Between Terrestrial and Social Scales
My ongoing book project is framed by the late 19th century’s lively debates on monetary metals and switch to the gold standard following the massive gold and silver finds in the North American West and Australia. The book studies the imaginaries, institutions, and instruments devised to inventory and embrace world mineral reserves, earthquakes, rockslides, Alpine mountain building, advancing glaciers, shifting continents, or large-scale entities like Eurasia. Against the backdrop of both a disastrously fluctuating supply of monetary metals and an earth in flux, experts, politicians, and citizens felt more than ever the need to think and act not only in political and historical but also in terrestrial and planetary terms.
My history of scaling as a cultural technique between geology and society analyzes how people have come to see the Earth and the Earth’s crust as the material substrate underpinning the very ideas and infrastructure of globalization we take as characteristic of this period. The expertise of the geological sciences is crucial today, both from the perspective of the raw materials economy and in terms of environmental and climate science. It has profoundly shaped 20th-century societies‘ relationships to nature. Nevertheless, we know little about how geologists came to slide up and down between terrestrial and societal scales, how they practiced this scaling, and, at the same time, called upon their fellow citizens to follow their lead. The book’s story of lost beginnings, fragile compatibilities, and specific contexts of modern scaling techniques helps us understand the issues around scaling in our era of climate change.
Andrea Westermann. “A Technofossil of the Anthropocene: Sliding up and down Temporal Scales with Plastic.” In Power and Time, edited by Dan Edelstein, et al. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2020).