EASA2014: Collaboration, Intimacy & Revolution


Economies of growth or ecologies of survival? Fear and hope in an overheated world

Location A-222
Date and Start Time 02 August, 2014 at 09:00


Elisabeth Schober (University of Oslo) email
Chris Hann (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

The double bind between economic growth and environmental sustainability may well be the most significant conundrum that humans face today. This panel will give room to ethnographies of uncertainty, hope and fear in the interstices between unhampered growth and environmental accountability.

Long Abstract

The double bind between economic growth and environmental durability may well be the most significant conundrum that humans, and indeed the planet as such, face at the onset of the 21st century. Amidst a growing sense of global climate crisis and local environmental deterioration, the dilemma of profit-seeking at all costs (the neoliberal doctrine) versus the sustainability of life on this planet can be felt in different terrains worldwide. This panel will explore ethnographic spaces of hope and fear amidst accelerated change and the intensification of global processes. We will look into the interstices between unhampered growth and environmental sustainability to explore some of the following questions: What kind of local responses emerge in reaction to environmental crises triggered by outside forces? What structures of blame arise amidst the tensions caused by the progressive "Overheating" of both the economy and the environment? How much ecological destruction are various actors willing to calculate into their equations of economic growth? How are decisions leading to environmental destruction made? What is the relationship between long-term and short-term consequences of planned change, and how do local concerns articulate with global anxieties? What scenarios of hope are painted to counter these developments? This panel will examine the frictions created by the volatility of the global neoliberal system and the concomitant versatile reactions to environmental degradation in local communities across the globe. While the empirical locus will be placed on local life-worlds, we urge participants to interweave their small-scale ethnographic narratives with large-scale processes of global capitalism.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


NIMBY and environmental engagement in an industrial town

Author: Thomas Hylland Eriksen (University of Oslo)  email

Short Abstract

In a city saturated by coal, gas and industry, environmental activists must relate to the economic and social importance of industry. Exploring green activism in Gladstone, Australia, the paper discusses its conditions, forms and implications against the backdrop of both system and life-worlds.

Long Abstract

'You know the acronym NIMBY?' asked a local environmental activist. I nodded: 'Not In My Back Yard.' She explained that her interest in ecological issues and environmental destruction was close to zero before a large LNG (liquid natural gas) development was under way near her home on an island off the Queensland coast. Talking about friends who remained indifferent to the environment, she pointed out that 'five or six years ago, I was them.'

Gladstone, Queensland is one of Australia's largest coal ports and the site of many industries ranging from alumina to cyanide and cement. Few of the 70,000 residents of the region are socially and economically completely independent of the fossil fuel industry and its auxiliary activities. Environmental engagement, be it related to LNG, the controversial dredging of the harbour, emissions and air quality or other forms of pollution, is weak, fragmented and tends to be based on personal experience rather than systemic analysis. The Australian environmental movement is generally seen as distant and irrelevant to local concerns.

The paper discusses conditions for, forms of and implications of environmental engagement in a city where coal, gas and industry are taken for granted as necessary conditions for prosperity and economic security. To what extent is the double bind between growth and sustainability relevant at all to the citizens of this city; and how can it be dealt with within the parameters that define their life-worlds? The empirical focus is on green activism.

From U.S. sailors to global manufacturers: rapid economic growth and its environmental costs in Subic Bay (Philippines)

Author: Elisabeth Schober (University of Oslo)  email

Short Abstract

This paper will examine the double bind between demands for economic growth and the struggle for environmental restoration in Subic Bay, where recent changes have given rise to tensions between those advocating for more industry, and those who want to protect the bay from environmental destruction.

Long Abstract

This paper will examine the double bind between demands for economic growth and the struggle for environmental restoration in Subic Bay (Philippines). The communities adjacent to the former U.S. Naval Base Subic Bay have undergone major transformations since the U.S. military left in 1992. Through the establishment of a Freeport Zone, the area has become a hub for foreign direct investors seeking to profit from the Philippines' low labor costs. Today, Subic Bay houses both small- to medium-sized foreign companies and heavy industries.

These days, the physical environment of Subic Bay is radically changing: roads are built in sparsely populated areas, power lines are put up that often solely supply the companies, new condos for foreign managers are erected in protected forest areas. Tens of thousands of workers are bussed to factories on a daily basis, old fishing grounds are lost due to increasing pollution and newly established water boundaries, and thousands of people are relocated to make space for new developments. These changes have given rise to much tension between those advocating for more industry and the economic expansion this will bring, and those who want to see the bay cleaned up, its biodiversity protected, and its air- and water quality stabilized.

In the midst of such "overheating", people living nearby the Subic Bay have to make rather difficult choices: do they want to prioritize demands for economic growth, or protect their most valuable asset, the bay, from environmental destruction?

The culture of bioeconomy and biodiversity in mountain agricultural landscape

Author: Anne-Katrine B. Norbye (University of Oslo)  email

Short Abstract

The new bioeconomy in rural mountain areas competes with environmental and sociocultural sustainability. This paper highlights consequences and some effects of the ambivalent conservation and tourism in mountain agricultural landscape.

Long Abstract

For the past decade, conservation of old mountain farming landscape has been an area of debate and action. Animal husbandry with summer grazing on mountain pasture has shaped a landscape rich of biodiversity through centuries. Intensive industrialisation of agriculture reached dairy farmers who consequently closed down their summer mountain farms. This resulted in overgrown grazing land and loss of biodiversity. European dairy farmers today receive economic support to maintain summer farming in the mountains. The argumentation for this neoliberal conservation is threefold; protecting biodiversity, the aesthetic cultural landscape and the traditional rural life.

This extensive farming contradicts the expansion of agricultural intensification. One solution has been to encourage farmers to business development in outlying areas, tourism and commercialization of bio resources. This bioeconomy raises a lot of questions: What are the consequences of the ambivalent agricultural politics and policy processes? Who benefits or loses from this development? What about the biodiversity?

In order to understand these questions, I base my analysis on contemporary political ecology and cultural consumption perspectives. This will meet the "ontological turn", while having a focus on lived experiences.The empirical examples are primarily from Norway where I have conducted fieldwork for several years. An extended paper includes a comparative perspective from Switzerland and France.

Crony capitalism, environmental degradation, and indigenous land rights: the Bugkalot (Ilongot) and the Casecnan Dam in northern Philippines

Author: Shu-Yuan Yang (Academia Sinica)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines how the Bugkalot draw discourses from global indigenism to articulate their opposition against the Casecnan Dam, a BOT project that was the child of crony capitalism.

Long Abstract

California Energy is the largest independent geothermal power company in the world. In 1995, it secured a BOT project with the Philippine government to build the multi-purpose Casecnan Dam in the Bugkalot ancestral domain. The dam provides water for irrigation and hydroelectric power generation while its reservoir affords flood control. The Casecnan project was criticized for its lack of technical merits and environmental sustainability, but it was approved at the instruction of then President Ramos, who issued at least three memoranda to "fast-track" this unsolicited BOT project. The Bugkalot have been involved in long-term disputes with Cal-Energy, and they started a new wave of protest in September 2013 to demand compensations for environmental damages which they sustain as a result of the project. Their attempt to use the Indigenous Peoples' Rights Act (IPRA) as a weapon in their fight against crony capitalism and the global neoliberal regime, however, has suffered from the constitutional insecurity of the IPRA. This article will examine how the Bugkalot draw discourses from global indigenism to articulate their local concerns, and how their demand of revenue share in Casecnan is influenced by their perception of development and wealth.

Environmental contest at the interface between CSR and social movements: international capital meets environmental activism on the Black Sea coast of Turkey

Author: Ståle Knudsen (University of Bergen)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the interaction between environmental activism and the corporate ethics of a trans-national corporation in a study of the way a large power plant on the Black Sea coast of Turkey was established and contested.

Long Abstract

Trans- national corporations have increasingly tried to address local populations' and environmental activists' concerns about environmental impact by incorporating such issues into the companies' 'corporate ethics'. While social movement theory to stress the creativity of activism, anthropological approaches to CSR, on the other hand, tends to emphasize the way corporate social responsibility (CSR) takes the moral high ground, establishing a hegemonic frame for a 'universal' morality that focuses on citizen responsibility, partnership, entrepreneurship and vision. I explore the interaction between environmental activism and CSR policies in a study of the way a large power plant on the Black Sea coast of Turkey was established and contested. Initially the power plant, owned and constructed by the Austrian OMV, was met with opposition by environmental activists. However, partly due to the CSR policies of the corporation, opposition to the construction was gradually diffused. I argue that neither the social movement theory nor the CSR theory fully explain what happened in this case as the protests quickly became embedded in local politics and national identity figurations, and the CSR work by the company was transformed and domesticated by local factionalism, corruption, identity politics etc.

"As long as there is our smoke, it's going to be fine": air pollution, fear and hope in an industrial town in Eastern Serbia

Author: Deana Jovanovic  email

Short Abstract

In the paper I explore people’s relationship with air pollution in Bor in Eastern Serbia. In particular, I explore relationships with the toxic, locally called, “the smoke” which occasionally “falls down” as a by-product of the copper smelting factory, almost centrally positioned in the town.

Long Abstract

In the paper I explore people's relationship with air pollution in Bor in Eastern Serbia. In particular, I explore relationships with the toxic, locally called, "the smoke" which occasionally "falls down" as a by-product of the copper smelting factory, almost centrally positioned in the town.

After prosperous period during socialism and until recently down-at-heel, the Copper Mining and Smelting Complex (still socially owned company) and the town are experiencing their mutual revival due to rise of copper price, stronger state support and the national politics. On the basis of ethnographic research conducted in 2012.and 2013. I analyse contested and ambiguous moralities which emerge in different contexts around pollution which simultaneously signifies a threat and a risk, but also a sign of various "opportunities". I pay attention how "calculation" and notions of risk are related to hopes, aspirations and fear in a particular context of a "social contract" between the city, the company and people. I indicate how "the smoke" is entwined with the notion of modernity, optimism and deferred future. On the example of reconstruction of the old smelting factory as "development as forever" project, I show how air pollution has been co-opted in the local political rhetoric and in the notions of hope among people who face precarious and uncertain future. I wish to explore this within a wider frame of the large-scale processes of global capitalism and to understand this post-Yugoslav context which might "speak" about capitalist forms "as such" and not just about their "Balkan" versions.

Collaborations of Biocultural Hope: The Fight for James Price Point, Western Australia (2009-2013)

Author: Carsten Wergin (Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg)  email

Short Abstract

The paper presents the successful opposition movement against the construction of a $45 billion AUD liquefied natural gas facility as a scenario of biocultural hope in an 'overheating' world.

Long Abstract

The paper presents the successful opposition movement of a localized community against the construction of a $45 Billion AUD Liquefied Natural Gas Facility (LNG) 50km north of the Australian tourist town of Broome, on the Indian Ocean coast. From March 2012 to May 2013, my family and I spent 15 months of fieldwork in the West Kimberley and enquired about the different 'worlds' (Muecke) that came together to oppose this large-scale industrial development in a culturally and environmentally sensitive area called James Price Point/Walmadany. The worlds we encountered included those of Aboriginal traditional owners, environmentalists, casual travellers and tourists, businessmen, artists, politicians and influential media representatives, but also those of international business executives and a state government following the neoliberal doctrine of profit maximization. I discuss how indigenous knowledge helped to align these worlds in a collective opposition to the industrialization project that was to be superimposed on the community. The shared attachment to Aboriginal 'living country' led to new alliances between groups who might previously contest their authorities of speaking for or even being 'on country'. Those were not implemented from above but derived from an acknowledgement of the 'particularities of place' (Escobar). In light of this, I argue that development and reconciliation might be conceived of differently in Australia: not as modernist projects of economic opportunity, but as ecological projects of biocultural hope that take indigenous knowledge seriously.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.