Sciences

Contact

Biography

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 fieldwork in Spain and France (2018-2020), I was a visiting researcher at the Institut de Ciència i Tecnologia Ambientals, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. From January-March 2024, I will be a visiting researcher in the Politics, Economies, and Space group in the Department of Geography, National University of Singapore.

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 Anthropocene Food Systems, draws from these past areas of research experience within the context of agriculture, asking how the use of novel technologies like genome-editing, vertical farming, and alternative proteins are being used to alter, manage, and control life at different scales. 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 emergent agricultural technologies 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.

Expertise Summary

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. Anthropocene food systems

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 new technologies in agriculture-such as genome editing using CRISPR-Cas9, vertical urban farming, and the cultivation of alternative proteins-in responding to the climate and biodiversity crises. This research theme is the primary focus of my current Nottingham Research Fellowship (2023-2026). I will be conducting ethnographic fieldwork in Singapore, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America, aiming to understand how new technologies changes the cultures, politics, and imaginaries of farming, eating, and living well in the Anthropocene.

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.

Teaching Summary

I contribute to teaching on the following undergraduate courses:

  • GEOG2030 Research Tutorial
  • GEOG2013 Rural Environmental Geography
  • GEOG3064 Animal Geographies (co-convenor)
  • (from 2024) Critical Human Geographies (co-convenor)

Please contact me if you are interested in PhD supervision, and have a research idea related to the intersection of science, society, technology, and ecology.

Research Summary

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

  • Peregrine nestcam research featured in Birdwatching Magazine article by Amanda Tuke (July 2023 Issue).
  • Bucardo research featured in the book Endlings: Fables for the Anthropocene by Lydia Pyne (2022, Minnesota)
  • Digital ecologies research discussed in The Conversation in an article by James Stinson, published 12 December 2022
  • Bucardo research featured in the book Lagarta: Como Ser un Animal Salvaje en España by Gabi Martínez (2022, GeoPlaneta)
  • De/extinction research featured in Atmos magazine article bu Madeline Gregory, published 21 October 2022
  • Bucardo research featured in BBC Science Focus article by Ken Redford, published 27 November 2021
  • Anthropause environmentalism research featured on COVIDCalls, broadcast 22 October 2021
  • Bucardo research discussed in Spanish newspaper La Razón article by Ignacio Crespo, published 1 September 2021
  • Quarantine ecologies research featured on BBC Radio 4 documentary Reignite, broadcast 28 March 2021

Exhibitions

  • '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

Selected Publications

School of Geography

Sir Clive Granger Building
University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

Contact us