Hinterlands of hinterlands

Second, as they are embedded within global supply chains, inherited hinterlands lose their directional articulation to specific zones of consumption, metropolitan or otherwise. The linear directionality of von Thiinen’s classic model—in which each hinterland has “its” city and each city “its” hinterland—is thus no longer a reliable guide. The point is not simply that contemporary cities’ hinterlands are more distanciated than previously, but that their operational logics, infrastructural configuration, metabolic relays and developmental dynamics have been qualitatively transformed. On the one hand, most of the world’s most productive, specialized and export-oriented hinterlands now circulate their outputs to a multitude of metropolitan agglomerations and across the global metropolitan network as a whole. Just as importantly, many zones of primary commodity production are now most directly articulated not to major cities and metropolitan regions but to other operational landscapes of extraction, cultivation, processing and distribution, which are in turn embedded and intermeshed within an intercontinental logistics space.This situation is exemplified in the monocrop soybean landscapes of Amazonia, whose outputs are mostly exported as cattle feed to Chinese livestock hinterlands; in the export of phosphate fertilizer from Central Florida to Brazilian agro-industrial hinterlands; or in the use of hydroelectric dams to power the extractive hinterlands of northern Chile. In this sense, the hinterlands of the Capitalocene are now more tightly articulated to transnational production matrices than to localized relays of consumption.20

From formal to real subsumption

Third, most forms of primary commodity production have remained heavily contingent upon the extra-human geographies of the earth system (for instance, soil and weather conditions, water availability or resource deposits) that can only be modified through significant industrial investment (for instance, in fertilizer, greenhouses, irrigation systems, biotechnology' and other sociotechnical fixes). Historically, therefore, the industrial operationalization of hinterland spaces has occurred through strategies to establish new resource frontiers and, as the latter are exhausted, through compensatory efforts to intensify techno-extractive logics. In both moments of this process, new industrial infrastructures are established and intensively operationalized before being superseded as successive regimes of accumulation are exhausted. Many contemporary hinterlands, therefore, are no longer zones of mere “formal subsumption” in which inherited socioecologi- cal resource matrices and regimes of cheap nature are directly appropriated as commodities for external market exchange. Insofar as the geographies and ecologies of non-city zones are themselves systematically re-engineered to maximize surplus value extraction and accelerate capital accumulation, a “real subsumption” of hinterland spaces appears to be under way: nature is itself increasingly capitalized in a profit-driven terraforming process.21 In this manner, many erstwhile hinterlands, or parts thereof, are transformed into configurations of large-scale territorial-ecological machinery: capital-intensive, more-than-human infrastructural assemblages oriented towards capital accumulation within a planet-encompassing profit matrix.

Hinterlands of hinterlands

FIGURE 4.7 Hinterlands of hinterlands, 2000.This map series depicts the geographical distribution of cropland areas (arranged, respectively, from top to bottom) dedicated to food, feed, or non-food uses (such as energy and industrial inputs) The bottom two maps can be conceived as representations of hinterlands of hinterlands, insofar as they depict the supply of specific industrial inputs to other hinterlands (for example, cattle feed to livestock production zones, or biofuel to the energy sector) (Source: Visualisation by the authors based on the publicly available datasets: E. Cassidy, P. West,J. Gerber and J. Foley, “Redefining agricultural yields: from tonnes to people nourished per hectare,” Environmental Research Letters 8,3 (2013): 034015)

Mechanized, monoculture landscapes of corn and soybean production in the US Midwest, 2018

FIGURE 4.8 Mechanized, monoculture landscapes of corn and soybean production in the US Midwest, 2018. Capital-intensive, highly industrialized and densely equipped landscapes of cash-crop monocultures dominate the US Cornbelt, where more than 80% of all land is dedicated to the cultivation of corn and soybeans.The zone of corn and soybean production (depicted in black) is configured among one-mile tiles within a Jeffersonian grid pattern. This permits the maximally efficient operation of agro-industrial machinery. Beneath this terrestrial surface is an extensive subterranean drainage system that supports soil tilling (Source: Visualisation by the authors based on the following publicly available dataset: USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service Cropland Data Layer (2018), published crop-specific data layer, available at https://nassgeodata.gmu.edu/CropScape/ (accessed 06/05/2019))

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