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Instabilities: an Ethnography of Mexican Earth and Expertise


The deadly Mexican earthquake disaster of 1985 still looms in personal and institutional

memory and makes credible seismic threats still to come. Earthquake early warning

technologies, developed in its wake, have implications for not only publics at risk and the

distribution of power and authority among experts in the seismic community, but, finally,

for what Foucault has called the security apparatus of the Mexican state.

In this dissertation, I explore the relations between earthquakes and technoscientific

knowledge when public welfare is at stake. I argue that as the disparate experts of the

seismic community of Mexico and around the world develop and debate earthquake early

warning technologies, they make geophysical energies moving through the material world

meaningful. With careful attention to the everyday meaningful imbrications of geological

and social worlds and the forces, practices, tools, ideas, and institutions which constitute

them garnered through research methods including participant observation, surveys,

interviews, and archival research, I investigate how expert work and seismicity, both

importantly unstable, produce the conditions of possibility for political encounters with the

moving earth.

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