Mapping the ‘Material Substrate’ as Analysis of the Capitalocene

Authors: Megan Dixon*, The College of Idaho
Topics: Cartography, Human-Environment Geography, Geography Education
Keywords: teaching, mapping, GIS, supply chain, material
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Even as we ask students to examine their individual environmental choices and to review broader-scale proposals for reduction of carbon emissions such as Drawdown, it is important to help them appreciate the degree of material commitments embodied by the Capitalocene so that they realize the full extent of the work necessary to reconceptualize the infrastructure of the future. Fry and Willis insist on “the necessity of a project which forces attention on the increasingly overlooked material substrate of our everyday lives” (2015: 1). In a research/mapping assignment inspired by their book Steel, as part of a course on resource geographies for environmental studies, students examined extractive and processing sites for major metals and realized the ubiquity of these materials. This helps them fully assess the landscape impact of lifestyles characteristic of the developed world and see the dependence of “clean immaterial economic activity” on “dirty material industries” in distant locations (Fry & Willis 238). This presentation outlines a series of research and mapping tasks intended to help students confront the usually invisible web of resource use on which have depended and will depend not only the historical infrastructure of capitalist economies but also the hoped-for infrastructure of renewable energy generation. The presentation will outline practical use of the platform ArcGIS Online to construct the mapping exercises for one class and will also lay out the conception of combining research, observation on Google Earth, and work in Esri platforms which takes place in multiple courses in the program.

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