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Sinkhole Politics: The Hydrogeology of Power in the Dead Sea Basin

  • Author(s): Popperl, Simone
  • Advisor(s): Elyachar, Julia
  • Olson, Valerie
  • et al.
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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License

In this dissertation, I explore the political geologies of sinkholes in and around the Dead Sea. These sinkholes are formed when rising groundwater dissolves underground salt deposits, forming caverns that eventually collapse. These widespread and largely unpredictable events damage buildings and infrastructure and cause disruptions in global commodity chains, agricultural practices, and security regimes. Scholars of the region have analyzed pipelines, oil concessions, and refineries when they articulate how geology in the Middle East has shaped the region’s contemporary crises, borders, and societies, but they have not analyzed sinkholes and the politics they engender. Moreover, there have been few ethnographic studies of the communities affected by sinkholes and of the contested spheres of scientific knowledge that emerge around them, both of which are shaped by colonial and settler-colonial processes of exclusion—what I call geologies of erasure. I conducted fieldwork for this dissertation at universities, government offices, academic conferences, Dead Sea tourist sites, public bus stops, community meetings in Dead Sea settlements, Dead Sea factories, and farms and homes of the seasonal workers between 2012 and 2015. In all, I carried out twelve months of participant observation and forty-four formal, extended interviews with Palestinians, Israelis, and Jordanians who interact with sinkholes in a variety of ways and at a variety of scales. I also undertook archival research in the Jordanian National Library and the Israeli State Archives. Drawing on this fieldwork, I argue that sinkholes—the stories they tell and the plans they disrupt—have an important place in the history of geological politics in the Middle East. They reconfigure alliances, reorder political hierarchies, and alter cooperative arrangements across borders, sectors, and communities. Contributing to current debates in anthropology science and technology studies, settler colonialism, materiality, and political geography, I show how a political geology of Dead Sea sinkholes help us make sense of human-nonhuman relations in settler-colonial contexts around the world.

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This item is under embargo until September 30, 2024.