The savagery of 'making relations'
Sally Babidge (University of Queensland)
Paper short abstract:
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'.
Paper long abstract:
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?