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Soil science, development, and the "elusive nature" of Colombia's Amazonian plains

Abstract

Since 2000, the productive capacities and contested governance of Amazonian soils emerged as a matter of political concern in the U.S.-Colombia "War on Drugs." State soil scientists are enlisted to engender a classifiable entity whose definition makes it emerge from productivity: good soils are thickly productive, market-oriented, and an entity that can be improved after human action. A network of farmers in the department of Putumayo, however, engages in material practices where soils are less of an object and more of an entanglement of life-propagating relations. With ethnographic engagement on farms and in laboratories, this article offers insights into the way "local" and "scientific" practices with soils are able (or unable) to be placed in symmetry. Amazonian soils may not only place pressure on state classification systems and their human agents, but may also reveal the limits of development imperatives where production is premised on a deep-seeded divide between "nature" and "culture". © 2014 by the American Anthropological Association.

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