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Silvia Berger Ziauddin & Leo Grob

Below Ground. History and Futures of the Underground Frontier

ISBN: 978-3-906817-15-6
DOI: 10.13098/infoclio.ch-lb-0011
Publication date: 2024


Today, the underground realm is treated as a comprehensive resource and the new frontier. And it is a fact that underground realms are currently being techno-scientifically penetrated at an increasing pace and integrated into the dynamics of capitalist accumulation. This Living Book examines this “underground frontier” from a historical perspective and simultaneously sheds light on the promises presently tied up with the depths of the Earth.

Subterranean worlds exerted ever greater fascination in the second half of the 19th century, owing to capitalist mining ventures, geological mapping, and mechanised tunnel construction. Such developments fired fantasies of better future societies that would live in technology-driven underground spheres.

In the late 19th century cities also expanded into the depths trough the development of underground infrastructures. This “big dig” in the metropolises came to mirror the vertical class-based social stratification; and among the bourgeoisie, it sowed the seeds of fear of clandestine subterranean threats.

Appropriation of the underground as a protective zone accelerated during the periods of “total war” in the 20th century. By the mid 20th century, engineers and architects were recognising the potential of subterranean space as a comprehensive and seemingly inexhaustible resource for urban development. The 1970s and later decades gave rise to promises that have culminated in the scientific discussions and public debates we are seeing today: the underground is alleged to be a “terra nullius” and frontier that must be awoken from its slumber and exploited, to spawn resilient and sustainable future communities.

The introductory essay in this Living Book emphasises the need to bring historical context and critical analysis to bear on the supposed promise of the “underground frontier” and the associated, often unexamined concepts.