Nitrogen management in the making – Material practices and policies in Germany

Authors: Friederike Gesing*, University of Bremen
Topics: Human-Environment Geography, Qualitative Methods, Political Geography
Keywords: ethnography, environment, agriculture, pollution, nitrogen, practices, science and technology studies
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 4:40 PM / 6:20 PM
Room: Bayside B, Sheraton, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Nitrogen, “the very stuff of life” (Galloway & Cowling 2002: 64), has become one of the biggest environmental problems of our time. Reactive nitrogen (Nr) is an essential element that determines plant growth, making nitrogen fertilizers a key component of industrial agriculture. But large amounts of Nr leaking into the environment have turned nutrient into pollutant in many parts of the world, resulting in nitrate contamination of drinking water, eutrophication of rivers and coastal waters, greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural fields and air pollution with fine particles. I sketch out a research project that focuses on newly emerging policies and practices in Germany, aiming to address these complex and interrelated problems by managing nitrogen flows, first of all with a new fertilizer law developed in response to ongoing legal actions over the violation of EU regulations. An ethnographic study of nitrogen management in the making analyses the framing of the problem as nitrogen change, and the corresponding emergence of nitrogen management policies and practices. Starting out from those affected by the policy, the project is designed around long-term ethnographic fieldwork on farms in Lower Saxony, one of the global hotspots of nitrogen pollution. I analyse the changing practices and technologies under the new regulations on farm-level, and relate these to the practices and discourses of nitrogen management at the policy and administrative levels, in science and at the science-policy interface.

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