Date of Award

2020

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Anthropology

First Advisor

Adriana Petryna

Abstract

This dissertation is an anthropological study of the biogeographical distribution of genetically improved pine trees that are planted across millions of acres of land in the southeastern United States. In particular, I study industry-university cooperative research programs housed in land grant universities that were founded in the 1950s and their efforts to domesticate the loblolly pine (Pinus taeda). In this dissertation, we will see how these industrialized forests became objects through which a sustainable future was imagined as a “program of perpetual development” in the US South and the ways this future is always on the verge of coming undone. In studying the biogeography of the loblolly pine and the future forests it grows, I argue that we need to pay attention to both the biopolitical projects of improvement in which they are enrolled as well as the geopolitical forms of dispossession on which these regimes are built and sustained.

The distributions of future forests are multiple. As an infrastructure that builds other infrastructures, they contain the lumber that builds houses, the woody biomass that adds power to electrical grids, and pulp for paper. They also contain speculative potential – usage as a biofuel to run cars and trucks, as an offset for carbon, and as an uncorrelated asset to diversify investment portfolios. These are parts of its distributions. The future forests in the US South are also formed in the distributed affections of hope toward particular visions of sustainable futures and distributed disappointments when the promises of these futures remain unfulfilled. In this dissertation, we will see the ways that an industrial science mediates multiple, sometimes contradictory, scales. As we will see, as these multiple scales articulate in particular places, universal models of an infinite and sustainable program of development come undone.

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