Rooted: Exploring Ecological Citizenship, Reinvigorating a Vital Relation to the Land

Plan Author

  • Ayla Mullen, 2014

Fields of Concentration

Sample Courses

  • Course: Plant Diversity
  • Course: Writing Political Theory
  • Tutorial: Readings in Contemporary Political Theory
  • Course: Ceramics – Topics

Project Description

An investigation of the challenges and rewards of ecological citizenship.

Faculty Sponsors

Outside Evaluator

    • Christie Herbert, Landmark College


What was it about misty mornings in the greenhouse and watching storms from the treetops that filled my childhood with such conviction, and spurred me to nurture a budding ecological conscience? Why were farming and activism so close to my heart; why did they touch me and inspire me in such similar ways? Perhaps there are fruits within my own story which can sprout a more universally accessible and shareable land relation. What happens when those intuitive husks of insight are cracked open by intellect and the seeds planted; cultivated; harvested and shared? Questioning my own experiences may illuminate more points of access to the ethics which I grew so naturally to know.

Aldo Leopold shared his own joyful, curious engagement with the sand and grass and sunrises on his Wisconsin farm in his book A Sand County Almanac. He writes eloquently of encountering the songs of rivers and the courage of pines, of the impacts of development, and also of goose music and prairie grass. Leopold’s poetic portraits of the natural world communicate and acknowledge the power of the land, both to affect and to be affected, and he follows these with “The Land Ethic,” an essay asking us ultimately to recognize the value of the land not just economically, but emotionally; to let the shared sensibility of existence—with the land and our fellow humans—be our galvanization and our guide in “striving for harmony with land.”

However, most people do not value the land beyond its potential for profit, and Leopold is a compassionate observer of the influences and pressures that fix people into a purely economic relationship with the land. The problem, as he sees it, is “how to bring about a striving for harmony with land among a people many of whom have forgotten that there is any such thing as land, among whom education and culture have become almost synonymous with landlessness.” Perhaps it is not that people willfully or maliciously choose to deny acknowledgement of the land; rather many of them know nothing other than this culturally-induced ‘landlessness’— a psychological as well as physical separation from the land—which teaches domination as the only means of human-land relation. How does this mindset come about, and what maintains it?


“Like Aldo Leopold, John Locke is also concerned with the tension between competition and cooperation. Locke’s political theory facilitates cooperation within a community by exporting individuals’ rights to compete into a governing body, which is charged with employing that power objectively and for the greater good. Individuals resign their freedom to compete—’I should have a right to destroy that which threatens me with destruction’— when they join the compact of civil society. That resignation comprises the political power of civil government, which is forthwith charged with “making laws with penalties of death, and consequently all less penalties, for the regulating and preserving of… the public good.” Competitive disputes between individual citizens are then mediated through an independent judiciary, which is charged with finding an objective balance between individual interests. The state administration ensures that each individual’s interests are accommodated, within reason; its task is the ‘the mutual preservation of [citizens’] lives, liberties, and estates’ (which Locke holds as the natural rights of every individual). Thus Locke conceives of civil government as the means of transforming individual competition into regulated, collective cooperation.”

“My work seeks to break down separations. In this space, the materials do not lay silent. Trees, like our ancestors, are the subjects of portraiture. Old growth forests can be nurtured and tended to with the same circumspection that some apply to the domesticated sphere of the family garden. Natural cycles are acknowledged at the table. I wish to push the boundaries categorizing home and family, and to question the reductive dichotomies which support those classifications…This work suggests an opportunity to re-tell the story of our relationship with the materials we build our lives out of—to break the boundaries of domesticity and reconnect with our natural context. Thus the formal, human sphere of the dining room is infiltrated with the unruly detritus of the organic world. If we understand the wild to be our heritage, and we have allowed domestication to prevail in the present, where (and with whom) shall we sit in the future?”


The most interesting part of Plan to me was my ceramics installation, challenging myself to think critically about the things I care most deeply about, and being duly challenged by my sponsors and peers. Incalculable growth, emotionally and intellectually