Permaculture, Sustainable Research & Digital Practices

Researchers who combine linguistic fieldwork with psycholinguistic studies want to ensure that their research, digital, and social practices are sustainable. Hence, many try to

  1. develop and implement sustainable systems for data collection, storage, and management that ensure reliable long-term open access to their data and findings,
  2. employ technology and procedures that are environmentally sustainable (“Green IT”, “Sustainable HCI”),
  3. create sustainable social systems with local communities, collaborators, and “users” of their research.

Systematic research into such sustainable systems and practices is still in its infancy, but I have put together some initial resources and publications about sustainability in these domains below. Some of these publications involve a permaculture approach to the design of sustainable systems. Hence, I have added some information about permaculture and its design approach and ethical principles. I have also provided some initial information about the way in which I have started to incorporate sustainable practices into my own work – in addition to storing my data in the sustainability-oriented Language Archive at the Max-Plank Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen.

Sustainable Digital Systems and Sustainable Digital and Social Practices

These publications provide a first overview of research sustainable digital systems and practices in (linguistic) data collection, storage, and management. More can be found on my reading list for sustainable digital systems and practices, which I will continue to update (suggestions more than welcome!):

Note: some chapters of the books above can be found freely accessible via Google Scholar.

There is also a Zotero Group with a bibliography on Permaculture and Open Access.

If you want to find out whether the websites and technologies that you have selected for your work make use of clean energy, you can try out this browser extension


Permaculture Design

The word ‘permaculture’ derives from ‘permanent agriculture‘ and ‘permanent culture‘. Permaculture is a design process and approach that aims to create sustainable places, spaces, systems, and communities, guided by the three core ethical principles of Earth Care, People Care, and Fair Share. Many permaculture designs focus on gardens and agriculture, but permaculture principles and design processes have also been applied to other domains, in particular to systems for the collection, storage, and management of data. Such designs are typically called “non-land-based” permaculture designs, in contrast to “land-based” designs for gardens and agricultural systems. Permaculture is part of an international movement, involving a growing number of national and international organisations. You can find out more about permaculture and these organisations on the following resource sites and blogs (and the associated social media accounts):

These institutions and projects organise many permaculture workshops and gatherings around the world, e.g. the London Permaculture Festival on July 31, 2016.

For more information, you can start with the Wikipedia article about permaculture and a lists of introductory books and key texts.There is also a LinkedIn Topic “principles of permaculture” that allows you to find relevant people, slide shares, groups, etc.

Training in Permaculture can lead to internationally recognised qualifications: the Permaculture Design Certificate and the Permaculture Design Diploma. I have obtained my own Permaculture Design Certificate with Marina O’Connell and a great team of fellow students at the Apricot Centre for Sustainable Living in Essex, UK. My project was a backyard “food forest” with fruit, edible plants and flowers.

This project has inspired me to use more natural materials in language games for linguistic data collection. For instance, I used to create laminated printed pictures to elicit noun phrases with adjectives like big, small, green, pink, etc. from children. Now, we have been piloting  materials that consist of recycled conference ID lanyards, and edible leaves or flowers. These materials can be completely re-used, recycled, or composted (I never thought I would use the word “composted” in a blog about linguistics…).

"Green" language game materials with edible leaves and flowers |

“Green” language game materials with edible leaves and flowers

I have also developed a multi-purpose elicitation toolkit that involves these materials plus boards and pockets with recycled or left-over pieces of textiles and haberdashery.

The "Language in a Bag" toolkit for elicitation games in linguistic research |

The “Language in a Bag” toolkit for elicitation games in linguistic research

I have been improving and piloting the toolkit in collaboration with the Essex Language Games Club that I have organised at the University of Essex, local charities, and the Wivenhoe Transition Town initiative (part of the larger sustainability-focused Transition Town Movement). Here, you can see us during a “sew-in” in Wivenhoe Library, with Chris Blomeley from Wivenhoe Repair-Reuse-Recycle, a project that grew out of a repair cafe linked to Wivenhoe Transition Town.

A "sew-in" with Essex Language Games Club and Chris Blomeley from Wivenhoe Repair-Reuse-Recycle |

A “sew-in” with Essex Language Games Club and Chris Blomeley from Wivenhoe Repair-Reuse-Recycle |

If you have any readings for my reading list, any projects to link to, or other suggestions, please let me know! And if you are interested in joint projects, e.g. projects with a focus on greener research materials or language games for community projects, please get in touch!

Sonja Eisenbeiss (


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