Stuart Hill

The Bentley Lecture in Sustainable Agriculture Lecture No. 5

Dr. Stuart B. Hill, Foundation Chair of Social Ecology, University of Western Sydney, NSW, Australia

Underground Ecosystems and the Subconscious: Their Neglect and Potential to Save Us
Thursday, 18 October 2007
Time: 4:00 p.m.
Location: 265 Central Academic Building (CAB), U of A Campus


Professor Stuart B. Hill is Foundation Chair of Social Ecology at the University of Western Sydney.

Prior to 1996 he was at McGill University, in Montreal, where he was responsible for the zoology degree and where in 1974 he established Ecological Agriculture Projects, Canada’s leading resource centre for sustainable agriculture.

He has published over 350 papers and reports. His latest book (with Martin Mulligan) is Ecological Pioneers: A Social History of Australian Ecological Thought and Action, Cambridge UP, 2001.

In Canada he was a member of over 30 regional, national and international boards and committees. He is currently on the editorial board of four refereed journals and until 2004 represented professional environmental educators on the NSW Council on Environmental Education.
He has worked in agricultural and development projects in the West Indies, French West Africa, Indonesia, The Philippines, China, and the Seychelles, as well as in the UK, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia.

His background in chemical engineering, ecology, soil biology, entomology, agriculture, psychotherapy, education, policy development and international development, and his experience of working with transformative change, have enabled him to be an effective facilitator in complex situations that demand both collaboration across difference and a long-term co-evolutionary approach to situation improvement.


It is probably true that it is ‘the bits that we don’t see’, and are often unaware of, that enable most systems to function. Yet society tends to focus just on the most attractive visible bits, neglects the rest, and is frequently surprised by the increasingly common expressions of system breakdown. This may be recognized at every level, from the individual to the biosphere, and from the local to the global. I will use the examples of soil within terrestrial ecosystems and the subconscious within the human mind, and the complex interrelationships between them, to illustrate this. Because such neglected resources (not just soil and the subconscious but, in fact, most of what is!) offer enormous opportunities for improved use, I believe that the future may be much more hopeful than is generally imagined. This potential may only be realized, however, through a radical paradigm shift in our thinking – indeed, only by taking the next step in our psychosocial evolution as a species: from an economics-obsessed, socializing (manipulative, controlling) culture to a higher values-based, life-enabling one. The late Australian producer P.A. Yeomans’ ability to ‘create an inch of topsoil in three years’ will be used to illustrate the potential of such a change. Benefits may include ecologically sustainable managed ecosystems, the conservation of biodiversity and maintenance of ecosystem services, wellbeing and meaning, non-violence and peace, and climate amelioration. The challenge facing us all at this time is how to best enable such a cultural transformation: from the ‘letting go’ of the fateful familiar, to the ‘letting come’ of the emerging new unfamiliar and often paradoxical ways of understanding and acting.

In this presentation I will discuss the theory and practice of such a cultural transformation, with special reference to soil and psyche. I will focus particularly on the processes involved in change, from the personal (psychology), to the environmental (ecology), to the socio-political (human, social and cultural ecology); and on the small, meaningful initiatives that each of us may be able to take in our various areas of influence in support of such a cultural transformation.

Download Talk: The full streaming Quick Time video of Dr. Stuart Hills provocative Bentley Lecture of October 18, 2007 titled : Underground Ecosystems and the Subconscious: Their Neglect and Potential to Save Us is available here (recommend right click on link and Save Target As to computer and open from there after downloading either Quicktime or Real Video Player. Video Run time 1 hour 23 min.) The video requires QuickTime version 7.0 and above. Free download from Apple Computers at The streaming video will also play in Real Video Player (versionn 10) available for free at