Accepted paper:

The corporation as a victim: environmental activism and mining apologism in Colombia


Anneloes Hoff (University of Oxford)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the moral narratives used by 'mining apologists', the defenders of a gold mining multinational, in a polarised public debate on mining in Colombia.

Paper long abstract:

Amidst growing anti-mining sentiments in Colombian society, a global gold mining corporation seeks to make three large-scale mining projects 'feasible'. In doing so, it confronts significant social opposition, a pinnacle of which was a decisive 'no to mining' vote in a local referendum in March 2017 in the town of Cajamarca, Tolima, the location of its largest prospective gold mine. In this paper, I examine how people inside the corporation make sense of the polarised Colombian mining debate, by discussing the pervasive narratives on mining opposition I encountered throughout my year-long ethnographic fieldwork with the company's social team. Most people inside the company argue that opposition to mining, at best, stems from ignorance about what modern mining 'really' entails. At worst, they consider anti-mining activists to be scaremongers and clientelist politicians-in-disguise, cynically motivated by personal economic and political interests. Their narratives of corporate defence focus on two anthropomorphic renditions of the corporation: the corporation as a good, caring, and responsible person, and the corporation as a victim of ignorant and malicious opposition. These apologist narratives provide an insight into the way global capitalism is sustained locally. However, it would be too cynical and simplistic to reduce mining apologists to mere instruments of capitalist logic, and, by extension, to regard that corporation as a coherent, intentional, consistently profit-maximising actor. Studying mining apologists as individuals with autonomous agency, the ability to morally evaluate situations, and sincerely-held beliefs and commitments provides a more complex understanding of the corporation and its defenders.

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