The world’s dominant agribusinesses and cultivation practices of over-exploitation are one of the main causes of altering the earth’s surface, deforestation, desertification, and loss of biodiversity. Anthropologist Anna Tsing characterizes this condition as “patchy Anthropocene […] the uneven conditions of more-than-human livability in landscapes increasingly dominated by industrial forms” (2019: S186).

In European semi-periphery, on the other hand, traditional agricultural land use contributes to biodiversity, which points to relational, affective, and material entanglements of human work, social relations and the natural environment. In this context, the reforestation of meadows and cultivated fields, and the associated loss of biodiversity is not so much induced by over-exploitation of land as it is brought about by deagrarisation and abandonment of land cultivation.

This points to a different kind of “patchiness of the world” (Tsing 2015: 4), whereby work related to subsistence practices can be understood as a central activity placing humans in a relationship with other living things, both human and more-than-human.


PatchWORK applies an interdisciplinary approach to document local subsistence practices and knowledge by exploring intergenerational childhood memories to further our understanding about the relational ethic of entangled lives.

The project employs an innovative interdisciplinary methodology that includes sensory walks, collective biography workshops, citizen science, and secondary analysis from previous ethnographic fieldwork.

PatchWORK aims to:

  1. Map contemporary subsistence practices and uncover how the knowledge, relations, and ethics of care unfold through these practices.
  2. Examine intergenerational childhood memories of participation in work linked to subsistence practices and its related more-than-human entanglements and embedded knowledge of care.
  3. Analyse subsistence practices through the prism of intersectionality: how do gender relations and social class relate to children’s participation and the ethics of subsistence practices (e.g., a gendered division of work and care).
  4. Theorize work related to subsistence practices as a central human activity which sustains life, shapes and is shaped by the environmental knowledge, ethics, and affect.
  5. Disseminate and communicate stories and memories of subsistence practices and knowledge, which will add to dominant discussions about sustainable futures and promote intergenerational dialogue and the transmission of knowledge.


The main outcome of PatchWORK – the retheorisation of the concept of work will contribute to scientific advances across disciplines, to the inclusion of childhood in mainstream theory, and result in the development of a knowledge base on subsistence practices and its more-than-human entanglements.

Dissemination includes two co-authored articles, an English-language monograph, texts for the public, a project website, and a museum exhibition at The Slovene Ethnographic Museum.


PatchWORK is led by Barbara Turk Niskač, a researcher focusing on the anthropology of childhood and the anthropology of work, and supervised by Zsuzsa Millei, Professor of Early Childhood Education and co-leader of the Early Childhood Education Institutions, Policies and Practices (ECEPP) research group.

Pauliina Rautio, Senior Research Fellow is a co-supervisor during secondment at the Biodiverse Anthropocenes research programme, University of Oulu.

Barbara Sosič, Curator for Rural Economy is a co-supervisor during non-academic placement at The Slovene Ethnographic Museum.


Biodiverse Anthropocene, University of Oulu

Slovene Ethnographic Museum