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Engineering responsibility

Environmental mitigation and the limits of commensuration in a Chilean mining project

Fabiana Li

Focusing on a controversial gold mining project in Chile, this article examines how engineers and other mining professionals perceive and help shape Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives. Compensation agreements, environmental management, and community relations programs rest on what I call a logic of equivalence that makes the environmental consequences of mining activity commensurate with the mining companies’ mitigation plans. For example, legal codes enable engineers to measure, compare, and reconcile the costs and benefits of a project. However, the law is neither fixed nor uncontestable, and companies must respond to increased public scrutiny and the growing demands of communities, governments, and international actors. In Chile, campaigns against mining focused on the presence of glaciers at the mine site and the project’s possible effects on water availability. By introducing new moral dimensions to debates over corporate responsibility, these campaigns challenged established strategies of commensuration and existing ethical guideposts.

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Social cohesion beyond borders

Does management of mining resources promote social cohesion and regional integration? Lessons from Canada and Mexico

Angeles Mendoza Sammet

This contribution analyzes whether the transboundary use of mineral resources by Canadian companies contributes to local and regional cohesion. The analysis is based on documental reviews, a field visit, and conversations with stakeholders of Canadian mining projects in Mexico. The results strongly suggest that, despite the bene fits that are advertised in the discourses of the Canadian and Mexican governments, this economic relationship is not fostering social cohesion as would be expected. Rather than helping dispossessed sectors of Mexican society satisfy their basic needs, the lack of social responsibility on the part of national governments and some transnational mining companies is generating numerous environmental and social impacts and is resulting in violations of human and indigenous people's rights. This situation, however, is fostering social cohesion through shared values among dispossessed communities in Mexico, and between them and various civic, human rights, and environmental organizations in Canada.

Spanish Esta contribución analiza de qué forma el desarrollo de recursos mineros en México por empresas canadienses influye en la cohesión social local y regionalmente. El análisis se basa en revisión documental, visitas de campo y conversaciones con informantes clave. Los resultados fuertemente sugieren que esta relación comercial no está contribuyendo a mejorar la cohesión social como sería de esperarse si la minería contribuyera al desarrollo sustentable según lo promocionan los gobiernos de México y Canadá. En vez de contribuir a reducir la pobreza, se han generado diversos impactos sociales y ambientales debido a la falta de responsabilidad social que prevalece en el sector minero. Estos incluyen violaciones de derechos humanos y gentes indígenas. Sin embargo, estas consecuencias negativas están favoreciendo la cohesión social entre las comunidades afectadas por la minería en México y las organizaciones civiles en Canadá que están ejerciendo presión en Canadá para que haya cambios en el sistema político y legal para asegurar que las empresas canadienses operen de manera social y ambientalmente responsable.

French Ce e contribution entend voir de quelle manière l'utilisation transfrontalière des ressources minérales par des entreprises canadiennes contribuent à la cohésion locale et régionale. L'analyse se fonde sur l'examen des documents, une visite sur le terrain, et les interviews menées avec les parties prenantes des projets miniers canadiens au Mexique. Les résultats suggèrent fortement que, malgré les avantages formulés dans le discours des gouvernements canadien et mexicain, ce e relation économique ne conduit pas à la cohésion sociale comme on pourrait s'y attendre. Plutôt que d'aider les secteurs déshérités de la société mexicaine à satisfaire leurs besoins de base, le manque de responsabilité sociale de la part des deux gouvernements nationaux et certaines entreprises minières transnationales produit de nombreux impacts environnementaux et sociaux qui se traduisent par des violations des droits de l'homme des peuples indigènes. Ce e situation, cependant, favorise la cohésion sociale à travers des valeurs partagées entre les communautés dépossédées au Mexique, et entre eux et diff érentes organisations civiles défenseurs des droits de l'homme et environnementaux au Canada.

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Uneven development in the Papua New Guinea highlands

Mining, corporate social responsibility, and the “life market”

Jerry K. Jacka

Over the last 20 years, Papua New Guinea has been at the center of a resource development boom as mining, petroleum, and logging companies extract the rich resources of this tropical Pacific island. As 97 percent of the country is owned by customary groups who correspondingly receive benefits from extraction, resource development has the potential to integrate local communities into the global economy in beneficial ways. Often, though, this is not the case, as small factions of landowners control the bulk of development proceeds. In this article, I examine the development of a coffee growing scheme adjacent to the world-class Porgera Gold Mine, intended to help local people who are marginal to mining benefit streams. Tragically, however, instead of engaging in coffee production, many disenfranchised young men in Porgera prefer to work in the “life market”—a term they use to describe tribal warfare in which groups not receiving benefits attack benefit-receiving groups in the attempt to extort monetary payments. Not only are individuals' lives at stake in the life market, but so too are the economic conditions—coffee and gold mining—that allow the life market's very existence.

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Glenn Banks

The size and dramatic impact of the large-scale mines of Melanesia make a useful case study of the effects of economic globalization on local communities, particularly in terms of poverty and inequality. In the context of debates concerning globalization and poverty, this article examines the processes around large-scale mining at both the national and local scales. It argues that the issue of scale is critical to discussions of the links between poverty and globalization, with no evidence that large-scale mining has reduced poverty at the national level in Papua New Guinea over the last thirty years. Evidence is given from the Porgera mine of the effects of mining development at the local scale, with absolute poverty down but inequality increasing. Ethnographic detail helps to situate these processes in the dynamics of the local society. It is these locally grounded attributes that account for the production of inequality far better than generalized accounts of the 'culture of globalization'.

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Reclaiming the lake

Citizenship and environment-as-common-property in highland Peru

Mattias Borg Rasmussen

Since the early 1990s Peru has experienced an expansion in mining activities and an expansion in what the Peruvian ombudsman defines as socioenvironmental conflicts. This article examines the dynamics through which an environmental issue is transformed into a matter of citizenship and social belonging during a weeklong uprising in defense of Lake Conococha. Highlighting the collective actions and personal narratives from participants in the region-wide blockade, the article therefore seeks to understand how dispossessions of environmental resources perceived as common property are cast in terms of individual rights that move well beyond the site of conflict. It is therefore argued that the actions to reclaim Lake Conococha were not only a battle for natural resources and clean water, but more fundamentally an attempt to repossess a citizenship that may be constitutionally secured but all too often fails to be a lived reality in the high Andes of Peru.

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Feng Hao

The coal industry exercises a pervasive influence upon mining communities in Appalachia even though it makes minimal contributions to employment. Miners rarely participate in movements that fight against coal companies for better working conditions. One explanation for this paradox is the depletion of social capital. In this article, I first use the existing body of literature to build a theoretical framework for discussing bonding social capital. Second, I analyze how the United Mine Workers of America in Harlan County, Kentucky at the beginning of the twentieth century worked to generate social capital. The results show that these coalfield residents demonstrated a high degree of social capital in terms of a strong shared sense of reliability and a dedication to collective activities and intimate networks. The union during that period engaged in strategies that were instrumental in creating this high level of social capital: holding regular meetings, organizing collective actions, promoting collective identity, and electing charismatic leaders.

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Beyond Economy and Religion

Resources and Socio-cosmic Fields in Odisha, India

Roland Hardenberg

In anthropology, resources are commonly defined in terms of neo-classical theories of action. In order to widen this anthropological definition, a distinction between two ‘fields’ is introduced in this article: the ‘social field’ and the ‘cosmic field’. It is argued that both fields may be completely separate and express a pluralistic configuration of values, or they may form a more or less monistic field. These ideas are applied to a conflict about bauxite-rich mountains in Odisha, India, in which those involved have quite different concepts of resources. It is argued that politicians and mining companies, as well as their national and international opponents, separate and even oppose the social and the cosmic fields on the basis of conflicting values. In contrast, it is argued that for the local people named Dongria Kond, the mining companies endanger a cultural system of exchange and provisioning that maintains an undifferentiated socio-cosmic field based on the value of life-giving ‘wealth’.

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Sick Weather Ahead

On Data-Mining, Crowd-Sourcing and White Noise

Carlo Caduff

The main concern of this article is with the ways in which technologies of data-mining and crowd-sourcing have made it possible for citizens to contribute to the expansion of infectious disease surveillance as both a concrete practice and a compelling fantasy. But I am less interested in participation as such, and more concerned with the epistemological effects that this technological mediation might have for the possibility of epidemic events to become shared objects of knowledge. What happens with epidemic events when they become targets of data-mining and crowd-sourcing technologies?

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The problem with “transparency”

Moral contests and ethical possibilities in mining impact reporting

Sally Babidge

Subterranean waters in the mineral-rich and water-poor Atacama desert, northern Chile, are subject to contest between resource-extracting companies and mostly indigenous residents. In complying with global Corporate Social Responsibility standards and local agreements, and in an effort to reduce opposition from indigenous groups, some mining companies have begun to undertake “transparency” reporting regarding the impact of their subterranean water extraction activities. These engagements present a moral interface between two streams of global discourse: the CSR principle of “transparency” on impacts of water extraction and the rights of indigenous peoples to “native waters.” An ethnographic study of a set of such engagements shows indigenous community rejection of the truths that transparency purports to reveal. However, the apparent intractability of moral contest in such globally comparative and locally specific contexts in terms of distrust of the mining companies is tempered by a proposition for the ethics of engagement.

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Trouble in Para-sites

Deference and Influence in the Ethnography of Epistemic Elites

Paul Robert Gilbert

Through his enduring efforts to interrogate the regulative ideals of fieldwork, George Marcus has empowered doctoral students in anthropology to rethink their ethnographic encounters in terms that reflect novel objects and contexts of inquiry. Marcus' work has culminated in a charter for ethnographic research among 'epistemic communities' that requires 'deferral' to these elite modes of knowing. For adherents to this programme of methodological reform, the deliberately staged 'para-site' – an opportunity for ethnographers and their 'epistemic partners' to reflect upon a shared intellectual purpose – is the signature fieldwork encounter. This article draws on doctoral research carried out among the overlapping epistemic communities that comprise London's market for mining finance, and reviews an attempt to carve out a para-site of my own. Troubled by this experience, and by the ascendant style of deferent anthropology, I think through possibilities for more critical ethnographic research among epistemic elites.