Alessandro Scali & Robin Goode, Actual size, 2007, 100 µm, Atomic Force Microscope
…is a comment that I have seen on a number of geography blogs. I am surprised I have not seen it on this blog, as I have been asked this question outside the virtual many times. There are many reasons why geographers are interested in matter, in the liveliness of the inorganic, in new technologies, in ‘invisible processes’.
The most popular reason, as art curator Stefano Raimondi put it in the magazine Nano, ‘the infinitely small increasingly interacts with our daily reality’. While one could argue with the word ‘increasingly’ and be tempted to replace it with ‘in increasingly different ways’, he is probably right when it comes to news coverage of ‘micro’ and ‘nano’ events. Whether it is issues around sustainability (energy consumption, food security, biodiversity, artificial nature, climate change), security (smart environments, sensors), communication (new mobile devices, electro smog), medicine (mysterious diseases, medical monitoring, genetic engineering), economy (production and location of production of new technologies), these material events, whether self-generated or produced, are ever present and affecting us and our planet.
Secondly, geographers are concerned about the language of geographical conquest and exploration that is used by proponents of new technologies: are the micro and nano scale the new virgin territories for human exploitation and colonisation?
Questions that pose themselves in this context are, for instance: How far do we want to control nature? How much control do different groups of people have over what is done at this scale? How do people relate to the nano or micro scale? What do converging technologies mean for us? The academic journal ‘Area’ published a number of articles on ‘Geographies of Nano-Technoscience’, which deal with some of these questions.
Many geographers are also interested in how space is thought. The physical processes at the atomic or sub-atomic level pose an interesting challenge and inspiration, e.g. for people such as Derek McCormack or Stephan Harrison of Oxford University.
These are just three examples of how geographers are interested in ‘mutable matter’. I hope they have contributed to answering your question!