Accepted paper:

Anti-mining activism and the defence of capital in Colombia


Anneloes Hoff (University of Oxford)

Paper short abstract:

This paper, based on ethnographic fieldwork inside the corporation, examines the sense of 'corporate vulnerability' that permeates the ethos of a contested mining corporation. It contributes to the line of work in the anthropology of corporations which explores the corporate response to critique.

Paper long abstract:

Whereas the processes by which local communities and social movements seek to challenge corporate power have been studied extensively, the ways in which corporations respond when their power is challenged remain underexamined. How do corporate actors understand the societal opposition to their activities? How do they respond? To what extent does anti-mining activism shape the behaviour of mining corporations? In this paper, I examine how a gold mining multinational responds to the contestation of its projects in Colombia. Based on fieldwork inside the corporation, I highlight the sense of vulnerability and 'victimhood' which I found to permeate the ethos in the corporate offices: the sense that the corporation is a victim of anti-mining activism, a lack of government support, and legal instability. Corporate victimhood, I argue, is a defence mechanism of capital, which inspires the vehement defence of the corporation in the heated local and national debates on mining. This logic serves strategic purposes, but it is not merely instrumental, nor is it a deliberate strategy. My fieldwork reveals corporate victimhood is more ambivalent: in addition to serving an instrumental role, it is also genuinely felt and believed. This ambivalence, the coexistence of the instrumental and the genuine, I argue, is a central tenet of the defence of capital and the process by which, in the face of contestation, corporations seek to consolidate and sustain their power.

panel A12
Global capital as a local challenge: the anthropology of corporations