Member of SCNAT

The umbrella organisation of Swiss geographers aims to link science, teaching and practice, to promote dialogue between the regions and linguistic groups of Switzerland and to contribute to current debates on socio-political issues.more

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Subterranean Political Geology

Drill cores as outcrop of geological pasts and futures, Rony Emmenegger
Image: Drill cores as outcrop of geological pasts and futures, Rony Emmenegger

The subterranean is of crucial significance for current and future societies at the surface. Earthquakes, rockslides or aquifers have for long shaped human settlements, provoking management and government intervention as human attempts to cope and adapt. In parallel, the subterranean has continued to evolve as an object of capitalist or modernist projects, particularly as a site for the extraction of resources and the burial of waste. In recent years, the social significance of subterranean spaces has further intensified in political struggles about groundwater use, geothermal energy generation, carbon capture and storage or nuclear waste disposal. In all these domains, science, imaginaries, technologies and capital have been instrumental for the social, economic and political appropriation of the subterranean, transforming the relationship of societies to the earth.

Geology matters! A political geology of the subterranean suggests a two-fold research focus: It scrutinizes the way the geological evolves as an object of politics; and, it examines how the geological itself affects political dynamics at the surface. The working group Subterranean Political Geology brings the subterranean into the spotlight in order to advance our understanding of the profound reworking of human-subterranean relations ongoing at present and the political dynamics it involves. It sheds light on the political interplay between materiality, spatiality and temporality in the ongoing transformation of geosocial relations and the manifold uncertainties this involves. Moving beyond a narrow analysis of politics at the surface, it aims to advance a “geological turn” in geography and the social sciences more broadly by connecting empirical and theoretical research on the theme.

The group was founded in spring 2023 with the intention to establish a dialogue between researchers sharing an interest in the subterranean and the way it matters at the surface. It invites to exchange researchers in political geography, political anthropology, political ecology, environmental humanities, environmental history, science and technology studies and related fields. To foster their engagement particularly within Switzerland, the group establishes platforms for regular exchange in disciplinary, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary manners.

Leader: Rony Emmenegger (UNIFR)

Personal website

Co-leaders: Martin Edström & Alexander Kolibaba (UNIFR)

ASG Deep Grounds
Image: Rony Emmenegger

Upcoming activities

The next group meeting is scheduled at the University of Fribourg in October 2023. For further information, please contact
Panel on “Vertical Geo-ontopolitics”. Swiss Geoscience Meeting (SGM). November 18, 2023.

Prior activities

Panel on “Knowing Materials and Natures”. Swiss Geoscience Meeting (SGM). November 19, 2022.
Panel on “Earthly Epistemologies and the Government of Geo-social Formations”. Swiss Geoscience Meeting (SGM). November 20, 2021.
Roundtable on “Social Science goes Underground: Inter- and Transdisciplinary Reflections”. Swiss Geoscience Meeting (SGM). November 23, 2019.