This panel examines the social variables shaping how communities hosting multinational resource extraction projects interpret and utilise the interventionist discourses confronting them. The aim is to show how unquantifiable factors provide a more accurate indication of industrial impacts.
Increased global demand for the outputs of extractive industries (minerals, metals and energy) has seen an expansion of the sector in low- and middle-income countries over the past few decades. Expansion has coincided with increased scrutiny by academics, conservationists and civil society and the subsequent auditing of interventionist activity through global regulatory frameworks and the activation of corporate social responsibility. Yet, despite the social impact of intervention, anthropology remains vastly under-represented in issues concerning resource extraction. Whilst economists dominate discourse, the capitalist principles of individualism, private property and independent pursuits of wealth they employ are rarely transferable to the rural landscapes in which they are applied. Interventionist strategies are thus largely ill-conceived and socially inappropriate. This panel will examine the social variables shaping how communities playing host to multinational resource extraction projects interpret and utilise the interventionist discourses confronting them. Drawing together a range of ethnographic case studies of extractive operations (including Papua New Guinea, Bangladesh, Sub-Saharan and Southern Africa), we explore the tensions, inequities and unexpected outcomes generated by corporate/local encounters, and show how an examination of unquantifiable factors, often overlooked in the extractive sector, provides a more appropriate and accurate indication of the impact of extractive industries. The aim is to highlight the critical role of anthropology (and in particular ethnographic fieldwork), as a discipline that can contribute a grounded, deeper and more holistic understanding of the social impact of extractive projects, offering a vital alternative to technocratic modes of impact assessment that currently dominate the industry.