As with Edileusa’s specimens, most of the analyses cannot be performed in the field but must be done in the laboratory. The plastic bags here begin a long voyage that will take some of them to Paris, via Manaus and São Paulo. Even if René and Armand are able to judge on the spot the quality of the earth, its texture, its color, and the activity of earthworms, they cannot analyze the soil’s chemical composition, its grain size, or the radioactivity of the carbon it contains without costly instruments and skill that one does not easily find among the poor garimperos or the wealthy landowners. On this expedition, the pedologists are the vanguard for the distant laboratories to which they will take their samples. The samples will remain attached to their original context solely by the fragile link of the numbers inscribed in black felt-tip pen on the little transparent bags. If, like me, you should ever run into a gang of pedologists, one word of advice: never offer to carry their suitcases, which are enormous and stuffed with the bags of earth they tote from one part of the world to another and with which they will quickly fill your refrigerator. The circulation of their samples traces a network on the Earth as dense as the cotton webs spun by their topofils. (Latour 1999:46)
LATOUR, Bruno. 1999. Pandora’s Hope: essays on the reality of science studies. London: Harvard University Press.