Let’s ‘have a chat’: desiccated conversations in a dying village
Hedda Haugen Askland (University of Newcastle)
Paper short abstract:
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.
Paper long abstract:
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.