CE26 - Innovation, travail

The Promises of Soil Carbon Sequestration: Innovations, Organisations, Knowledge – POSCA

Submission summary

Aiming to balance greenhouse gas emissions and the sequestering capacities of non-atmospheric sinks, the Paris Agreement reached at the COP 21 in 2015 signals the new centrality of carbon sinks, including soils, as a key means of enabling climate stability. POSCA focuses on the rising promotion of soil as carbon sink in climate policies and how this is reconfiguring the way in which we come to know and manage soil.
Long viewed mostly in terms of agricultural fertility, soil is now increasingly viewed as a global stock of underground carbon that we need to measure, map, model, control and optimize. As soil is recast in terms of its place in the global carbon cycle, soils sciences are shifting from an obscure, naturalistic and taxonomy-oriented field, toward new advisory and regulatory roles related to the development of Soil Carbon Sequestration (SCS) methods, metrics and schemes; they are also faced with new uncertainties and tensions regarding the measurement and stability of carbon in soils. POSCA aims to account for the shifting agendas, practices and organisations of soil sciences, defined as a broad network encompassing soil researchers, technicians, and non-academic experts in agricultural, forestry and land planning organizations, as soil is recast as a carbon sink.
Relying on a multidisciplinary team of 4 sociologists and 2 soil scientists, POSCA will unpack the reconfiguration of the politics of soil knowledge, defined as the various visions of the type of soil knowledge that matters and their embedment in socio-material infrastructures and organizations. The project will develop a sociological investigation, in France and in the international context, into: soil carbon science (i.e. modelisation and monitoring infrastructures) (WP1); soil carbon regulations (i.e. public and private organisations and initiatives to produce standardized methods and metrics) (WP2); and soil carbon management (i.e. local SCS schemes) (WP3). WP4 is devoted to the project’s coordination.
Our key hypothesis is that the politics of soil knowledge are being reconfigured at
(i) the epistemological level: from a descriptive, field-based research into the history of soils, to a computer-based and data-intensive predictive research that becomes part of Earth system modelling efforts.
(ii) the political level: from a classification-oriented academic field, to a regulatory science providing decision-makers with methods and standards to measure soil carbon.
(iii) the economic level: from supporting agricultural and forestry development, to organizing soil carbon accounting metrics and carbon credits markets.
Social sciences have paid precious little attention to soil and soil/society relations so far. POSCA has strong innovative potential and will contribute to:
(i) Science and Technology Studies (STS) i.e. by scrutinizing the reconfiguration of soil sciences, a broadly neglected discipline in STS;
(ii) the Sociology of Climatic Policies i.e. by investigating the development of new SCS organizations and methods at the interface between science, policy and the market;
(iii) The Sociology of Carbon Accounting, i.e. by accounting for the expansion of carbon accounting instruments toward soils and their significance for the various agricultural and forestry sectors involved;
(iv) Soil Sciences, understood as multidisciplinary field, i.e. by unpacking the ongoing reconfiguration of soil’s meaning and purpose in society.
Despite its key ecological and social importance, soil remains widely understood as a stable surface and inert background at the top of which we live and act. In a context of pressing issues of soil degradation at the planetary scale and accelerated climate change, POSCA will contribute to a better social and political recognition of soil not as an inert surface, or a techno-fix for climate change mitigation, but as a three-dimensional ecosystem with key biogeochemical agency.

Project coordinator


The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


LISIS Laboratoire Interdisciplinaire Sciences, Innovations, Sociétés
CAK Centre Alexandre Koyre
AGIR AGroécologie, Innovations, teRritoires

Help of the ANR 463,530 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: January 2021 - 48 Months

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