Infrastructure and Logistics

Securing the subterranean volumes: Geometrics, land subsidence and the materialities of things

In 2011, thousands of Taiwanese farmers gathered in Yunlin County to protest against a government environmental management programme which attempted to address the land subsidence that has threatened Taiwan’s High-Speed Rail infrastructure. New environmental monitoring technologies have been developed to deal with the land subsidence but these have, simultaneously, provoked contestation. The dispute indicates that the horizontalism inherent in traditional studies of geopolitics fails to account for the politics of verticality. Indeed, recent work on volumetric politics opens up new horizons for thinking about the exercise of power through three dimensions; the geopolitics of the underground have remained untheorised. Moreover, the existing literature on volume also fails to account for the chaotic state of the material world. From the perspective of assemblage thinking, I outline three characteristics which shape the ‘geopolitics of land subsidence’. From this standpoint, this paper argues for a geographical approach to subterranean politics which puts more emphasis on volume, emergence and matter. With reference to ethnographical fieldwork conducted in scientific laboratories and in Yunlin County, I demonstrate how subterranean materials continuously frustrate the state’s volumetric practices. By problematising the geopolitics of land subsidence, this paper also advances the understanding of political geology, which is seeking to ‘decolonise’ and ‘pluralise geological thought’.

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Volume 39 Issue 2

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