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Material and social relations in a coastal community garden assemblage


Renae Reynolds
Victoria Marshall



Publication type:

Scientific Journal (JRNL)

Primary Station(s):

Northern Research Station


Social & Cultural Geography


This paper draws upon Actor Network Theory (ANT) to explore material and social dynamics of a coastal community garden site on public housing grounds in Rockaway, NY after Hurricane Sandy. Through a participatory design-research project, we examine shifting associations between humans and non-humans as a way of interrogating agency, power dynamics, and governance. Acknowledging our own outsider status, we draw upon the frame of 'contact zones' for thinking through encounters in conditions of power differentials. In describing our encounter with the Beach 41st Street Community Garden as a contact zone, we identify three assemblages with different governance arrangements – tidal shore, garden plots, and treed lawn. These assemblages are networked through material flows and include nonhuman actants such as freshwater, soil, plants, and wood. Unruly actors and actants – people, saltwater, poison ivy, dogs, and trash – can spark controversy and resist governing. We reflect upon the role of design, research, and community organizing as interventions that can cause rearrangements of the assemblages, shedding new light on power dynamics and potential apertures for change in a dynamic site. In so doing, we mobilize contact zones and ANT to better understand and act within shifting associations between humans and non-humans.


Campbell, Lindsay K.; Svendsen, Erika S.; Reynolds, Renae; Marshall, Victoria. 2021. Material and social relations in a coastal community garden assemblage. Social & Cultural Geography. 22(7): 1019-1041.


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