Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Thinking Permeable Matter through Feminist Geophilosophy: Environmental Knowledge Controversy and the Materiality of Hydrogeologic Processes

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Thinking Permeable Matter through Feminist Geophilosophy: Environmental Knowledge Controversy and the Materiality of Hydrogeologic Processes

Article excerpt


In this paper, I argue that encounters with hydrogeologic processes encourage feminists to rethink the permeable surfaces between human bodies, ecological systems, and political events. Contemporary geographical accounts of environmental knowledge controversies are insufficiently attentive to how geologic processes exceed and undermine instrumental deliberative political solutions to environmental problems. Through a mobilization of feminist geophilosophy, I argue instead that the limits of instrumental knowledge are not merely produced by uncertainty or lack of evidence, but by the inhuman forces that condition feminist thinking itself. An investigation of a controversy surrounding the permeability of underground materials near a proposed in situ recovery uranium mine in South Dakota demonstrates that subterranean spaces have the ability to heighten a sense of the openness of our bodies to geological forces. Public and expert testimony of the hydrogeology of the region creatively extended scientific accounts to draw conclusions about the meaning and force of geology for the politics of uranium extraction. This essay contributes a unique account of environmental controversies in which materiality does not become instrumental or experiential knowledge but instead produces a creative understanding of permeable geologic materials which provokes feminist thought.


Feminist theory, geophilosophy, knowledge controversy, materialism


While constructivist actor-network theory has been popular in social and cultural geography for years, a set of recent works has pushed its political theories well beyond those initially offered by Bruno Latour (2004). Rather than merely show that politics involves or is constituted through sociotechnical relations or networks, recent works by Isabelle Stengers (2005), Jane Bennett (2010), and Noortje Marres (2012) have argued that "material publics" are gathered through constitutive relations with objects or materials that collectively constitute the capacities of a public's members. These constructivist accounts of environmental knowledge controversies have changed the ways in which geographers and political theorists understand the sites and spaces of political action (Braun and Whatmore, 2010). However, in these works, a focus on differing knowledge effects and controversies produced by materials obscures the ways in which inhuman materials exceed and undermine knowledge claims. 1 argue that these problems arise, in part, from an overt focus on constitutive connections amongst bounded, human-sized objects and timescales and a political preference for the local and everyday. Feminist geophilosophy, by contrast, has begun to attend to the excess and untimeliness of the inhuman forces constitutive of thought. These works provide a framework for understanding non-local connections--geohistorical and material -that influence the capacities for political action. This paper provides a unique contribution to feminist geophilosophy by offering an account of how the permeability of geologic materials might provoke feminist thought and politics to reconsider the shared, inhuman geological matrix that forms the substratum of political subjectivities. This is accomplished through an account of controversy over a proposed uranium mine in western South Dakota, which presented scientists, politicians, activists, and publics with the difficult project of thinking through underground relations between hydrogeology and political life. I argue that the disagreement about the character of fractured and permeable geologic materials reflects not just different knowledge systems, but different ways of generating thought through encounters with earthly matter.

Knowledge controversy and feminist geophilosophy

Early approaches in actor-network theory focused on whether objects could possibly be endowed with agency, and if so, what implications this would have for political decision making. …

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