Cameron Michael Butler

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

York U. - Canada

Grant number

Gr. 10677

Approve Date

April 15, 2024

Project Title

Butler, Cameron (York U. - Canada) "Fertilizing Southern Ontario: Tracing Phosphorus through Agribusiness Value Chains"

Phosphorus is an essential element for all life and a fundamental component of commercial fertilizers. This project follows phosphorus through agribusiness value chains that sustain the fertilizer demands of southern Ontario, a major Canadian agricultural region. I explore how phosphorus-related value-making practices both adapt to and transform planetary mineral cycles, particularly in the context of growing public scrutiny concerning the colonial extraction of phosphate rock, the depletion of phosphate reserves, and the intensifying eutrophication caused by phosphorus-rich farm runoff. This project asks: (1) Through what processes do agribusiness actors produce value through and with phosphorus? 2) How are agribusiness value chains responding to phosphorus becoming an object of rising public concern? And 3) what can be learned about the Anthropocene as a geo-ecological constellation of human/more-than-human relations by tracing agribusiness value chains? I will conduct 16 months of fieldwork at three sites: a recently announced phosphorus water recycling facility, fertilizer industry association events, and local farms using a mix of fertilizer methods. Combining economic anthropological approaches to value chains with environmental anthropological approaches to the Plantationocene and metabolism, I conceptualize value-making acts as metabolic relations that co-produce distinct planetary geologies as they transform phosphorus from inert rock into world-feeding nutrient.