EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

(P073)
Indelible footprints and unstable futures: anthropology and resource politics
Location U7-15
Date and Start Time 21 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Dinah Rajak (Sussex University) email
  • Andrea Muehlebach (University of Toronto) email

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Short Abstract

This panel explores the politics around resource extraction and use. This panel brings together ethnographic contributions that examine the ways in which resources (from water, land and logging to minerals, oil and gas) are being politicized, ethicized, contested, reclaimed and revalued.

Long Abstract

This panel explores the politics around resource extraction and use to ask how "natural resources" themselves (their meaning, value, and future) have become indeterminate today. On the one hand, global capitalism continues to invest in turning "nature" into "resources" through often violent techniques of extractivism (the dispossession of land and water) and human disturbance (the destruction of livelihoods and lifeworlds) or different modalities of alienation, valuation, and commodification. At the same time, resources and resource extraction are being politicized, ethicized, contested, reclaimed and revalued in novel ways. Over the past decade ethnographic research from diverse geographies across the world have challenged dominant paradigms of 'growth', refocusing analysis on the social costs of extraction that are disproportionately shouldered by those living in the vicinity of operations but which are not amenable to the macro-economic measurements of resource economists; highlighting the alternative ecologies that are marginalised through conventional models of resource economics. In short, we are interested in how diverse frontiers of resource extraction (from water use to mining, from oil to fracking) offer insight into the status of "the resource" itself, and thus into how our human and non-human futures will be radically shaped by them.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Shale gas as an uncertain resource for the uncertain future: state, communities and industries at the new frontier of resource politics in Poland

Authors: Aleksandra Lis (Adam Mickiewicz University)  email
Agata Stasik (Koźmiński University )  email

Short Abstract

The paper examines shale gas exploration in Poland as a new frontier of resource politics whereby the weak Polish State limits the role of local communities to the ones who are in ‘deficit of knowledge’.

Long Abstract

This paper proposes to examine shale gas exploration in Poland as a new frontier of resource politics which brings together State, global and national industries, experts and communities into uneven, and often symbolically violent, interactions. Optimistic assessments of extractable shale gas resources in Poland calculated by the U.S. Energy Information Agency attracted oil&gas companies from all over the world to start operations on the ground. This paper examines first encounters between local communities and industries in three localities where national and global upstream companies became active. The analysis of the first local meetings reveals uneven relations of power between community members and industries which thrive on the 'ideology', perpetuated by experts, that the lack of acceptance of new technologies results from people's 'deficit of knowledge'. At the meetings, members of local communities used various tactics and strategies to undermine this ideology and subvert relations of power between them and industries; however, in longer term, outside of the meeting framework, they were limited in their moves by state regulations which narrow down the competence of local communities to the role of those who have the right to be informed. The paper concludes with reflections about the agency of local communities in resource politics in Poland and about the weakness of the Polish State in maneuvering between different types of deficits it faces when new resources are to be explored: energy supply deficit, democratic deficit, knowledge deficit, regulations deficit and a deficit of control mechanisms over activities of oil&gas companies.

A knowledge without power: EITI and oil policies in Chad

Author: Remadji Hoinathy (Centre de Recherches en Anthropologie et Sciences Humaines - CRASH)  email

Short Abstract

Because of the resource curse initiatives like EITI have emerged in the global space to counteract it by emphasizing transparency. Knowing Chad’s sociopolitical background of, could the type of knowledge provided by EITI create the expected change in oil policies?

Long Abstract

Because of the resource curse diverse initiatives have emerged in the global space to counteract this possibility by emphasizing transparency. EITI is part of these initiatives. ITIE's philosophy is to enable communities living in oil rich countries to demand more accountability from the State on natural resources revenues' management by providing them information on the amounts actually received. This philosophy establishes a link between knowledge and power, making knowledge natural resources revenues' flows a base to better governance driven by citizen's claims for accountability. From a decade oil has taken a great place in the popular politic imaginary in Chad. However, knowing the sociopolitical background of Chad, could the type of knowledge provided by EITI reports create the expected change in oil policies? The paper proposes an anthropological analysis of EITI implementation process in Chad by drawing on the Chadian historical and socio-political context. The argument is that knowledge can induce the expected change (here the citizenship momentum), if its content is intelligible for the targets. Moreover, whatever its relevance, a knowledge that is not able to cope with the local socio-political and historical context, cannot induce change.

Platinum dreams

Author: Dinah Rajak (Sussex University)  email

Short Abstract

Drawing on ethnographic research on South Africa’s platinum belt, I explore practices of corporate-sponsored ‘empowerment through enterprise’ in the borderlands of South Africa’s platinum mines, as a vehicle through which multinationals promise to spread the boons of the nation’s mineral wealth.

Long Abstract

The celebration of private sector development has been reconfigured in recent years, shifting its focus from the concentrated might of transnational corporations to the mass appeal of inclusive markets, bottom of the pyramid (BoP) enterprise and micro-entrepreneurship. As the tantalizing mantra in the squatter camps of South Africa's platinum belt goes: 'In the new South Africa, everyone can be a businessman'. This celebration of grass-roots capitalism is certainly not new. What is new, is that here it is the goliaths of corporate capitalism that, we are told, will deliver on this promise to the David's of petty enterprise. As a proselytizing project that claims to spread market discipline as the source of social mobility it is here, that we hear the battle-cry of a capitalism that presents itself as liberator of the economically disenfranchised, promoting inclusive markets as the panacea to poverty. Drawing on ethnographic research on South Africa's platinum belt, this paper explores practices of corporate sponsored 'empowerment through enterprise' in the borderlands of South Africa's platinum mines. Here, the promotion of micro-entrepreneurship in the 'peri-mining communities', and the elusive dream of 'inclusive markets' have become a primary vehicle through which mining multinationals promise to spread the boons of the mining industry, and 'democratize' the market.

Property regimes and the qualities of resources: the labor of transparency and opacity in Angola's mining industry

Author: Filipe Calvao (Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies)  email

Short Abstract

Based on ethnographic research of Angola’s diamond industry, this paper proposes a new engagement with mining property regimes (corporate, state, public-private, licit and illicit) as linked to the properties or qualities of the extracted materials.

Long Abstract

Different bodies of literature have conceptualized the role of natural resources at the confluence of place, subjectivities, and the politics of natural wealth. While the received impact of such configurations has been identified, less attention has been devoted to the linkage between property regimes and the qualities of working or the objects of labor. This paper describes how the material, aesthetic, and experiential qualities of mining may index the ways in which property relations are imposed, contested, or symbolically encoded. In Angola, diamonds are commonly described as epitomizing opaque regimes of violence while seemingly exposing the bare life of miners. And yet, Angola is currently chairing the rotating presidency of the Kimberley Process (2015), the main international certification scheme meant to ensure transparent revenues and responsible sourcing in the diamond industry. This paper suggests that regimes and qualities of transparency and opacity are co-produced between owner and worker, miner and manager, producer and consumer in the articulation between property regimes and the materiality of that which is extracted. Specifically, the paper attends to the qualitative dimension of transparency and opacity in the alignment between property relations and material objects across a range of qualities and value transformations in the making of workers' lives.

On the value and price of water: water politics in Campania, Italy

Author: Andrea Muehlebach (University of Toronto)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores a set of battles that have been waged in Italy over water and its future as either a private, public, or common good. At stake is the valuation of this priceless resource: How should a priceless resource be priced?

Long Abstract

This paper explores a set of battles that have been waged in Italy over water and its future as either a private, public, or common good. At stake is the valuation of this priceless resource: How should a priceless resource be priced? Who determines price? At what point does pricing turn resource into a commodity? What is a just price? Based on research in Italy and Ireland, I look at water bills and meters to explore the politics around the valuation of water.

Studying revaluations relationally in the resource environments of the Çoruh Valley, Turkey

Author: Erdem Evren (Zentrum Moderner Orient)  email

Short Abstract

This paper concerns itself with the resource environments of the Çoruh Valley, Turkey to examine how the moral and material revaluations of the land and the built environment by the local residents are shaped by the complex relations between different forms of resource extraction.

Long Abstract

This paper concerns itself with the 'resource environments' (Richardson and Weszkalnys, 2014) of the Çoruh Valley, Turkey where the planning and construction of mega-dams and small-scale hydro-electric energy projects (HEPPs), along with the extraction of minerals (gold and copper), set the ground for various material and moral revaluations of the land and the built environment. Based on ten months of fieldwork research in and around the town of Yusufeli, I draw attention to the intricate connections between these different forms of extraction projects to account for the local experiences and narratives of environmental devastation, displacement and dispossession, as well as the visions of survival and economic improvement. My paper seeks to move the discussion on resource politics beyond the contestations over isolated substances and instead frames the politicization and ethicization of resources as a relational process by which the temporal and spatial logic of each extraction project exerts an influence on the local responses given to another one.

When forest changes into resources: commons, knowledge and politics. Narrations about forest in contemporary Polish forestry

Author: Agata Konczal (Adam Mickiewicz University )  email

Short Abstract

This paper seeks to explore how forest is politicized within narrations about resources in Polish forestry. It examines notion of common property, national heritage as well as new actors, like CO2. Paper reflects on a role of knowledge in this process.

Long Abstract

This paper seeks to explore how forest is politicized within narrations about resources in Polish forestry. Within the question about 'the nature of the post-socialistic nature', it refers to growing body of literature on environmental politics in countries of the former Eastern Bloc (Schwartz 2006; Cellarius 2000; Blavascunas 2008).

Paper is divided into four themes. First concerns on how a forest is turned into a category of 'national heritage' by foresters and how this figure is used to control discourses about natural resources in the country. Second part focuses on a notion of 'common property', which in this case becomes equal to 'national common'. Foresters benefit from it in a debate about (re)privatization of Polish forests and claim that only natural resources, which are own by state, can be use by all Poles. In third part, basing on two above remarks, I claim that foresters` knowledge gains a status of expert knowledge in case of natural resources managment in Poland. Last section focuses on a new actor in the forest debate in Poland - CO2, which introduces a global scale of natural resources narration. Using a statement of the new Polish Ministry of the Environment that: "forest is nothing more than accumulated CO2," and his willingness to introduce a system based on re-counting absorption of CO2 by Polish forest into CO2 emission allowances, I want to reflect, what this new view on forest can mean for forests in Poland and for discourses about natural resources management.

Breathing under blockade

Author: Umut Yildirim (Bogazici University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper is on the material, affective, and contested politics of resource extraction in one of the richest natural reserves in the Middle East. It shows how “nature” in militarized territories might serve as spatial and affective maps of race and territorial ambitions via resource extraction.

Long Abstract

This paper is on the junction of military occupation and resource extraction. Historically known to be the "lungs of Diyarbakır," located in the informal capital of Kurdistan and recently declared to be a UNESCO site, Hevsel is one of the richest natural reserves in the Middle East. The gardens provide minimal livelihood for the Kurdish urban poor. This paper shows how Hevsel shifted from a synonym of "gardens" to a metonymical eco-political border, worthy of its own affective force as a memorial site reminiscent of the Turkish military blockades and the corresponding Kurdish uprisings. I am interested in this paper in how this ecological border was differentially remade by the Turkish state, the Kurdish freedom movement and environmental activists both symbolically and materially, in their complex efforts to describe the quality of resources in the area after the fact of their destruction, and by so doing to provide a practical means for both essentialising that "nature" and orienting its rehabilitation. I argue that Hevsel, as the material and metaphorical lungs of the city, constitutes an unruly and fractured process of breathing continually given new momentum by violent processes like military blockade, infrastructural gridding, gentrification, and gradual ecological destruction. The geographically, materially, and affectively regimented movements of Kurdish families through those bits of urban fields enables me to show how this violent matrix of disruption is reconfigured on the ground to ask whether the most abject instances of militarized life could deliver spaces of breath to survive.

The re-opening of land restitution, neo-traditionalism and the contested values of land justice in South Africa

Author: Olaf Zenker (University of Fribourg)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the shifting values of the land justice to be achieved through South African restitution, focussing not only on land’s productive value but also on its “distributive value” (James Ferguson) that might become the more relevant future of nature in South Africa and beyond.

Long Abstract

South African land restitution redresses past race-based land dispossessions. Originally, land claims had to be lodged until the end of 1998, producing about 80'000 claims of which 20'000 claims still await finalisation. Recently, however, the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Act (2014) re-opened the lodgement of new land claims until mid-2019, ostensibly in order to do justice to those "rightful claimants" left out in the first round. President Zuma has repeatedly encouraged "traditional authorities" to now claim vast stretches of land in order to make for a second coming of their kingdoms of "custom". This is in line with a marked government shift towards neo-traditionalist policies since the late 1990s: while original restitution law clearly emphasised individual rights of "citizens" even in communal claims (restored land was to be held by a democratically constituted legal body), recent neo-traditionalist statutory laws have shifted the control over land to re-empowered chiefs and away from their newly constituted "subjects". This paper explores the shifting values that have been associated with the land justice to be achieved through restitution. While acknowledging the importance of land as a productive value, thus far dominating the academic and public debates in South Africa, it broadens the focus in order to interrogate this neo-traditionalist shift also with regard to its consequences for seemingly "non-productive" networks of belonging, relatedness and co-residence. These might massively shape the specific "distributive value" of land that, as James Ferguson suggests, might become the more relevant future of nature in South Africa and beyond.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.