EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

Mining temporalities: ideas, experiences and politics of time in extractive industries [Anthropology of Mining Network]
Location U7-11
Date and Start Time 22 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 2


  • Lorenzo D'Angelo (University of Milano-Bicocca) email
  • Robert Pijpers (University of Oslo) email

Mail All Convenors

Chair Sabine Luning, Leiden University
Discussant Samuel Spiegel, University of Edinburgh

Short Abstract

Resource extraction is often seen as a process of transformation of a space, rarely as a complex temporal process. Following the recent anthropological debates on the anthropology of time, this panel invites to submit proposals that examine temporal dimensions of mines and extractive processes.

Long Abstract

This panel welcomes ethnographic analysis that examines the relationship between resource extraction and time. There are, at least, two ways of considering this relationship.

First, being more than a spatial feature of landscapes, mines can also be understood as temporal landscapes in which past experiences intertwine with present concerns, and miners', local communities`, companies' or states' expectations for the future. Understanding how past, present and future are incorporated and shape mining life cycles, or how these temporal dimensions become grounds of possible disputes are some of the aspects that this panel invites to explore.

Second, resource extraction itself is a process influenced and made of a multitude of interconnected temporalities, such as commodity markets oscillations, mining booms and busts and the seasonality and rhythms of the extractive activities and other local modes of production. How do these temporalities articulate and what are the perceptions, ideas, and temporal experiences of different members within the mining community? How do individuals or institutions make sense of, or take decisions when they have to deal with the discrepancies between what they know, or imagine, about the past and what they expect and hope for the future?

This panel is open to proposals that shed light on these and other issues like, for example, the 'politics of time' (S. Kirsch) through which dominant social actors in the mining industry attempt to manipulate the temporal perceptions of others and orientate their decisions, or the mechanisms that simultaneously produce physical, social and temporal violence (J. Smith).

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Mining the eternal: some reflections about asbestos extraction and manufacturing effects on bodies and landscapes

Author: Agata Mazzeo (University of Bologna)  email

Short Abstract

I consider the “mining temporalities” as traces embodied by asbestos workers and visible on desolate landscapes, representing the effects of a violence perpetrated “in times of peace” by asbestos lobbies, worldwide. Particularly, the discussed data emerged from an ethnographic fieldwork in Brazil.

Long Abstract

Asbestos, whose etymology means eternal, indicates a variety of minerals used as raw material in several industrial sectors, despite their carcinogenicity is being demonstrated by biomedical studies since the 1960's.

Brazil is among the major asbestos producing countries, with two mines (one of them still active), and asbestos-cement plants. I discuss data collected there, between August 2014 and October 2015, while I was investigating the activism of ABREA-Associação Brasileira dos Expostos ao Amianto (Brazilian Association of Exposed to Asbestos), based in Osasco, São Paulo.

Time is being a useful "tool" to think about the explored practices. In fact, by considering the effects of asbestos economics on distinct levels, visible and perceivable past(s), linked to asbestos mining and manufacturing, represented a strong "presence" during my fieldwork.

First, I refer to the embodiment of "mining temporalities" by taking into account the experiences of asbestos-related diseases, characterised by a long latency period, and lived by the majority of my research collaborators. Second, I present the case of an abandoned asbestos mine situated in Bom Jesus da Serra, in the Brazilian state of Bahia, where the remaining ghost village and huge cavity, dug into the mountain, are visible, and dangerous, signs of a past time of violent exploitation made by asbestos lobbies. Last, I reflect on the challenges encountered while investigating practices and meanings deeply linked to the past.

To this concern, the "mining temporalities" I talk about are prolonged and visible traces inscribed on contaminated bodies and desolated landscapes.

From Atahualpa's chamber to the hacienda system: histories of power and dispossession in the Northern Peruvian Andes

Author: Kyra Grieco (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales)  email

Short Abstract

This paper will analyse different histories mobilized by actors opposing mining expansion in the northern Peruvian Andes, in order to make sense of the social relations which contemporary mining activities are embedded in.

Long Abstract

The expansion of open-pit mining activities since the early 1990s has extended Peru's geography of extraction to the Northern part of the country. The Cajamarca region, theatre of the 1532 encounter between the Inca emperor Atahualpa and the conquistador Francisco Pizarro, hosts today one of the largest gold mines in Latin America.

While memories of the thirst for gold that drove the Spanish conquest have become the leitmotif of national and international activism against mining, locally another, more recent history is mobilised. Peasant communities and leaders make sense of current events and relations through memories of the hacienda, a semi-feudal estate system unchallenged in the region until mid-twentieth century. A third historical period, preceding both the Spanish and Inca conquest of the North, is also mobilised by organizations seeking to denounce mining expansion as a violation of indigenous rights.

Though all three are histoires of power and dispossession, each history point to different culprits and solutions. Based on fieldwork carried out in the region from 2011 to 2013, this paper will focus on overlapping and conflicting historical interpretations of contemporary mining activities and the social relations they are embedded in.

The politics of knowledge and time: Shale gas developments, grassroots resistance and democracy in Lancashire, UK

Author: Anna Szolucha (University of Bergen)  email

Short Abstract

Debates about shale gas exploration tend to revolve around primarily two axes: of knowledge and time. This is the plane on which many certainties and uncertainties about the past, present and future of energy and democracy are being played out between actors embedded in unequal social relationships.

Long Abstract

Decisions about shale gas developments are made in the face of many uncertainties about their future harms and benefits. Nevertheless, some claim they are also based on many "certainties" about the adequacy of science and regulatory frameworks. The weight accorded to each of these aspects depends on a complex interplay of the politics of knowledge and time between governments, extractive industry and local populations. All sides use knowledge and time to their advantage by mobilising their expertise and expanding or contracting time for action.

Based on my fieldwork in Lancashire, UK, I will adopt a grassroots lens to explore these dynamics after four years of public protest and civil disobedience in the area. Contrary to political and technocratic rhetoric, knowledge has not neutralised the inherent power imbalances between state, industry and local communities. Residents have had to work towards gaining detailed knowledge about the techniques and impacts of fracking as well as overcoming time-related barriers to match their expertise with democratic agency and empowerment. Grassroots groups have been reappropriating the tactics of their opponents by using science and expertise to confirm the indeterminacy of knowledge about the benefits of fracking. May they also be "repowering" democracy from the ground up by utilising expertise to expand and hence, undermine the narrow parameters of technocratic and political decisions? Are they anticipating a new kind of democratic politics when they are reaffirming the political and temporal nature of decision-making related to shale gas as not a matter of evidence but one of judgement?

The time to "kanakize" the nickel in New Caledonia

Author: Marta Gentilucci (University Bicocca-Milano)  email

Short Abstract

My research in New Caledonia gives a new look on the indigenous mining nickel policy, underlining the intertwine between colonial memory and independence hope. The economic time and the sacred one shape the ideology, that is at the base of the mining industry.

Long Abstract

In New Caledonia, a overseas french collectivity, nickel is the principal economic resource, to the point that the country is among the six worldwide exporters.

The mine is often seen as a synonym of destruction of the natural heritage and the advance of the capitalism. With this ethnography I analyze instead the economic strategy of a part of the native kanak community, who wants to re-appropriate the nickel. I call it "kanakization" (Marshall Sahlins).

In 2013 the nickel industry "Koniambo" was inaugurated, 51% of which belongs to an indigenous mining society. This was the result of a long process of re-signification of nickel by independence leaders from symbol of the colonial exploitation to emblem of the emancipation of the kanak community. "Koniambo" becomes a very strong political and identity project: there is no political independence without economic autonomy from France.

Today the market oscillations and the approach of the referendum for independence (2018) quicken this process. They lead some mining contractors to ask to increase the production rhythm and the export level. In this scenario there is a independence kanak party, that wants to follow the economic rhythm and another one, that wants to slow down the economic time, fixed by profitability, to incorporate it with the ritual and sacred cycles of the tribe.

My aim is to show another way of seeing the mining resource as a product of a repositioning of the kanak community in the colonial past, in the present capitalism and in the future independence.

Imagining booms and busts: conflicting temporalities of extraction in Mozambique

Author: Nikkie Wiegink (Utrecht University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper presents three sets of divergent and competing understandings of temporalities in relation to the extractive industry boom (and bust) in Mozambique, thereby exploring the disconnects between "development" and resource extraction.

Long Abstract

This paper presents three sets of divergent and competing understandings of temporalities in relation to the resource boom (and recent coal bust) in Mozambique, in order to further explore the complexities of expectations of "development" raised by mega projects of the extractive industry. As it is based on data gathered during recent exploratory fieldwork in the capital Maputo and Tete, it specifically concerns the current development of a liquefied gas park in the north of the country, and-more in depth-the struggling coal industry in Tete.

The first set of understandings involves a forward-looking, long-term view of the extractive industry's potential to bring transformational development to Mozambique, generally expressed by donors, academics and the extractive industry from "Maputo." The second set is characterised by expressions of volatility and "waiting" by Tete's urban elite, the businessmen and women who were lured by the promise of the coal-bonanza, and who explained the landscape and urban development in terms of before, during and after "the boom". The third set delves into the experience and expressions of liminality by community-members who were resettled by coal-mining companies in Tete (being in-between government and company, in-between settling and wanting to get away).

While by no means exhaustive, I hope that by presenting three sets, the paper goes beyond binary analyses of the local versus the national, and the community versus the company or state, and to add to the layered analyses of disconnect between understandings of "development" and the promised wealth of resource extraction.

Ups and downs of gold digging: the life cycle of artisanal mines in Burkina Faso

Author: Cristiano Lanzano (The Nordic Africa Institute (Uppsala, Sweden))  email

Short Abstract

Using ethnographic material from three artisanal gold mines in Burkina Faso, I will reflect on how oscillating dynamics of production over time (which shape the "life cycle" of the mines) articulate with short-term and long-term projects of the different actors involved in gold extraction.

Long Abstract

Artisanal gold mining, which has proliferated throughout West Africa - and particularly in Burkina Faso - during the last two decades as a consequence of trends in global prices, is associated with rapid migration flows and the constant relocation of mining areas. But while the complex geographies of gold extraction and the high mobility of gold diggers and traders are important elements in explaining the organization of the sector, the temporal factor accounts for much of the ephemerality of mining camps and the instability of production relationships and institutional settings.

Mining areas have a life cycle, whose phases follow recurrent patterns - but whose duration is hardly predictable. In initial phases, occasional discoveries of gold can provoke a massive immigration of miners and the establishment of a mining camp. In production peaks, formal enterprises are often involved in the commercialization of the final product and the organization of space in the mining camp (especially where processing facilities are located). These enterprises generally leave when production declines, allowing new leadership and new organizational models to emerge. All along this life cycle, various attempts at gaining control over the resource, becoming involved in the production, or imposing informal taxation on mining activities are also deployed by representatives of local residents and formal or informal powers.

Using my ethnographic material from three different mining areas in Western and South-Western Burkina Faso, I will reflect on how oscillating dynamics of production over time articulate with short-term and long-term projects of the different actors involved in artisanal gold extraction.

Pirate gold miners in South Africa: on the political economy of not belonging

Author: Matthew Nesvet (University of California, Davis)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores how artisanal gold miners in South Africa are rendered foreign, criminal, and out of place and time. Drawing on extensive ethnographic fieldwork among South Africa’s ‘pirate’ gold mining syndicates, this paper gives a new account of the relation between autochthony and economy.

Long Abstract

What makes some South African gold ore illicit? In a country where an estimated 90% of industrial mines do not have legal permits for the entirety of their operations, and certain small-scale miners who claim the right to legally operate based on customary land and practice claims, similarly lack permits from the department of mineral resources to mine, it is necessary to look beyond written legal code to explain why the post-apartheid South African state and society render certain artisanal miners uniquely 'criminal' subjects and the gold ore they possess illicit. Drawing on 14 months of ethnographic fieldwork among artisanal miners working in abandoned and active industrial gold mines in Gauteng and surrounding South African provinces, this paper documents a heterogeneous landscape of temporal practices and processes that criminalize miners who find themselves 'out of time' in the post-apartheid nation-state. In particular, this paper attends to how the materiality of gold mining and the gold trade's material capacities to obfuscate the histories of gold's production, the temporal economy of illicit gold production and trade, and the changing meanings of memory, speculative property, nation and belonging in South Africa produce migrant artisanal gold miners as criminal subjects. The paper builds upon recent scholarship in the anthropology of time, migration, the state, criminalization and mining to give a new account of the relation between autochthony and economy.

Representing Geevor: linear progress vs the singular moment in the presentation of mining heritage

Authors: Peter Oakley (Royal College of Art)  email
Hilary Orange (University College, London)  email

Short Abstract

An examination of competing representations of time in the displays at Geevor Tin Mine and the social consequences of the ways these frame Cornish tin mining as an activity.

Long Abstract

Geevor Tin Mine in Cornwall is considered an important exemplar of Cornish, British and world industrial heritage. Most of the site is presented as a material representation of linear technological development and achievement, an approach underpinned by notions of historical progress. In contrast, one space - The Dry - has been reconstructed as a monument to a single moment in the site's history: the day the mine stopped being operational. As the key location on the site for representing the cohesion and distinctiveness of the local mining community, The Dry has a disproportionate influence over the way Geevor as a whole and the Cornish tin mining industry in general is understood by visitors. The Dry acts as a point of closure that distances Cornish mining from contemporary society, but it simultaneously disrupts the temporal narrative of inevitable, incremental technological development that underpins Geevor's other presentations. The authors draw on Oakley's decade of involvement with Geevor and other tin mining heritage sites in the Cornish Mining WHS, initially through the SWLLN development project (2006-8), and subsequent regular site visits; Orange's research undertaking archaeological ethnographies of the post-industrial Cornish mining landscape (2006-13); and the initial research undertaken by both authors for the Geevor Time Project (2016-17). Through an analysis of their material Oakley and Orange will demonstrate how contesting temporal narratives have been constructed, revised and promoted at Geevor, as well as explaining some of the wider social consequences of these activities.

A dying village: mining and the experiential condition of displacement

Author: Hedda Haugen Askland (The University of Newcastle)  email

Short Abstract

This paper addresses the temporal dimension of mining through consideration of how competing ecologies of time underpin displacement. I adopt the triad nost-, solast-, and erit-algia to explore how place-based distress due to mining intertwines lived experiences of the past, present and future.

Long Abstract

On the edge of the Great Dividing Range in the Mid-Western Region of New South Wales, Australia, sits a small village called Wollar. Beneath grand sandstone cliffs and surrounded by agricultural land, the historic village presents an image of tranquillity and peace. Yet this apparent tranquillity is underpinned by an unfolding battle for survival. The village is enveloped by three large open-cut coal mines. The proximity to the mines and the competition for land have led to a rapid depopulation of the township, and those who remain have become exposed to increased environmental and social risks. The village is currently facing threat of further mine expansion, with the boundaries of the mine closest to the village being set only 1.5km away. The extension proposal has been described as the 'community's death sentence'.

Through reflection on ethnographic material from Wollar, this paper explores the emergence of displacement as an experiential condition of loss in which temporalities of the past, present and the future are intricately interwoven. I argue that to understand the local, social and communal impacts of the mining activity, mining must be approached not just as a transformation of space but, indeed, a transformation of place, in which the interconnections between the biophysical, social and spiritual are negotiated through distinct temporalities. I adopt the triad nostalgia, solastalgia and eritalgia to enable the exploration of place-based distress in response to the past, present and future.

"It can take somebody from poor": imagined futures in the Sierra-Leonean diamond market

Author: Nina Engwicht (University Koblenz-Landau)  email

Short Abstract

Based on concepts of "imagined futures" this paper argues that resource sector governance in post-conflict can only contribute to sustainable peace if it takes into account mining populations´ experiences with time, particularly their fictional expectations of the future.

Long Abstract

Sociology has only very recently begun to take into account people's conceptions not just of present realities but also of the future. Newer works in market sociology aim to explain how "fictional expectations" (Beckert 2015) inform the decisions of agents on how to act today. In the case of post-conflict societies where decisions on economic strategies are made under conditions of high uncertainty and the expectation of fast "peace dividends" is high, the question of how actors conceptualize the future is especially pertinent. Natural resource governance in particular can be a high-stakes issue that can make and break the consolidation of peace depending on whether expectations of social and economic change are met. This paper aims to draw attention to the role that expectations of the future play in post-conflict societies, particularly in mining-affected societies. Based on extensive field research in the Sierra-Leonean diamond market it argues that in order for the reform of extractive sectors to be successful, decision-makers must understand (1) the past personal and societal experiences that inform the economic strategies of market participants, (2) the temporality of social relations that make up the social structure of the market, (3) society's expectations of micro and macro level changes. Where the expectations and future-oriented strategies of mining-affected populations remain poorly understood, peacebuilding and development policies will not be able to address their needs. In post-conflict states, the failure to understand "imagined futures" can cause a loss of political legitimacy that can easily threaten the consolidation of peace.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.