2001 volume 19(4) pages 431 – 459

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Demeritt D, 2001, "Scientific forest conservation and the statistical picturing of nature's limits in the Progressive-era United States" Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 19(4) 431 – 459

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Scientific forest conservation and the statistical picturing of nature's limits in the Progressive-era United States

David Demeritt

Received 13 January 2000; in revised form 24 November 2000

Abstract. This paper explores debates over the statistical picturing of the nation's finite forest resources in the Progressive-era United States. This picturing was made possible by a variety of new quantitative and graphical practices that made maps and statistics appear as objective evidence of the natural limits those objects appeared to exhibit. Drawing on the work of Timothy Mitchell, I argue that this appearance was generated through more generalized practices of enframing. Enframing involved the systematic ordering of objects to create the appearance of a world metaphysically divided in two and graspable in terms of the distinction between reality and the objective representations through which reality as such was made to appear. This binary ordering, or enframing, of appearance created the appearance of order itself as an apparently abstract framework within which the objects so enframed could be more closely regulated. Enframing the forest quantitatively transformed heterogeneous forests into an apparently calculable quantity available to new disciplinary forms of state power that Foucault argues are characteristic of modern governmentality. The timber-famine debate also highlights the question of trust and the dependence of expert authority on traditional gender and class differences, which were themselves reworked through the quantifying practices of scientific forest conservation.

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