This panel calls for ethnographic accounts of the social relationships that arise in the moral landscape of extraction-led economic development.
Extraction-led economic development ('extractivism') is haunted by the shadow potential of ecological ruin characteristic of 21st century capitalism. Extractivism's sustainability programs - drawing on notions of corporate responsibility and the recognition of the rights of indigenous and other local populations to be free from harm - insist also that the extraction industry can do social and environmental good. Programs and projects of many kinds have been undertaken in the name of community or local benefits, mitigation of or compensation for extraction's impacts. Anthropologists and others have conducted detailed analyses of the implementation and often ambiguous or contradictory consequences of these projects and programs. Less has been written about the kinds of relationships that form among industry actors, community members, researchers/practitioners and agents of the state under the promised good and spectre of potential harm in extractive development. The panel calls for ethnographic accounts of the conduct of relationships among actors in this context.
Papers might consider, but not be limited to, for example; ways that friendships are sought, maintained or rejected between actors and how these affect broader extractivist dynamics; the mundane or spontaneous ethics of the interpersonal in a context of impact, upheaval and change; and moments of professional or personal commensality in contexts of contest and conflict. The panel will consider whether a focus on the intimate and interpersonal may reveal new dimensions of the social and ecological effects of extractivism.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
Let’s ‘have a chat’: desiccated conversations in a dying village
In this paper, I explore how local residents experience the Wilpinjong Mine’s efforts to facilitate community dialogue and mitigate operational impacts. Using Mauss’ notion of the gift, I explore how efforts to gain a social licence have failed and, rather than creating spaces for intimacy and trust, have become points of animosity and tension.
At the local store in the small village of Wollar hangs a poster with the heading ‘Wilpinjong Coal’s Have a Chat’. The poster invites locals to come to the store to meet a member of the near-by mine and have a chat about the mine’s operations. The ‘Have a Chat’ forms a central part of the mine’s engagement and communication strategies and is aimed to monitor, reduce and mitigate local impacts. The mine places emphasis on Wollar as its neighbour and claims it works to establish cooperation ‘towards joint objectives’. Yet, when asked about their neighbour and the Have a Chat sessions, local residents laugh and explain with cynicism that the implied empathy and the space of intimacy and trust that the mine alludes to, is nothing but spin and a front for the mine to go on with its business.
In this paper, I analyse how notions of intimacy, locality and reciprocity form part of neighbourly relations between the local residents and the near-by Wilpinjong mine. In line with conventional practice, the mine has adopted a number of strategies to address community concerns and get a ‘social licence to operate’. Using Marcel Mauss’ notion of gift giving and reciprocity, I argue that Wilpinjong Coal’s efforts at being a ‘good neighbour’ has failed. I link Mauss’ notion of reciprocity with Fabiana Li’s concept of equivalence, illustrating how the mine’s attempts at establishing a neighbourly relationship fails due to conflicting logics and equations of costs and benefits.
The ethics of entanglement: thinking Australian extractivism in transcultural terms
The paper presents intimate and interpersonal dimensions of the conflict over the construction of an LNG facility at Walmadany / James Price Point near the iconic tourist town of Broome (NW Australia) as glimpses of a transcultural Australian society founded in what I call 'ethics of entanglement'.
This presentation draws on original ethnographic material from longterm fieldwork on the conflict over the construction of a $45 Billion AUD Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) facility at Walmadany / James Price Point, 50km north of the iconic tourist town of Broome on the Indian Ocean coast. My aim will be to show how intimate and interpersonal dimensions motivated by potential extractivism and its wider social and ecological effects can be read as glimpses of a transcultural Australian society founded in what I term ethics of entanglement.
Arguably the largest environmental protest action in Australian history was staged in opposition to the proposal of an LNG precinct put forward by Woodside Ltd. and the West Australian government. Central to it were arguments for its positive benefits for the Indigenous population that would significantly outplay possible environmental harm. Indigenous regimes of value added a very different layer to this conflict. Aboriginal narratives span deep into Bugarrigarra (The Dreaming), the term used by West Kimberley people to describe their ancestral law and culture. Foundational to Bugarrigarra is the recognition of 'living country' as the source of both physical and spiritual well-being for human and other-than-human actors (liyan). In my presentation, I highlight collaborations that formed (in) this moral landscape, the ways friendships were sought, maintained or rejected between actors (including myself) and how these affected broader dynamics of potential impact and change.
The moral case for coal: the ordinary ethics of complicity amongst Australian pro-coal lobbyists
Moving beyond claims of co-optation and climate denial, this paper describes the ordinary ethics (Lambek 2010) of Australian pro-coal lobbyists. It illustrates the everyday production of complicity through lobbyists' integration of ethical concerns into their projects of relational self-fashioning.
Drawing on 10 months of fieldwork within an Australian pro-coal lobbying organization, this paper finds that contrary to studies which have explained the forms of denial and complicity of those implicated in perpetuating climate change as deriving from an insufficient integration of moral and ethical concern (Norgaard 2006; 2012; McDermott Hughes 2017), amongst the pro-coal lobbyists I knew it was precisely the everyday ethical judgements and reflections which gave a moral weight to their defence of the coal industry. This chapter introduces the growing anthropological attention to ordinary ethics (Lambek 2010; Stafford 2013; Das 2012) into the aforementioned literature on climate change reception studies. Paying attention to ordinary spaces like dinner table debates, this paper shows how challenges from friends and family encourage lobbyists to craft ethical stances that reinforce their lobbying efforts. These everyday forms of interpersonal accusation lead to projects of self-fashioning in which lobbyists craft themselves into ethical persons within the space of the morally debated Australian coal industry. I attempt to move beyond claims of denialism or co-optation that are often levelled at such actors to show that a conscientious ethics underlies their motivations and understandings of their work. I will argue that recognizing the ethically infused way in which lobbyists engage with these moral debates over the industry and climate change is crucial to understanding the workings of freedom and power (Laidlaw 2002; 2014), and particularly, the ordinary and everyday production of complicity.
The savagery of 'making relations'
This paper is a critical account of extractive company-indigenous community relations informed by research with social and environmental performance staff from three different mining companies. I critique the idea that moments of intimacy and mutual recognition might equate to 'ethical business'.
The job of social performance staff employed by mining companies is to make relations with the 'community of impact', enact social and environmental projects that will provide evidence of the company having done good and ultimately reduce community resistance to extractive operations. This paper provides a critical account of extractive company-indigenous community relations informed by research with social and environmental performance staff from three different mining companies. Each mining company's operations involve the extraction of water and minerals from territory claimed by the Atacameño (Likan Antai) peoples, and through negotiation with people, the companies have enjoyed only low-level resistance to their operations.
In conversation, my interlocutors from mining companies recounted how, in their efforts to make relations they found themselves in surprising moments of intimacy and trust with community members and experienced a sense of 'doing good' . But despite their generous self-reflection and candid accounts of interpersonal relations, their experiences narrate the contingency of such relations, their weak position within the company resulting in failed projects, and an absence of enduring obligation to the community. Ultimately, none remain in their positions for long and the moments of relation they make are unstable. The paper criticises the idea that relations built on mutual recognition might add up to 'ethical business'. Instead, employee narratives show how the fragility of good company-community relations and the teleology at their core reveal the savagery embedded in extractive capital's 'ethical business'. Using recent debates in anthropology's 'ethical turn', the paper asks how might we write about such evil masquerading as morality?
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.