Accepted paper:

Undermining sovereignty: ranking risk and seeking opportunity at the resource frontier


Paul Gilbert (University of Sussex)

Paper short abstract:

Based on an ethnography of the mineral exploration economy, this paper identifies continuities between colonial cartography, military mapping practices, and political risk rankings in the contemporary mining industry. These rankings undermine efforts to carve out spaces of resource sovereignty.

Paper long abstract:

This paper is based on ethnography carried out within the cultural circuit of capitalism that constitutes the junior mining sector. It begins by tracing the interweaving biographies of leading security consultants, political risk insurance providers, and mineral explorers in London's square mile. The paper then moves to take a look inside the high-end briefings and "thought leadership" seminars organized jointly by the City's mineral explorers and political risk insurers. The attention of those in pursuit of new mining opportunities is primarily organized by an assemblage of political risk mapping services and risk perception survey providers. The most widely cited among the industry's many political risk rankings is based on a measure of "policy potential." The inverse of this policy potential is a perceived tendency towards "resource nationalism." Resource nationalism here designates any effort to carve out spaces of resource sovereignty in opposition to globalizing market forces. I identify commonalities between colonial-era cartography, military-style strategic mapping, and the production and reception of popular political risk metrics in the contemporary mining market. The Comaroffs (2012) have suggested that increasingly "it is the so-called 'Global South' that affords privileged insight into the workings of the world at large." My ethnography suggests however, that while the mining market may have a renewed interest in opening up "frontiers" in "unexplored" parts of the South, the epicentre of the information architecture through which resource jurisdictions (and their legislators) are ranked is highly resistant to re-ordering.

panel P025
Governing by numbers: audit culture, rankings and the New World (Re)order