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House construction: Samira the Snail needs your help!

by Jo Püst

This is the story of Samira the Snail. Together with various other animals and plants, she lives in a small village near the forest. Samira wants to build a new house for herself, but because she has trouble making the right decisions she needs your help! 

What is waiting for you below is a story telling quiz. It is the product of 8 months of participant observation among different Permaculture projects in Amsterdam and Berlin. The participant observation was done by me the author, not by Samira the Snail, although I sure encountered a lot of snails in the field. In the research field that is, even though on many days the research field was also an actual field. But, I digress. Where were we? Right. Permaculture. 

What is Permaculture? Well, as always in Anthropology you could ask 10 different people, only to get 10 different answers. Ask me, and I can give you an 11thone: To me, it is an ethical guide on how to position myself on planet Earth, in relation to other living beings. Permaculture’s most typical physical manifestations are vegetable beds, rainwater tanks, houses from wood and clay, swales, piles of to-be-recycled materials and working hands colored with the tint of compost and other types of earth. Further, it can be the question like whether to call Common Plantain a weed or a medicine: How do we look at other living species and how do we let that guide our behavior? The philosophy further opens your eyes to the complex ecosystems each one of us is embedded in. Where actually does the water, food, and air come from that we consume every day? Where do this water, food and air go after we consumed them? And which (living) links lie between my kitchen scraps and the vegetables I eat from my garden? Permaculture calls attention to our immediate surroundings, to make slow and conscious decisions and to realize that the human species is but one of millions.

From the months of participant observation to this day, I was involved in various construction projects. They range from stone walls, to garden beds, to compost toilets, to furniture, to decorative gardens, to whole houses. 

Additionally, the story of Samira the Snail aligns itself in the academic legacy of authors such as Anna Tsing, Donna Haraway, Jason Moore, Philippe Descola, and James Scott, among others. What I learned from them intrigues me to this day: While Anthropology traditionally translates between the various ways that different humans experience the world, our time and age now additionally requires us to include the experiences of plants and animals into our research.

The lessons that I took from both the physical work and the academic texts are often times congruent. What follows below, is my attempt to distill the message they have on common and pack it into a short-lived, fun, and easily accessible learning experience. What is there to learn? Well, go and find out for yourself by clicking on the link below. The quiz barely takes ~10 minutes. That is by design, to encourage you to take it multiple times!

To start the adventure click here

Jo Püst is an alumnus of our Department. He studies and practices permaculture.

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