ASA2016: Footprints and futures: the time of anthropology

Thinking otherwise at the extractive frontier: conflict, negotiation, translation, and a more equitable conversation
Location Science Site/Chemistry CG60
Date and Start Time 07 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 3


  • Juan Pablo Sarmiento Barletti (Durham University) email

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Short Abstract

We engage the conflicts arising from clashes at the extractive frontier between local and mainstream policy understandings of nature, sustainability, and well-being. We aim at a more equitable conversation between these local understandings and wider (post) development policy and practice.

Long Abstract

The discrepancy between different approaches to well-being, sustainability, and resources management, is most obvious when local populations in areas high in natural resources are faced with 'extractive' development. This has led to violent clashes between protesters and government forces worldwide that have been read as 'environmental conflicts'. Yet, this reading often lacks a clear understanding of the motivations behind different local ideas of well-being and sustainability, or how these might equitably articulate with mainstream (post)development policy and practice.

We aim to re-centre the perspectives of local actors at the extractive frontier to find a more equitable conversation between these understandings and wider policy and practice. We engage with the political negotiations and everyday conflicts that arise from clashes between local and state way of knowing and engaging nature and/or their concepts of sustainability, well-being, development, and progress.

Our discussions engage with, but are not limited to, the following questions:

-What role can local ways of knowing nature play as a discourse and as a way of 'doing things otherwise' in terms of development theory and practice (e.g. SDGs, REDD+)?

-What can be learnt from placing local discourses and practices in conversation with Euro-American based sustainable alternatives to development (e.g. transition initiatives, de-growth)?

-How can these local approaches be translated and used in a more equitable conversation with scholarly and policy agendas on sustainability and well-being?

-What contribution can these local discourses and practices make to debates on environmental citizenship and social and environmental justice?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Perspectives on extraction: ontological war and peace in Amazonia

Author: Evan Killick (University of Sussex)  email

Short Abstract

Drawing on research with both indigenous people and academic and policy workers this paper examines understandings of natural resource extraction, forest conservation and climate change mitigation strategies in contemporary Amazonia.

Long Abstract

Drawing on research with both indigenous people and academic and policy workers this paper examines understandings of natural resource extraction, forest conservation and climate change mitigation strategies in contemporary Amazonia. It begins by considering both indigenous conceptions of and physical interactions with the environment. Through this focus the paper interrogates local ontologies and what they may or may not suggest about indigenous notions of forest use and conservation. It also considers anthropologists' own role in emphasising such distinctions, noting how recent emphases on ontological difference have tended to parallel an older exoticisation and reification of indigenous cultures. The paper argues that such approaches can act to obscure and undermine some of the more practical and pragmatic approaches of indigenous groups to their environments as well as their interactions with other groups. In its second half the paper introduces a similar analysis of contemporary, non-indigenous notions of climate change and climate-change mitigation policies, examining both their practical outcomes as well as their ontological underpinnings. Here the focus is specifically on the UN backed REDD+ initiative, noting how within this framework the rainforest and its people are reified as saviours of modernity's ills but only within a particular economic and legal framework in which carbon can be understood as the region's latest extractive commodity. Through this analysis of emic and etic approaches to the Amazonian environment the paper seeks to consider the opportunities and limitations of current engagements with the region's resources and consider possible ways forward.

Rotten earth and relationality: rethinking sustainability and wellbeing through a case of Amazonian wildcat mining.

Author: Amy Penfield (University of Manchester)  email

Short Abstract

Focusing on the case of the Sanema of Venezuelan Amazonia, this paper critiques mainstream ideas of wellbeing and sustainability by exploring the interplay between kinship, animism and wider political processes that make up the resource encounter at the local level.

Long Abstract

This paper offers an account of resource extraction in Venezuelan Amazonia and how the Sanema make sense of the phenomenon in relation to their wider moral ethos. By paying attention to the subtleties in discourse and action associated with artisanal gold mining, it is revealed that pragmatic and economic analyses are insufficient in articulating their understanding of resources and their governance. The paper instead uncovers the nuances of animist perceptions of the earth, interactions with nonhuman forest inhabitants, and kinship dynamics of conviviality in order to reconceptualise both the resources themselves and the relational fields that underpin their management. The case of the wildcat gold mining, in particular, offers a alternative perspective to those of state-initiated or corporate extraction, given that the moral ambiguities associated with this form of prospecting - a sense of opportunity on the one hand, but of underlying tensions on the other - become far more salient. In this way, rather than taking for granted the concepts of wellbeing and sustainability, the ethnography presents a critique of Euro-American models of personhood and environmentalism that underpin these paradigms.

Empty land versus sacred site: unexpected objections to proposed commercial wind turbines in a developed western society

Author: Jennifer Speirs (University of Edinburgh)  email

Short Abstract

The proposed extraction of peat moorland for economic reasons from allegedly unproductive barren land on the island of Lewis in northwest Scotland in order to build a massive wind farm was met with unanticipated local protest about the destruction of unmarked ancestral graves.

Long Abstract

In the early 2000s a global engineering firm began negotiations over developing a massive series of wind farms on the Isle of Lewis in northwest Scotland. Together the enormous turbines would have comprised the largest wind farm in Europe at the time. They were predicted not just to enhance the contribution of renewable energy to the UK's energy mix but also to bring jobs and financial rewards to the island and to its local communities. The elected councillors of the Western Isles Council were mostly in favour but within a short space of time local people began to object vociferously, citing dangers to tourism, wildlife, human health and the stability of the moorlands from peat-slide. An unexpected objection, from the perspective of the developer and other outsiders, was the claim from one local area that the installation work would destroy the unmarked graves of their distant ancestors who had died in long-ago clan battles. This was in stark contrast to comments that 'there is nothing there' on the moorland. I set this controversy within the highly politicised context of the UK government's carbon omission reduction targets, increasing recognition of island people's past sacrifices for the UK's benefit, and opposing views about future sustainability and its relationship to kinship and nature.

Southern Siberian (Russia) indigenous peoples vs mining companies: land-use conflicts and standoff discourse in context resource curse

Author: Vladimir Poddubikov (Kemerovo State University)  email

Short Abstract

The paper considers the social and cultural aspects of land-based conflicts arising between the Southern Siberia indigenous peoples and extractive companies. Author notes that such conflict situations in some cases make the basis for tension of inter-ethnic relations.

Long Abstract

The paper considers land-based conflicts in the areas of Siberian indigenous peoples traditional residence. Author demonstrates various conflict situations arising between local communities of shors, teleuts, tozhu-tuvans and extractive companies mining subsurface mineral resources on the indigenous peoples' ethnic territories. Obviously, land-base conflicts are the factors hampering the indigenous peoples' sustainable development both in context of their cultural practices and with regards to small-numerous ethnic groups identity. Especially paper focuses on the study of how land-use conflicts determine the features of interethnic relations in areas densely populated by indigenous peoples.

It is noted that the most common factor of the land-use conflicts is that the extractive companies have to withdraw a part of indigenous communities land-use areas. Actually this trend in many cases forms the basis for not only land-use but also ethnic conflicts as an indigenous peoples loosing a significant part of their ethnic territory and sensing in this regard the worsening of their social and economic status, are frequently prefer to interpret these negative changes as an influence going from the dominant society or ethnic majority groups. This is often why indigenous minority may feel slighted in the rights to preserve their of original habitat, way of life and cultural practices.

The conflicts arising from this basis is so difficult to solve. However there are few effective methods some of which are being illustrated in this research paper on example of Southern Siberia region.

Conflicts of development: Papua New Guinea's oil extraction sector

Author: Emma Gilberthorpe (University of East Anglia)  email

Short Abstract

This paper considers the case of the Fasu people, PNG, hosts to a major oil and gas project, to examine the ways indigenous populations respond to the frameworks deployed in the name of ‘sustainable development’ and how dominant development discourses critically overlook the peculiarities of human agency.

Long Abstract

The expansion of extractive industries over the past few decades has coincided with the institutionalization of sustainable development discourse within the sector under the banner of corporate social responsibility. Yet, despite the social nature and impact of interventions, the role indigenous actors play in how social responsibility agendas are incorporated and activated remain largely unrecognized. Subsequently, interventions can generate conflict, inequality, elitism and social fragmentation contributing to growing socioeconomic insecurity amongst host communities. This paper considers the case of the Fasu population, a small hunter-horticulturalist group from the fringe highlands of Papua New Guinea who have hosted a major oil and gas project since 1992. The analysis will focus on how the Fasu respond to the frameworks deployed in the name of 'sustainable development' (formal leadership, structured representation, capital generation, private property ownership, all-purpose cash) to show how dominant development discourses defined by economic theories of growth critically overlook the peculiarities of human agency. I examine Fasu kinship, descent and exchange patterns to highlight just some of the impacts of extractive industry on human relations and advance the argument that a comprehensive understanding of diverse cultural nuances should be implicit in the design of interventionist strategies. In so doing, I call for greater recognition of the potentially divisive impacts of current sustainable development interventions in the extractive industry sector.

Ancestral domain as cultural heritage: indigenous resistance on a northern Philippine frontier

Author: Shu-Yuan Yang (Academia Sinica)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines how the Bugkalot draw discourses from both global indigenism and local ideas of wellbeing to articulate their opposition against the Casecnan Dam, a BOT project that was the result of neoliberal policies.

Long Abstract

The Philippines started to implement neoliberal policies in the 1980 due to pressures from the IMF and the World Bank. In order to attract foreign capital and to encourage private participation in development projects, the BOT Law was passed in 1990. In 1995, California Energy, the largest independent geothermal power company in the world, secured a BOT project with the Philippine government to build the multi-purpose Casecnan Dam in the ancestral domain of the Bugkalot (Ilongot). The Bugkalot have been involved in long-term disputes with CalEnergy, and they started a new wave of protest in September 2013 to demand royalties and compensations for environmental damages and the loss of biodiversity which they sustain as a result of the project. While using the Indigenous Peoples' Rights Act (IPRA) as a weapon in their fight against crony capitalism and the global neoliberal regime, the Bugkalot also place emphasis on the cultural significance of the Casecnan River and construct a discourse of ancestral domain as cultural heritage. This article will examine how the Bugkalot draw discourses from both global indigenism and local ideas of wellbeing to articulate their concerns, and how their demand of revenue share in Casecnan is influenced by their perception of development and wealth.

Ideas and initiatives in the name of progress in Peruvian Amazonia: the case of the Camisea gas extraction project and the Machiguenga indigenous population

Author: Cynthia del Castillo Tafur (UCL)  email

Short Abstract

To what extent Machiguenga ideas of progress- influenced by the Camisea Gas Project- are translated into “improvements in the life quality of the colectivity (...) and converge with the notion of “Buen Vivir” relied on solidarity and reciprocity bonds (Acosta 2009:180).

Long Abstract

More than 70% of the Peruvian Amazon is covered by hydrocarbon plots for exploration and exploitation, overlapping indigenous communities, protected natural areas, and territories reserved for isolated indigenous populations. The Camisea Gas Project (CGP), which is one of the largest gas extraction projects in Latin America, has been operating since 2000 in the southeast Amazon of Cusco in Peru, in territory historically occupied by Machiguenga indigenous populations.

My research looks at the processes of social transformation Machiguenga society undergo due to gas extraction projects in the area. The Machiguenga Native Community of Cashiriari, where my fieldwork is based, undergoes very aggressive social change, among other reasons, due to the money received as compensation from the Camisea Consortium for the environmental impacts in their territory, and to the indigenous labour policy, which involves hiring Machiguenga men to work as wage-labourers at the Camisea gas fields. The traditional Machiguenga subsistence economy has become insufficient, and making money has become a mandate to progress; the traditional division of labour has shifted because of women and men's wage labour; diversification of livelihood activities has become a feature of Machiguenga households, in particular among women.

Given this scenery, I explore to what extent Machiguenga ideas and initiatives of progress- expressed in the diversification of their livelihoods- are translated into "improvements in the life quality of the colectivity and not only into individual improvements" and converge (or not) with the notion of "Buen Vivir" relied on solidarity and reciprocity bonds (Acosta 2009: 180).

The trouble with 'the local': responses to extractive development in the Peruvian Amazon

Author: Juan Pablo Sarmiento Barletti (Durham University)  email

Short Abstract

I engage with different positions over extractive development, progress, wellbeing and sustainability held by the indigenous and non-indigenous inhabitants of a region in the Peruvian Amazon. In doing so, I problematise 'the local' in mainstream analyses of responses to extractivism.

Long Abstract

My paper problematises the 'local' in mainstream analyses of responses to extractivism by revealing the diverse positions and conversations over extraction, development, progress, wellbeing, sustainability, and the state's responsibilities in regards to these, held by indigenous Ashaninka people in villages of the Bajo Urubamba and Tambo river valleys of Peruvian Amazonia, and indigenous and non-indigenous inhabitants of the town of Atalaya, the main urban centre for both valleys.

The area is impacted in environmental and social terms by Peru's flagship extraction project at Las Malvinas/Kamisea, and other concessions for hydrocarbon extraction and hydroelectric dams. These projects correspond to the growth of extractivism in Peru, pushed by an agenda based on an economic understanding of development and progress that has lead to the zoning of three-quarters of the Amazon for extraction. In spite of macroeconomic success, extractivism has failed to create a significant improvement in either the quality of life or economic poverty of those it directly impacts. This failure, and the imposition of further projects with no consultation to local populations, has led to violent social conflicts throughout the region.

I will consider their positions in light of national and international policies, and the positions held by representatives of Ashaninka political organisations and the local government. I will conclude by considering the challenges and opportunities presented by such diversity of positions to initiatives seeking to address issues of social and environmental (in)justice in similar contexts, and to the broader scholarly literature on the topic.

Indigenous people, racism and ant-racism in Brazil

Author: Cecilia McCallum (UFBA - Universidade Federal da Bahia)  email

Short Abstract

The paper explores non-indigenous understandings about indigenous peoples, natural resources and modernization in Brazil, based on analysis of schoolteachers’ and journalists’ discourses about infrastructural development.

Long Abstract

As a means of combatting racism, Brazilian lawmakers adopted a multiculturalist approach to remaking the national curriculum in the 21rst century. A 2007 law decreed that schools must to include classes on indigenous peoples, societies and culture. However, in Bahia state, echoing discourses about ‘indians’ in the media, schoolteachers continue to foster stereotypes and misinformation about indigenous peoples and their relation to ‘national natural resources’. The paper explores recent ethnography of teachers’ discourses and practices concerning this topic, in the light of analysis of stories about indigenous peoples and land conflicts in the media. It focuses specifically on the relationships journalists and teachers establish between notions of modernization, development and progress, on the one hand, and the nation´s natural resources on the other. Thus it analyses contemporary understandings about the construction of infrastructure projects such as dams and about government policies fostering the occupation of indigenous land by energy companies, agribusinesses and other ‘agents of modernization’.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.