The cosmopolitics of soils and the productive orders of the earth: the History of the Soil Sciences and the Geobiopolitics of Soil Resourcefulness

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    What role have the sciences of soils played in shaping our relationship with soils? Following public debates around soils in Europe, including the so-called Dutch nitrogen crisis, this dissertation interrogates the political history of the sciences of soils in order to understand contemporary and historical soil politics and governance. Starting with the rise to prominence of agrochemistry in the 19th century, this dissertation articulates its analysis through a series of strategic case studies in Western Europe and its imperial spaces. These include an analysis of a pneumatic sewage system, experimentation with artificial fertilisers, soil mapping in Dutch-controlled Sumatra, and more recent attempts at governing and protecting soils in the EU.
    Throughout these cases, this dissertation traces how soil scientists have understood soils in different ways, by focussing on how soil scientists have understood soils’ resourcefulness (their values and uses) as well as their resourcelessness (their liminality and fragility). Being understood both as fundamentally important and fragile, soils have constituted an issue through which soil scientists have thought about planetary limits and the proper relation between society, agrarian political economy and the Earth. Particular historical scientific ideas of soils, moreover, have given rise to particular institutions and technologies that have long outlived the prominence of these ideas. A prime example hereof is the agrarian order of conventional agriculture at stake in today’s Dutch nitrogen crisis, which traces its epistemologies of soil to 19th century agrochemical understanding of soil nutrients and artificial fertilisers that are now challenged by newer understandings of soils.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Groningen
    • Lobo-Guerrero, Luis, Supervisor
    • Alt, Suvi, Co-supervisor
    Award date20-Jun-2024
    Place of Publication[Groningen]
    Publication statusPublished - 2024


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