Accepted paper:

Powerful Dispossessions: Power, Borders, and Environment in the Georgian Mining Industry


Jesse Swann-Quinn (Syracuse University)

Paper abstract:

Foreign observers often view the Republic of Georgia as a model of democratic and capitalist transition in the formerly Soviet region. However, this push to decentralize and deregulate nearly all sectors has produced a new, territorially-based system of resource governance there, forming new configurations and relations among state, society, and corporations. Similar patterns of de- and re-centralization within the extractive industries are visible in contexts throughout Central Asia and the Caucasus. While scholars of such political ecologies at times frame their analyses with somewhat static assumptions about the natures of capital, society, and the material environment, the region’s hybrid formations suggest much more complicated sets of relations as contemporary environmental governance patterns emerge from Central Asia’s unique economic and environmental histories. Such developments raise many questions: How do Soviet environmental legacies shape current resource governance practices? How do shifting political identities influence the contours of these new regimes? What might these patterns of extraction, dispossession, and resulting toxic ecologies suggest about forms of power within the region? In this paper I consider the case of a gold and copper mining complex in southern Georgia, assessed through a range of mixed empirics collected during Summers 2015-2017. In doing so I propose that the political geographies of extractive industries here can be understood as a window in to shifting power geometries in the region. Such emerging dimensions are apparent in the Georgian case as a range of sub-state and informal bordering practices, simultaneously material and symbolic: unequal levels of socio-economic access, exposure to toxic plumes, and contours of degraded citizenship. Such borders produce contingent, often ambiguous, territorial power geometries that citizens must navigate during their everyday lives. These alternative, sub-state bordering practices often exist as alternatingly visible and invisible, building asymmetrical political relationships of exclusion, inclusion, and dispossession. In laying bare and contextualizing these contemporary practices and effects of extraction within the region, I demonstrate how scholars may consider resource governance as a useful lens for analyzing power configurations in Central Asia and the Caucasus.

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