At the Sharp End of Fractured Granites:  A Critical Geology for Critical Times

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Deborah Dixon, Iain Neill , Bailey Lathrop, Careen MacRae


The geosciences have been positioned as integral to a ‘whole society’ transition that includes the decarbonisation of energy systems. Geothermal energy - which relies on a knowledge of the dynamism of rocks in the subsurface including the movement of fluids through fractures, physio-chemical interactions, and thermal gradients – has been offered as a potential route forward. Its realisation hinges on the work of field geology (alongside other disciplinary expertises) as well as political and economic buy in. As the geosciences reorientate around new objects of analysis, and find new lines of impact and engagement, there remains the question, however, of how the practice of field geology, integral to assessing the potential of geothermal energy development, might find new direction. That is, how might we move away from a reductive figure of the field geologist as a data collection and analysis expert whose behind the scenes exertions allow for revelatory insights into otherwise hidden depths? Can we acknowledge instead a differentially embodied and augmented expert whose knowledge is co-produced amidst a series of fleshy-technological-elemental entanglements? Drawing on our investigation of fractured granite in Helmsdale, Northern Highlands of Scotland, we provide a situated account of field geology that responds to this question. We outline the role anticipated by geothermal energy in a just and green transition before reviewing the shifting character of a ‘gnostic touch’ in past and current field practice. This provides a context for our own work – inspired by conceptual debates in critical physical geography, political geology and a geohumanities – that unpacks the ‘replicability’ and ‘shareability’ of field geology work. We conclude with a ‘manifesto’ for a critical Geology that, while noting field geological expertise as a necessity for an energy transition, emphasises how university-based expertise might be made more inclusive, and how the knowledges derived might be situated amidst community-facing discussions as to desired futures.



Earth Sciences, Human Geography, Physical Sciences and Mathematics, Social and Behavioral Sciences


geoenergy, field geology, futures, manifesto


Published: 2024-05-20 06:52


CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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