Accepted Paper:

"The city will always be moving": apprehending risk, uncertainty, and potential social futures in the ongoing mining-based relocation of the city of Kiruna, Sweden  


Elisa Lopez (Uppsala University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper traces the ways citizens of Kiruna, Sweden, negotiate the future of their society in light of ecological destruction, risk, and uncertainty due to damage to the city caused by iron mining by a state-owned company, LKAB, necessitating a massive relocation of citizens beginning in 2012.

Paper long abstract:

Since the rise of industrialization in the West, social-economic prosperity and stability has increasingly been characterized by uncertainty and precarity. Culturally-bound concepts of risk - for example, financial risk - permeate governance and decision-making at multiple scales ranging from the local to the national. The aim of this paper is two fold: First, to describe how risk (specifically, "operational risk", as the relocation of the city of Kiruna today is classed by LKAB), is conceptualized and managed through the company-led program of "social transformation", a process characterized both by economic development as top priority and expert-led social engineering. Echoing a tradition of social engineering as a cornerstone of the developing Swedish welfare state throughout the 20th century, I argue that the relocation of Kiruna marks a significant turning point in the relationship between citizens and the state in Sweden, as local actors contest the Swedish state's absence from negotiating equitable compensation and addressing social and ethical uncertainties in this relocation for thousands of soon to be displaced residents, in favor of corporate-led solutions which overwhelmingly prioritize facilitating continued extraction and profit for one of Sweden's most valuable national assets. Secondly, I analyze some of the ways in which citizens of Kiruna, as a spatially-bound place simultaneously "dependent" and physically damaged by mining, apprehend, express, and negotiate agency through conditions of deep uncertainty — as the moving of the city is expected to last, according to company officials, as long as the ore-body is extractable - 100 years or more.

Panel P012
Crisis as ongoing reality: perspectives from different anthropological locations (European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA) and the Committee for World Anthropologies (CWA) panel)