December 17th, 2021

Syntropic Glossary

Words as Guides

Text © Eugenia Morpurgo

This piece is the third chapter of a 4-part series written by Eugenia Morpurgo about her research project Syntropic Materials. Read the first part here

The following definitions and citations refer to the main concepts that are nourishing my current research project, Syntropic Materials. Presented in the form of a glossary, they outline the framework in which my study is evolving and act as starting points for further reader insights.

“To be truly visionary we have to root our imagination in our concrete reality while simultaneously imagining possibilities beyond that reality.”

bell hooks, Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics (ed. Routledge, 2014)


A concept introduced by Donna Haraway to describe this era in parallel with Anthropocene and Capitalocene. Using this term allows us to comprehend the current times through the lens of the plantation which, with the words of Haraway is: “radical simplification; substitution of peoples, crops, microbes, and life forms; multispecies forced labour; and, crucially, the disordering of times of generation across species, including human beings.”

Sources: Reflections of the Plantationocece. A conversation between Donna Haraway and Anna Tsing. Moderated by Gregg Mitman. Edge Effects Magazine

Sharing the Planet

In opposition to the Half-Earth hypothesis, which suggests freeing half of the Earth’s surface from human presence, the Sharing the Planet approach, which would be applied on around 32% of the earth and sea surface, expresses the need to re-imagine biodiversity conservation strategies basing them on convivial conservation, as well as community-based and indigenous knowledge. These strategies are advocated alongside the importance of addressing the overconsumption of resources in industrialised and emerging countries and propose regenerative agricultural practices as a tool for biodiversity conservation.

PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency data presented at the exhibition Countryside, The future (20.02.2020 - 15.02.2021, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York)

Plant Blindness

Defined in 1998 by American botanists James Wandersee and Elisabeth Schussler, Plant Blindness is "the inability to see or notice the plants in one's own environment”. This lack leads to the dismissal of the importance that plants play in the biosphere, to the anthropocentric tendency of ranking plants as inferior to animals and to the consequential lack of care towards them.

W. Allen, "Plant Blindness", in BioScience, Vol. 53, Issue 10, 2003, p. 926

Cultural Keystone Species

Cultural Keystone Species are species that significantly shape a people's cultural identity, having fundamental roles in diet, materials, medicine, and/or spiritual practices.

A. Garibaldi and N. Turner, "Cultural Keystone Species: Implications for Ecological Conservation and Restoration", in Ecology and Society, Vol. 9, Issue 3, Art. 1, 2004 [link]

Regenerative Agriculture

Regenerative Agriculture is a system of principles and practices which, through farming, increase biodiversity, enrich soils, improve watersheds, and enhance ecosystem services. These practices allow the capturing of carbon in soil and above-ground biomass with the objective of reversing current global trends of CO2 atmospheric accumulation.

Regenerative agriculture practices are:

Polyculture, also known as intercropping, consists of the use of a selected mixture of crops on the same field. This farming method has been the primary one used worldwide throughout most of history. The biodiversity in the field allows creating a more resilient farming ecosystem that doesn’t depend on the yield of only one species which could be subject to failure due to external factors such as drought or pests.

Syntropic Agriculture, also described as successional agroforestry, is a form of regenerative agriculture practice which mimics the relation between species in a highly biodiverse ecosystem, such as strata - the vertical layering of a habitat - and species natural succession (the changing of species through time).

Matthew E.S. Bracken, Monocultures Versus Polycultures. Encyclopedia of Ecology, Volume 3, 2019, Pp. 483-486


“Monoculture is the agricultural practise of producing or growing a single crop, plant, or livestock species, variety, or breed in a field or farming system at a time. Widely used both in industrial and organic agriculture, monoculture has allowed increased efficiency in planting and harvesting while simultaneously augmenting the risk of exposure to diseases or pests.”


Terra Preta

Literally translated with Black Earth, Terra Preta refers to zones of highly fertile earth present in a landscape characterised by low fertility in the central Amazon. Archaeological evidence indicates the anthropogenic origin of this fertility attributing its generation to “the activity of dispersed - but relatively large and settled - communities throughout millennia (from about 9.000 YBP). These communities were eliminated, presumably, by western disease approximately 1.000 YBP.”

S.P. Sohi, E. Krull, E. Lopez-Capel, R. Bol. Advances in agronomy, 2010

Seventh Generation Principle

The Seventh Generation Principle, from the Great Lore of the Iroquois people, is based on the philosophy that we should all take into account that our actions will affect up to the seventh generation to follow. Teaching us that we should evaluate the sustainability of decisions taken today with the time perspective of the seven generations which will follow us.

Julia Watson, Lo-TEK Design by Radical Indigenism, Taschen, 2019

Honorable Harvest

The Honorable Harvest is the indigenous canon of principles and practices which invites us to take only what we need and use everything we take. It “governs the exchange of life for life, it is a set of rules that governs our taking, shapes our relationships with the natural world, and reins in our tendency to consume.”

Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass. Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, Milkweed Editions, 2013

“Jigsaw Mutualism”

A term coined by Aboriginal Australian author Bruce Pascoe, Jigsaw Mutualism describes the way Aboriginal Australian law envisioned the management of land, which was supposed to be communally controlled by people who would be only temporal custodians of it. “People had rights and responsibilities for particular pieces of the jigsaw, but they were constrained to operate that piece so that it would add to - rather than detract from - the pieces of their neighbours and the epic integrity of the land.”

Bruce Pascoe, Dark Emu. Aboriginal Australia and the Birth of Agriculture, Magabala Books, 2014

About the author
Eugenia Morpurgo is an Italian designer based in Venice. Her work focuses on researching the impact that production processes have on society, with a focus on investigating and prototyping alternative scenarios and products. She works through self-initiated projects and commissioned work from companies, cultural institutions, universities and fablabs. / @eugeniamorp


Plant Fever is a project curated by d-o-t-s and produced by the Belgian museum CID Grand-Hornu. Visual identity by Matthieu Visentin. Exhibition scenography by Benoît Deneufbourg