(A07)
Techno-scientific expertise and geographical imaginaries in the making of new resource frontiers
Location Bowland North Seminar Room 2
Date and Start Time 26 Jul, 2018 at 09:00
Sessions 1

Convenors

  • Paul Gilbert (University of Sussex) email
  • Alena Bleicher (Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research GmbH - UFZ) email

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Discussant Nigel Clark (Lancaster University)

Short abstract

This panel invites contributions from scholars investigating the role that technical experts (e.g. geologists, chemical engineers, metallurgists, valuation consultants) and technologies play in opening up new frontiers for mineral extraction in the 'anthroposphere' and beyond.

Long abstract

Despite a burgeoning STS literature on resource materialities, little attention has been given to the new alliances of expertise, materialities, and infrastructures that enable extractive projects to be developed within the 'anthroposphere' or otherwise beyond conventional terrestrial geographies of natural resource extraction. From the 'emerging marketplace' created by advances in deep sea mining or secondary mining technologies, to the valorization of certain minerals and rare earths as 'critical' to national security, and the speculative opportunities generated by the prospect of asteroid mining - the generation of new mining frontiers is increasingly dependent upon the successful convergence of techno-scientific expertise, financial infrastructures and expansive geo-political imaginaries. This panel invites contributions from scholars investigating the role that technical experts (e.g. geologists, chemical engineers, metallurgists, valuation consultants) and technologies play in opening up new frontiers for mineral extraction, and which address the following:

How are forms of expertise related to mineral extraction shaped by the financial concerns of extractive industry corporations and their investors?

What relationships between academia and industry shape innovations in extractive technologies?

How do expertise and technology influence the visibility of new repositories?

What ethical narratives do geologists and other experts craft around their professional involvement in the opening up of resource frontiers?

What roles do concepts such as 'criticality' or 'supply risk' play in research policy the production of new extractive frontiers?

How are 'local' stakeholders and their concerns re-configured by extractive technologies with novel geographical reach (e.g. deep sea mining)?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

The role of framing technologies used by techno-scientific experts to make secondary resources

Authors: Alena Bleicher (Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research GmbH - UFZ) email
Martin David (Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research GmbH - UFZ ) email
Henriette Rutjes (Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research GmbH - UFZ) email
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Short abstract

Within this presentation we will shed light on the convergence of techno-scientific expertise and local knowledge and reveal mechanisms and techniques that are employed by techno-scientific experts in order to create a shared understanding on secondary mining.

Long abstract

Within the last decade recycling of mining heaps and tailings in European countries has been discussed as option to ensure supply with scarce minerals needed for high technology. Scientific expertise from natural sciences such as chemistry, biology, but also hydrogeology and engineering geology as well as scientific expertise from fields such as exploration and mineral processing builds the basis of technology development for the practice of so called secondary mining. When analyzing new resource frontiers emphasize is made on twisting of scientific expertise, financial and technical infrastructures and geo-political imaginaries.

Within this presentation we will shed light on the convergence of techno-scientific expertise and local knowledge and expertise (e.g. knowledge on practices related to the formation of heaps and tailings). Our research in the field of secondary mining in Germany shows that this "liaison" is crucial for the making of secondary resources. We rely on the assumption that local knowledge can only be made available for scientific research when local actors share the understanding of mining heaps as deposit of valuable resources. By using a frame theoretical approach we will reveal how techno-scientific experts rely on mechanisms and techniques such as frame bridging (linking the resource discourse with the discourse on sustainability and healthy environments) or frame amplification by evoking regional mining history in order to create a shared meaning.

Energy from magma: the emergence of a new 'science infrastructure'

Author: Alexandra Gormally (Lancaster University) email
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Short abstract

This work considers a new speculative geological energy resource; energy (electricity) from magma. It considers the role of different geological knowledge, framings of risk and innovation and how this new energy frontier fits into existing socio-technical framings of what an energy system should be.

Long abstract

This work considers the meeting of scientific, technical and local knowledge on a new speculative geological energy resource - that of energy (electricity) from magma (Elders et al., 2014). It considers how this emerging new energy frontier challenges our conceptualisation of (clean) energy production given it's potential for utilising powerful geothermal energy, at scale, from a renewable resource. A cutting edge and exploratory programme of research exploring this resource is currently underway at Krafla, a volcano in Northern Iceland, with a number of other possible sites emerging globally. It involves the collaboration of industry experts, the scientific community (notably volcanologists), and local and national policymakers. Krafla is now seen as a pioneer site for this emerging `science infrastructure` and subsequently named the Krafla Magma Testbed (KMT). The KMT project has global implications, giving us unprecedented engagement with magma and yet also providing huge uncertainties about the outcomes, findings and risks (Clark et al., 2017).

Here I will present the initial findings of an empirical scoping study carried out at Krafla, in May 2018. Themes explored include, the role of different geological knowledge (expert, local) and the framings of risk and responsible innovation. It also raises questions as to how energy from magma fits into our existing socio-technical framings of what a future energy system should be, and the implications of its emergence for future governance (Cherp et al., 2011).

Geocapital: geological expertise, financialised valuation & extractive industry frontiers

Author: Paul Gilbert (University of Sussex) email
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Short abstract

This paper examines the incorporation of financial valuation techniques into the geosciences and geological education. It traces the impact of particular mineral deposit valuation models on patterns of extractive industry exploration and the expansion of 'geocapitalism'

Long abstract

While a great deal of attention has been given by STS scholars to the forms of value created when capitalist enterprise intersects with the biosciences (Birch & Tyfield 2012; Petersen & Krisjansen 2015; Sunder Rajan 2006), the question of how geoscientific expertise is reshaped by encounters with 'mining capitalism' (Kirsch 2014) has been given far less consideration. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork and an analysis of materials used to teach valuation methodologies to geoscientists, this paper examines mineral deposit and mine valuation models that are used by extractive industry analysts and investors, and the role that academic geoscientists and geostatisticians have played in their development. I argue that these models serve not only as a way to incorporate 'financialised valuation' (Chiapello 2014) into geoscience education, but have significant consequences for the shape that extractive industry investment takes as it seeks out new frontiers. This is, in part, because financialised mine valuation - and mine planning - models encode assumptions about the advantages of rapid extraction, and position those with the capacity to run these models (more often extractive industry firms than host states) as best-placed to discern the optimal rate and pattern of resource extraction. The paper concludes by reflecting on the role that financialised geoscientific expertise has in facilitating an expansive form of 'geocapitalism'

Lunar extractivism: scientists and mining companies' shared ambitions in the European Space Agency's Moon Village concept

Author: Tamara Alvarez (The New School ) email
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Short abstract

Drawing on ethnographic material gathered during a two-year fieldwork at the European Space Agency, this paper examines the technological and operational synergies between scientific expertise and extractive industries in ESA's lunar settlement concept.

Long abstract

In 2015 the European Space Agency's newly appointed Director General announced his ambition towards a Moon Village, a permanent base on the lunar south pole. Advocates insisted on the settlement's scientific promises, including the billion-year history of the Solar System that hides in the Moon's untouched geologic record, waiting to be unearthed. In the last two years, space mining companies' increased support of the concept has further encouraged the agency's research on extractive technologies —drills, rovers, and remote sensing spectrometers—, revealing important synergies between science and industry: geologists' and planetary scientists' quest to understand the history of the cosmos, astrobiologists' search for extraterrestrial life, and mining companies' hunt for rare earth minerals depend on the same artifacts, techniques and operations, especially those implicated in sample return missions. Drawing on ethnographic material gathered during a two-year fieldwork at ESA, this paper examines the technological and operational convergences of scientific expertise and extractive industries in ESA's lunar settlement concept.

Making coltan. Technologies, expertise, and knowledge in Sierra Leone mining

Authors: Lorenzo D'Angelo (University of Milano-Bicocca) email
Fenda Akiwumi (University of South Florida) email
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Short abstract

This paper discusses the making of coltan in Sierra Leone. We show how the production of coltan is not exclusively linked to large amounts of foreign capital and sophisticated mining technologies, but also to local knowledge, expertise, and artisanal miners' livelihoods.

Long abstract

This paper discusses the making of coltan in Sierra Leone. We show how this mineral cannot be examined separately from the broader contexts and issues that contribute to make it an economic resource. These include geopolitical dynamics, geological and mining expertise, funding sources and adequate facilities for geological surveys and laboratory analysis, industrial and technological innovations for exploration and extraction of minerals, and global market opportunities. We further show how the production of coltan, a highly strategic mineral, is not exclusively linked to large amounts of foreign capital and sophisticated mining technologies, but also to local knowledge, livelihoods and rudimentary extractive techniques that nevertheless, make extraction possible.

Drawing upon fieldwork in an artisanal coltan mine of Sierra Leone and archival research of a variety of historical and current Sierra Leone government documents, this paper argues that producing coltan is the outcome of a complex and historical process comprising different types of expertise, knowledge, technologies, and geopolitical agendas enacted by a multiplicity of local and global actors.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.