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e s f letters

Sharon Moran

A septic drain field being installed shortly after construction.

Research Highlights
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Wasteful cultivation: Engaging the water cycle in everyday life*

The pastoral aesthetic of the American lawn has no place for human wastes – or does it?

My septic system project explores how this humble technology mediates our relationship with nature. Unacknowledged and yet omnipresent, this subterranean device inhabits a contradictory position in our exurban landscape. Its hidden participation in the backyards of private homes silently facilitates -- yet outwardly denies -- our continued engagement in the water cycle. However, a growing array of alternative practices -- including composting toilets and greywater systems -- are being embraced by individuals choosing to intervene in their local ecology in an active and participatory manner. Through interviews and participant observation, this research examines the role of culture in shaping our understandings of nature, using on-site wastewater disposal as a case study.

*Moran, S. 2008. "Under the Lawn: Engaging the Water Cycle,"Ethics,
Place, and Environment, 11(2): 129-145