Political Geologies of Magma

  • Nigel ClarkEmail author


When engineers drilling geothermal boreholes in Iceland’s volcanically active Krafla region in 2009 unexpectedly struck a magma body some two kilometres down it opened up the possibility both of studying magma in situ and of using heat from magma directly as an energy source. Recognizing the novelty of this event, I explore some of the ways that magma might become politicized over the coming years—using a conceptual framework that involves three distinct, though related, approaches to the political geology of magma. The first, drawing on political ecology, looks at how power from magma fits into Iceland’s recent energy-intensive, capital-attracting development strategy. The second, taking insights from relational materialist thought, considers how the specific properties of magma might trigger new political mobilizations. The third, more speculative and philosophical in tone, reflects on how we might see magma and other geological forces as the very condition of possibility of the political—as forms of ‘geopower’ that antecede, subtend and energise all social and political formations. Taken together, these three approaches suggest an open, experimental approach to the formation of new political issues and subjects in which new kinds of ‘becoming with magma’ defy prediction.


  1. Awile, B. (2017, February 13–15). Analysis of Stuck Pipe Incidents in Menengai. 42nd Workshop on Geothermal Reservoir Engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, CA.Google Scholar
  2. Bakker, K., & Bridge, G. (2006). Material Worlds? Resource Geographies and the ‘Matter of Nature’. Progress in Human Geography, 30(1): 5–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Barry, A. (2010). Materialist Politics: Metallurgy. In B. Braun & S. Whatmore (Eds.), Political Matter: Technoscience, Democracy and Public Life. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  4. Bebbington, A. (2012). Underground Political Ecologies. Geoforum, 43, 1152–1162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Braun, B. (2000). Producing Vertical Territory: Geology and Governmentality in Late Victorian Canada. Cultural Geographies, 7(7), 7–46.Google Scholar
  6. Braun, B., & Whatmore, S. (2010). The Stuff of Politics: An Introduction. In B. Braun & S. Whatmore (Eds.), Political Matter: Technoscience, Democracy and Public Life (pp. ix–xl). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press,Google Scholar
  7. Bridge, G. (2013). Territory, Now in 3D! Political Geography, 34, 55–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bridge, G. (2014). Resource Geographies II: The Resource-State Nexus. Progress in Human Geography, 38(1), 118–130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Chapman, M. (Undated). Iceland’s Troubled Environment. Guide to Iceland. Accessed 1 May 2018.
  10. Clark, N. (2011). Inhuman Nature: Sociable Life on a Dynamic Planet. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  11. Clark, N. (2016). Metamorphoses: On Philip Conway’s Geopolitical Latour. Global Discourse, 6(1–2), 72–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Clark, N. (2017). Politics of Strata. Theory, Culture & Society, 34(2–3), 211–231.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Clark, N., Gormally, A., & Tuffen, H. (2018). Speculative Volcanology: Violence, Threat and Chance in Encounters with Magma. Environmental Humanities, 10(1), 273–294.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Clark, N., & Yusoff, K. (2017). Geosocial Formations and the Anthropocene. Theory, Culture & Society, 34(2–3), 3–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Colebrook, C. (2010). Deleuze and the Meaning of Life. New York: Continuum.Google Scholar
  16. Colebrook, C. (2011). Matter Without Bodies. Derrida Today, 4, 1–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Conway, P. (2016). Back Down to Earth: Reassembling Latour’s Anthropocenic Geopolitics. Global Discourse, 6(1–2), 43–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Cox, D. (2017). NASA’s Ambitious Plans to Save Earth from a Supervolcano. BBC. Accessed 11 September 2017.
  19. De Landa, M. (1992). Nonorganic Life. In J. Crary & S. Kwinter (Eds.), Incorporations. New York: Zone.Google Scholar
  20. De Landa, M. (1997). A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History. New York: Swerve.Google Scholar
  21. Deleuze, G. (1994). Difference and Repetition. London: Athlaone Press.Google Scholar
  22. Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1987). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  23. Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1994). What Is Philosophy?. London: Verso.Google Scholar
  24. DeMuth, S. (2003). Power Driven. Saving Iceland. Accessed 14 May 2018.
  25. Dibben, N. (2009). Nature and Nation: National Identity and Environmentalism in Icelandic Popular Music Video and Music Documentary. Ethnomusicology Forum, 18(1), 131–151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Donovan, A. (2017). Geopower: Reflections on the Critical Geography of Disasters. Progress in Human Geography, 41(1), 44–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Elden, S. (2013). Secure the Volume: Vertical Geopolitics and the Depth of Power. Political Geography, 34, 35–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Elders, W., Frðleifsson, G., Zierenberg, R., Pope, E., Mortensen, A., Guðmundsson, A., et al. (2011). Origin of a Rhyolite That Intruded a Geothermal Well While Drilling at the Krafla Volcano, Iceland. Geology, 39(3), 27, 231–234.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Elders, W. A., Frðleifsson, G., & Albertsson, A. (2014). Drilling into Magma and the Implications of the Iceland Deep Drilling Project (IDDP) for High-Temperature Geothermal Systems Worldwide. Geothermics, 49, 111–118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Grosz, E. (2008). Chaos, Territory, Art: Deleuze and the Framing of the Earth. Durham: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Grosz, E. (2011). Becoming Undone: Darwinian Reflections on Life, Politics, and Art Durham. NC: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Grosz, E. (2012). Geopower. Environment and Planning D: Society & Space, 30(6), 973–975.Google Scholar
  33. Grosz, E., Yusoff, K., & Clark, N. (2017). An Interview with Elizabeth Grosz: Geopower, Inhumanism and the Biopolitical. Theory, Culture & Society, 34(2–3), 129–146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Haraway, D. (2016). Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Durham: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. International Continental Scientific Drilling Program (ICDP). (2017, October). Krafla Magma Drilling Project Workshop. Accessed 1 April 2017.
  36. John Hopkins University. (2008). Magma Discovered in Situ for First Time. Phys.Org News. Accessed 1 April 2017.
  37. Kröger, M. (2016). Spatial Causalities in Resource Rushes: Notes from the Finnish Mining Boom. Journal of Agrarian Change, 1(4), 543–570.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Landsvirkjun. (2008). Landsvirkjun and the Iceland Drilling Company (Jardboranir) Sign an Agreement on Deep Drilling in the Krafla Area. Accessed 15 April 2018.
  39. Landsvirkjun. (2012). IDDP Project: Magma well at Krafla: Temperature World Record. Accessed 15 April 2018.
  40. Latour, B. (2004). Politics of Nature. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  41. Latour, B. (2005a). From Realpolitik to Dingpolitik or How to Make Things Public. In B. Latour & P. Weibel (Eds.), Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy. Karlsruhe and Cambridge: ZKM Centre for Art and Media and MIT Press.Google Scholar
  42. Latour, B. (2005b). Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  43. Latour, B. (2008). “It’s Development, Stupid!” or: How to Modernize Modernization. Accessed 20 September 2009).
  44. Latour, B. (2013). An Inquiry into Modes of Existence: An Anthropology of the Moderns. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  45. Latour, B. (2014a). Agency at the Time of the Anthropocene. New Literary History, 45(1), 1–18. Scholar
  46. Latour, B. (2014b). Some Advantages of the Notion of ‘Critical Zone’ for Geopolitics. Procedia, 10, 3–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Lenton, T. (2016). Earth System Science: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Lyall, S. (2007, February 4). Smokestacks in a White Wilderness Divide Iceland. New York Times.Google Scholar
  49. Marres, N. (2007). The Issues Deserve More Credit: Pragmatist Contributions to the Study of Public Involvement in Controversy. Social Studies of Science, 37(5), 759–780.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Marx, K. (1973 [1857]). Grundrisse. London: Penguin.Google Scholar
  51. Moore, J. (2015). Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital. London: Verso.Google Scholar
  52. Olafsson, S., Cook, D., Davidsdottir, B., & Johannsdottir, L. (2014). Measuring Countries’ Environmental Sustainability Performance: A Review and Case Study of Iceland. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 39, 934–948.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Palsson, G., & Swanson, H. S. (2016). Down to Earth: Geosocialities and Geopolitics. Environmental Humanities, 8(2), 149–171.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Parnell, J., Hole, M., Boyce, A., Spinks, S., & Bowden, S. (2012). Heavy Metal, Sex and Granites: Crustal Differentiation and Bioavailability in the Mid-Proterozoic. Geology, 40, 751–754.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Rothery, D. (2007). Volcanoes, Earthquakes and Tsunamis. London: Teach Yourself.Google Scholar
  56. Sheller, M. (2014). Global Energy Cultures of Speed and Lightness: Materials. Mobilities and Transnational Power, Theory, Culture & Society, 31(5), 127–154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Sigurdsson, H. (1999). Melting the Earth: The History of Ideas on Volcanic Eruptions. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  58. Smith, N. (2010). Uneven Development: Nature, Capital and the Production of Space (3rd ed.). London: Verso.Google Scholar
  59. Stengers, I. (2010). Including Nonhumans in Political Theory: Opening Pandora’s Box? In B. Braun & S. Whatmore (Eds.), Political Matter: Technoscience, Democracy and Public Life. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  60. Stewart, I., & Lynch, J. (2007). Earth: The Power of the Planet. London: BBC Books.Google Scholar
  61. Watts, M. (2004). Antinomies of Community: Some Thoughts on Geography, Resources and Empire. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 29, 195–216.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Weisenberger, T. (2013). Introduction to the Geology of Iceland. Accessed 14 May 2018.
  63. Whatmore, S. (2009). Mapping Knowledge Controversies: Science, Democracy and the Redistribution of Expertise. Progress in Human Geography, 33(5), 587–598.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. White, R., & McKenzie, D. (1989). Magmatism at Rift Zones: The Generation of Volcanic Continental Margins and Flood Basalts. Journal of Geophysical Research, 94, 7685–7729.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Winchester, S. (2004). Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded. London: Penguin.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Lancaster UniversityLancasterUK

Personalised recommendations