Pump up the Volume (and Pump out the Water)

Since Sloterdijk, spheres, and volumetrics seem to be all the rage on this blog (and elsewhere) these days, I want to put in a brief promotion for the Political Geography plenary Thursday afternoon at the coming Royal Geographical Society meeting, where Stuart Elden will be delivering a lecture titled ‘Secure the Volume’.  (The presentation of an earlier draft of this paper was blogged on this website in April.)  I’ve had the privilege of reading a draft of the RGS version, and it definitely will be of interest to this blog’s followers.  Stuart’s discussants will be Gavin Bridge and RHULGeopolitics webmaster Peter Adey, representing the downward and upward aspects of volumosity respectively.  The entire proceeding is being recorded and should be posted on the Political Geography website.

While we’re speaking of volumes, spheres, and state calculations, readers might be interested in this visualization that appears on the US Geological Survey’s public education website, and which was referred to me by Bärbel Bischof.  The USGS is responding here to a complacency that inadvertently can come from repetition of the oft-quoted statistic that 71 percent of our planet is covered by water.  If there’s so much water, one might ask, then why conserve it?  The USGS’ response: If one looks at the planet’s volume, the percentage of the planet that’s water is much smaller.  The image on the USGS website makes this point through a series of blue ‘bubbles’ superimposed on the globe.  In descending size, they represent the percent of Earth’s volume that’s water, the percent that’s liquid fresh water, and — just barely visible — the percent that’s fresh surface water.

I doubt the folks in the USGS public education department are reading Sloterdijk (or Elden), but the website provides an interesting example of – or perhaps an expansion of  — Sloterdijkian thought.  One of the ways in which spherical thinking facilitates state projection of power is through the ways in which it countenances state ‘stewardship’ of nature.  Resources, after all, are matter, and matter exists in volume, so if the state controls a sphere (rather than simply a surface) it is well positioned for turning ‘nature’ (the stuff in the sphere) into a ‘resource’ (the object of a system that combines state calculation with market rationality).

Phil S.


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