In 2015, Roopali Phadke and Abby Kinchy organized an open session for the annual meetings of the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S), entitled “STS Underground: Investigating the Technoscientific Worlds of Mining and Subterranean Extraction.” Their aim was to discover and highlight interesting new research on the science, technology, and politics of the subsurface. The nine presenters at that conference were the beginning of the STS Underground Network.
Two further sessions at the the 2016 4S meetings, organized by Kinchy and Jessica Smith, expanded this research network. Subsequently, the call for papers for the 2017 STS Underground Workshop at Colorado School of Mines elicited nearly 50 submissions. While the workshop is only able to accommodate a fraction of those papers, we are proud to include all of the authors in our growing network of STS researchers concerned with mining and the subsurface.
To add your information to this page, please fill out this form or email the organizers.
Janelle Marie Baker
PhD Candidate, Anthropology, McGill University, Canada
Research site: Canada
My doctoral research on First Nations’ perceptions of wild food contamination in Alberta’s oil sands region is in response to research collaborators having unaddressed concerns about contamination from industrial activities in their traditional territories. My core research objective has been to investigate Cree indicators for wild food contamination by exploring how knowledge (or ethnoecology) informs the concept of contamination. While several current research projects look at wild food use and contamination in Indigenous communities (particularly in the arctic), in-depth studies that focus on culturally relevant indicators for wild food contamination are almost entirely lacking. My approach differs from simply locating and lab-testing foods that Crees identify as being contaminated in two ways: first, by examining in-depth the ‘diagnostics’ and ‘etiologies’ implicit in Cree ecological knowledge of environmental contamination specifically and Cree criteria for food quality more generally; and second, by considering this ethnoecology from the standpoint of cultural theory on concepts of ‘pollution’ and ‘risk,’ as well as political ecological understandings of the power relations to which indigenous knowledges are subject in public policy evaluation and management of pollutants.
I am involved in two applied projects, with the first being a berry contaminants monitoring project with Fort McKay First Nation and the Wood Buffalo Environmental Association (WBEA). The WBEA provides passive air monitoring, weather monitoring, and berry testing. The second project is a First Nations Environmental Contaminants Program grant with Bigstone Cree Nation to test 150 samples of their traditional foods for contaminants, in partnership with McGill’s Centre for Indigenous Nutrition and Environment.
Further reading: Research as Reciprocity: First Nations community-engaged research on wild food contamination in Alberta’s oil sands region. Engaged Scholar special issue: Engaging Indigenous Communities. Guest Editors Winona Wheeler and Robert Alexander Innes.
Researcher, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, Germany
Research sites: Germany (Europe)
Since 2015 I am leading a research group that deals with social scientific questions of technology development for the exploitation of so called scarce metals. Research focusses on current trends in German and European resource policies and related strategies such as research on secondary mining technologies or domestic primary mining in countries with few resources of critical materials. Thereby I am interested in technology development in the context of its application. Thus questions are relevant concerning the relation of science and society in research and development that takes the form of real world, or collective experimentation. These issues were already present in my previous work on geothermal energy, an issue that has some similarities to mining. In the context of mining I ‘am interested in how different sociotechnical imaginaries shape technology development or what values are inscribed in innovative technologies in mining (especially visibility and invisibility). Finally the question is how technology development in the context of resource extraction (including secondary repositories) could be organized in a more responsible manner.
Further reading: Bleicher, A., Gross, M. (2016): Geothermal heat pumps and the vagaries of subterranean geology: Energy independence at a household level as a real world experiment, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 64, 279-288, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.rser.2016.06.013.
PhD Candidate, University of California Santa Cruz, United States
Research sites: Florida
“Holocene in Fragments” investigates emergent patterns of multispecies life and loss at the Holocene/Anthropocene boundary. The dissertation’s case study is the human-altered phosphorus cycle and the landscapes it has created in Florida. The chapters’ narrative arc progresses along the industrial pathway of phosphate fertilizers from phosphate mines, to agricultural fields and watersheds, to suburban landscapes. Offering descriptions of more-than-human relations in each of these three zones, the dissertation shows how industrial food systems, nourished by Florida phosphates, usher in the Anthropocene and fracture the Holocene, making novel landscape ecologies with its remnants.
Research Fellow, Centre Emile Durkheim, Bordeaux University, France
Research sites: France, Canada
I am working on extractive industries in France regarding ecological transition and on the use of expertise and knowledge in the management of natural resources in Quebec (Canada).
Further reading: De la revendication locale à la mise en cause globale : trajectoire du mouvement d’opposition au gaz de schiste au Québec”, Recherches SOciographiques, 2015; vol56/2
PhD candidate, University of NSW Australia, Australia
Research sites: Australia
My major research interests are the public controversies around coal and CSG extraction in the Southern Coalfields of NSW, Australia. I am most currently exploring the interplay of social, economic, technical and political factors for a particular case study, the Bulli Seam Operations, in the headwaters of a significant river system of recreational value and adjoining water supply catchments supplying Sydney; Australia’s largest city. The study is situated in the events surrounding the assessment of environmental impacts of longwall coal mining, a relatively novel technological threat in that geo-spatial context.
The study is underpinned by a theoretical framework drawn from Controversy Studies in Science and Technology Studies (STS), and, to a lesser extent, discourse analytic approaches in environmental politics. Developing these approaches, the study aims to explore the ways in which notions of precaution, risk assessment, adaptive management, governance, trust and the interplay of science, public participation and policy featured in a contemporary environmental controversy.
Assistant Professor, Department of History, New York University, USA
Research sites: Senegal, Mali, Guinea
I study the political and social history of natural resource extraction and scientific research in Francophone West Africa. My book manuscript explores how state geologists and private prospectors have appropriated the gold discoveries of African miners, while simultaneously degrading African extractive practices as primitive, wasteful, and criminal. While historians have established that capitalism profits from co-opting nature, my research reveals that the appropriation of “local” knowledge is also central to mining capitalism.
Katheryn M. Detwiler
Ph.D. Candidate, Anthropology, The New School for Social Research, USA
Research Sites: Chile
Katheryn Detwiler’s doctoral research explores the conditions and consequences of the creation and circulation of massive data in Chile’s Atacama Desert—the driest non-polar desert on the planet, copper mining country, and location of nearly two-thirds of the world’s infrastructure for astronomical data production. Centrally, the dissertation details how the sky is fashioned to be a field of translatable information—collected by observatories in the form of cosmic light—through the regulation of illumination and communication infrastructures in desert communities and industries. Following the work of astronomers, light pollution regulators, illumination engineers, and so-called data cleaners at Chile’s observatories, the dissertation explores how the Chilean sky is cultivated as a pristine, media-rich ecology and is simultaneously produced as a technical environment to be measured, shaped, and optimized via the regulation of light pollution. Situated at the interface of media studies, political ecology, and the ethnography of science and technology, the dissertation asks how concerns with pristine or polluting light and with pure or corrupted data reshape infrastructures, economies, and communities in the Atacama.
Assistant Professor, University of California, Santa Cruz, United States
Research sites: United States
I am a geographer with research interested in urban environments and social justice. My current book manuscript traces the toxic entanglements of race and waste in San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood, focusing on new geographies of waste produced through toxic cleanup and urban redevelopment. Part of this work relies on an STS and political ecology framework to explore the ways the toxic subsoil has become a commodity through cleanup (or remediation) projects, and the implications of this for environmental justice. I also explore the potential toxic effects of climate change, and look at the ways pro-growth San Francisco city planners, relying on the neoliberal concept of resilience, fail to address the likely effects of sea level rise on the city’s coastal toxic sites (e.g. landfills, brownfields).
Further reading: Dillon, Lindsey. “Race, waste, and space: Brownfield redevelopment and environmental justice at the Hunters Point Shipyard.” Antipode 46, no. 5 (2014): 1205-1221.
Assistant Professor, Communications, Liberal Arts, and Social Science – New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, USA
Research sites: n/a (not an anthropologist)
My research interests lie in discerning pathways toward realizing more communitarian, democratic, and sustainable technological societies. On facet of my research is the characterization of the major barriers to those pathways, whether they be political, technical, or psycho-cultural. For instance, I am interested in how discourses like “permissionless innovation” are mobilized to hinder the development of democratic technological steering. I am also concerned with imagining strategies for lessening or circumventing those barriers. A developing interest of mine is how citizens could more often enact (epistemologically) Luddite practices, both individually and collectively. In order for technology to seem anything unlike an unstoppable juggernaut, average people must have some experience with opposing what often gets labeled technological “progress.”
I do not, however, only concern myself with the realization of a saner technological civilization at such large and abstract scales but also for narrower, more concrete cases. Often this entails the analysis of in-progress sociotechnical activities through the intelligent trial-and-error framework – a set of strategic lenses developed by political scientists studying the social control of technology and the averting of technological disasters. I have proposed that more sustainable and communitarian planned communities could be more often realized in the United States by borrowing from the “learning while planning” approach used in Quartier Vauban, Germany. Similarly, I am currently exploring how states in the arid southwestern United States might best meet the challenges posed by growing populations and more frequent drought conditions without repeating the technological, political, and environmental mistakes of the past.
Further reading: Dotson, Taylor. (2015). “Technological Determinism and Permissionless Innovation as Technocratic Governing Mentalities: Psychocultural Barriers to the Democratization of Technology.” Engaging Science, Technology, and Society 1: 98-120.
Postdoctoral Fellow, Resource and Environmental Management, Simon Fraser University, Canada
Research sites: Canada
My postdoctoral research examines environmental citizenship in relation to the regulatory review of three pipeline projects in Canada. I am using Agrawal’s concept of environmentality to examine three related factors: 1) changes to environmental assessment legislation and the National Energy Board that have influenced opportunities for public engagement, 2) media and policy discourses that rationalize such changes or attempt to (de)legitimize particular actors or forms of engagement, and 3) what motivates advocates to actively oppose the projects and if, or how, their understanding of themselves as environmental subjects has been altered as a result of their participation.
Further reading: Dusyk, Nichole. “Clean Energy Discourse in British Columbia, 1980-2014.” BC Studies 189 (2016): 77.
PhD Candidate, The University of Queensland, Australia
Research sites: Australia
Martin Espig is a Ph.D. candidate in environmental anthropology in the School of Social Science at the University of Queensland, Australia. His current research focuses on knowledge-related debates regarding the impacts and risks of unconventional coal seam gas developments in regional and rural agricultural regions.
Further reading: Espig, M. & de Rijke, K. (2016) Unconventional gas developments and the politics of risk and knowledge in Australia. Energy Research and Social Science, 20: 82-90.
Professor, Brandeis University Dept of Anthropology, US
Research sites: Mexico, Colombia, US, UK
I am currently conducting research on the material semiotic of gold in finance and mining, focusing on the question of how market participants see gold in relation to other materials such as mountains, human bodies, vaults, bitcoin, paper, and graphics
Further reading: Ferry, Elizabeth. “On Not Being a Sign: Gold’s Semiotic Claims.” Signs and Society (2016)
Paul Robert Gilbert
Lecturer, School of Environment & Technology, University of Brighton, United Kingdom
Research sites: Bangladesh, United Kingdom, Papua New Guinea
My doctoral research was based on multi-sited ethnographic work carried out between London & Dhaka, which explored the role that legal, geological and financial expertise plays in opening up new frontiers for mineral exploration. My current research is concerned with three related themes: (1) The dynamics of speculation and capitalization, or the transformation of geological deposits into assets that are valued in terms of the future revenue they might produce; (2) Political risk analysis and ‘Corporate Foreign Policy’ in the extractive industries; and (3) The public role played by geological and engineering experts in contests over Bangladesh’s energy future. I have previously worked on mine-community relations in Papua New Guinea and the marketization of biodiversity in the UK.
Further reading: Gilbert, Paul (2015) Trouble in para-sites: deference and influence in the ethnography of epistemic elites Anthropology in Action, 22 (3). pp. 52-62
Postdoctoral Fellow, Harvard University, Anthropology/Folklore, USA
Research sites: Peru, Brazil, Bolivia
Mercurial Migrations and Neoliberal Dreams:
This research project examines the entanglements of social and environmental justice through mercury toxicity. Mercury carries a racialized valence defining migrant labor populations, often indigenous, as socially, mentally, and physically contaminated. Concentrating on mercury in its material and conceptual form, I analyze the heavy metal’s effects on climate change, fetal-maternal health, and gender-based violence. The geographical sites are multiple: environmental “hot-spots” most affected by mercury contamination – the Arctic and the Amazon, as well as focus on the people in the places that release and receive mercury into the air and water— from South American gold mines to North American smokestacks, garbage dumps, and crop fields. I ask how thinking through and with mercury as an analytical concept as well as a material object creates a way in which to examine a quickly changing climate, global health and migration, as well as the often-volatile politics of interspecies’ relationships. My focus is on the impact of development projects on women’s health and human rights, as well as on global economic trends that influence natural resource extraction and immigration. What gives this project global impact is the role of the Amazon rainforest as the purported “lungs of the earth” and “nature’s pharmacy.” This project contributes to scholarship in environmental and medical anthropology, critical race theory, gender and sexuality, as well as science and technology studies.
Further reading: http://somatosphere.net/author/ruthgoldstein
Professor of History, University of Michigan, USA
Research sites: South Africa, Namibia, Madagascar, Gabon, France, Australia, US
Toxic Tales from the African Anthropocene: a series of essays on waste, toxicity, and African entanglements.
Further reading: Being Nuclear: Africans and the Global Uranium Trade (MIT Press 2012)
Mette M. High
Dr, Department of Social Anthropology, University of St Andrews, UK
Research sites: USA, Mongolia
I have so far pursued three major research projects. The first was an ethnographic study of a large-scale gold rush that was happening at the time in Mongolia – a region where mining is surrounded by fundamental taboos related to the land and its spirits. The second research project extended my work in Mongolia, this time focusing on the involvement of Buddhist monks in the gold rush. Deepening my understanding of the relationship between ethics and economic life, these two projects have given rise to my book entitled Fear and Fortune: Spirit Worlds and Economic Life in the Mongolian Gold Rush. Building on my theoretical interest in economic transformations and ethical sensibilities in resource extraction, my third research project has examined how oil and gas company workers in the US perceive the risks involved when applying the technology of ‘hydraulic fracturing’. This research has inspired me to collaborate with artists through installation art work. In January 2017, I will begin as Primary Investigator a 5-year research project entitled ‘The Ethics of Oil: Finance Moralities and Environmental Politics in the Global Oil Economy’. Underlying all my research projects, where money, metals and energy travel far beyond national borders, is a keen and ongoing desire to understand how global economic processes intersect with intimate moral views.
Further reading: 2013. “Polluted Money, Polluted Wealth: Emerging Regimes of Value in the Mongolian Gold Rush”. American Ethnologist 40(4):676-688
Manager of Community-Based Research & Engagement, FracTracker Alliance, USA
Research sites: USA
Kirk Jalbert is the Manager of Community Based Research and Engagement for the FracTracker Alliance as well as a Visiting Research Professor at the Center for Science, Technology and Society at Drexel University. He received his Ph.D. in Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and an M.F.A. from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in media. For nearly five years he investigated the emergence of citizen science groups across the Marcellus Shale that mobilized to assess shale gas extraction’s risks to watersheds. His present work seeks to understand the dynamics of effective community-based research and how data transparency efforts that stem from these efforts can be used to inform the public and influence environmental governance. In January 2016 he was appointed to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Environmental Justice Advisory Board.
Further reading: Jalbert, Kirk. (2016). “Grassroots Infrastructures for Civil Society Science: A Case Study of the Marcellus Shale Water Monitoring Community,” Science & Technology Studies, 29(2).
Associate Professor, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, USA
Research sites: United States and Canada
Since 2009, my research has focused on the controversy over the extraction of oil and natural gas from shale formations (fracking) in the United States and Canada, particularly the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania and New York. I am currently writing a book on citizen science and environmental justice, co-authored with sociologist Aya Hirata Kimura. This book draws, in part, on my research on the ways that civil society organizations use practices of citizen science as part of anti-fracking struggles. With Roopali Phadke, a geographer at Macalester College, and Jessica Smith, an anthropologist at Colorado School of Mines, I am working to build a scholarly community in STS around social studies of “the subsoil” (e.g. mining, aquifers, gas drilling, subsurface biology). In addition, I am now developing a study that examines the implications of “information disclosure” as a mode of environmental governance, focusing on the rollout of new infrastructure to support the flow of shale oil and gas across North America.
Further reading: Kinchy, Abby, Kirk Jalbert, and Jessica Lyons (2014) “What is Volunteer Water Monitoring Good For? Fracking and the Plural Logics of Participatory Science,” Political Power and Social Theory 27(2): 259-289.
PhD Candidate, Sociology, University of Minnesota, USA
Research sites: USA
Accelerating demand for natural resources, innovative technologies and depletion of high-quality reserves, is contributing to new riskier forms and sites of extraction. These developments create conflicts around socio-ecological hazards and perceived trade-offs between economic growth and environmental protection. I take proposed copper-nickel mines in Northern Minnesota as an illustrative case study of the contentious politics that arise around ecological risks, environmental governance and land-use decisions. Northern Minnesota is an emblematic case of the tensions around resource use in a rural mining region, but also has a distinct history of progressive politics and militant unionism, Native American treaty rights, and a strong ethos of environmentalism. I examine how class, race, place-based identities and scientific expertise inform how people make sense of environmental hazards and construct different visions for the future and of how society relates to nature. I investigate how stakeholders, including unions, mining companies, environmentalists, Native American tribes and local politicians, legitimize their positions, create competing truth claims and engage in environmental governance. How do groups legitimize their positions through scientific knowledge, expertise and place-based identities? I situate these discourses, actions and strategies within the particular socio-ecological histories of Northern Minnesota and broader relations of power and flows of capital and information in global capitalism. I contribute to environmental and natural resource sociology by integrating interdisciplinary theories of political ecology and science and technology studies to address the interconnections between race, class and indigeneity in environmental governance and how the politics of knowledge effects environmental justice.
Further reading: Kojola, Erik. 2015. “(Re)constructing the pipeline: Workers, environmentalists and ideology in media coverage of the Keystone XL Pipeline.” Critical Sociology. 1-20.
Assistant Professor, Liberal Arts & International Studies, Colorado School of Mines, USA
#Tweesis (but I mostly just use Twitter to post relevant course readings!)
Research sites: US, generally American West
Most of my projects share one overarching theme: questioning how people come to know, try to manage, and work to draw valuable natural resources from subsurface commons, and how such endeavors might be made more sustainable and equitable. Whether the resource itself is groundwater or hydrocarbons, I am broadly interested in peoples’ complex and uncertain relationship to the earth’s subsurface – an environment that has long been a zone of mystery and intrigue to humankind, a realm that often serves as a battleground for competing worldviews and expertise, and a space that is sometimes very tightly governed and other times utterly forgotten. Current research projects include (1) studying unconventional oil and gas extraction in Colorado’s Denver-Julesburg Basin, with an emphasis on the narratives used by competing stakeholders in state and local governance processes to frame extractive activities as either in-place or out-of-place in suburban Colorado and the on-the-ground spatial politics of multi-well pad siting, and (2) studying cities in the American West (e.g., Denver, Phoenix, Las Vegas) that rely heavily on non-renewable groundwater, with an emphasis on how those cities are responding to shrinking groundwater supplies and anticipating a future without them. Common questions of both projects include investigating the conditions under which subsurface systems shift from being ungoverned to governed and the socio-ecological implications of these changes; how people narrate subsurface problems; how people arrive (or don’t arrive) at shared definitions of subsurface problems that are invisible to the eye; how subsurface knowledge is produced; who speaks for the subsurface in policy debates, why, how, and to what effect; and how the subsurface encourages and/or discourages interdisciplinary approaches to knowledge production and problem solving.
Further reading: Kroepsch, A. (2016). New Rig On the Block: Spatial Policy Discourse and the New Suburban Geography of Energy Production on Colorado’s Front Range. For a special hydraulic fracturing-focused issue of Environmental Communication. doi/full/10.1080/17524032.2015.1127852
Assistant Professor, Department of Social Science, City University of New York-NYC College of Technology, U.S.
Research sites: Lithuania, U.S.
My research examines environmental and justice dimensions of agro-food systems in eastern Europe and the United States by focusing on the issues of sovereignty. One of my new research projects extends this line of research to explore energy sovereignty as a lens for understanding the on-going politization of land property rights, the rural/urban divide, and national identities in the context of the development of new technologies of extraction and transportation of shale gas resources. In collaboration with Aiste Bartkiene, we have been studying anti-fracking movements in Lithuania and the broader region to track the ways in which energy sovereignty is constructed, negotiated, and experienced in the emerging energy frontiers. Our research combines insights of the scholarship on land and food sovereignty movements and the neo-materialist approaches to studying energy to highlight the intersection between changing material infrastructures and globalizing social networks.
Further reading: Hébert, K. and D. Mincyte (2014), “Self-Reliance Beyond Neoliberalism: Rethinking Autonomy at the Edges of Empire,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space. 32(2): 206-222.
Ph.D. Candidate, University of California, USA and South Africa
nesvet at uc davis dot edu
Research sites: United States; South Africa
I undertake ethnographic and mixed-methods (quant and qual) research on organized and corporate crime, and policing and regulatory compliance. My work focuses on both large-scale and “artisanal” extractive industries in the United States and southern Africa, foregrounding labor, law and regulations and material history. I engage the fields of: STS, political economy, law and social sciences and anthropology. I am a Ph.D. candidate in California, and a researcher at the WITS Centre for Sustainability in Mining and Industry in Johannesburg.
Researcher, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Sweden
Research sites: India, Mozambique
My research interests include changes to land and resource uses and what these mean to rural populations in the Global South. My analysis of these large-scale resource projects has often explored the intersection of the natural resource base with the way that the politics of knowledge work to frame such problems and shape them into particular, often technical, solutions. Much of my work has been carried out together with different activist groups where we jointly explore and learn about complex problems and what can be done to accomplish positive change in rapidly unfolding and uncertain situations.
Further reading: Oskarsson, P. (Forthcoming 2017). Diverging discourses on bauxite mining in eastern India: Life-supporting hills for adivasis or national treasure chests on barren lands? Society & Natural Resources.
postdoc, Harvard University, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs & Department of Anthropology, USA
Research sites: Canada and USA
My research asks how the proliferation of digital mapping technologies and the contraction of Canadian research institutions have unsettled articulations of identity, profession, and place among environmental researchers working in rural North America. By examining how data-driven articulations of locality are triangulating new ethical relationships between experts, landscapes, and governing institutions, my research investigates the sociotechnical legacies of climate change and settler colonialism as government-based environmental research infrastructures grow more precarious worldwide. As web-based, virtual prospecting techniques in use throughout British Columbia are extended into new legal regimes in northern Canada and the United States, attempts to legitimate “local” experts has forced neighboring groups to negotiate divergent colonial histories. Working alongside with exploration geologists, prospectors, and First Nations experts active along BC’s western and northern borders, my research follows each group’s attempt to confront representations of exploration as a space of legal and ethical exception and the precarious livelihoods such projects promote.
Further reading: Schilling, Tom. 2014. British Columbia mapped: Geology, Indigeneity, and land in the age of digital cartography. In Annemarie Carusi, Aud Sissel Hoel, Timothy Webmoor, and Steven Woolgar, eds. Visualization in the Age of Computerization. New York: Routledge, 59-76.
Postdoctoral Scholar, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA
Research sites: USA; UK; Ecuador
I study the use and extraction of natural resources as critical drivers of environmental injustice, currently focusing on projected shale extraction in the US (California) and the UK. This project explores emergent views on climate change, subsurface resources, energy futures, and competing claims of urgency applied to environmental policy and energy practices. I also study the collective efforts of diverse communities to counteract and preempt socio-environmental inequalities. I pursue these aims through collaborations of different kinds – including participatory research with affected communities and international deliberative research with scholars in anthropology, STS and political ecology.
Further reading: Partridge, T., M. Thomas, B. Harthorn, N. Pidgeon, A. Hasell, L. Stevenson, C. Enders (2017) “Seeing futures now: Emergent US and UK views on shale development, climate change and energy systems.” Global Environmental Change 42: 1-12.
PhD Candidate, Institute of Social Anthropology, University of Oslo, Norway
Research sites: Sierra Leone
My research focuses on processes of social, economic, political and environmental change in the context of large-scale investments, mining in particular, in Sierra Leone, Through a focus on the micro-politics of large-scale investments, I study the articulation and entanglement of global and local domains.
Further reading: Pijpers, R.J. (2016). Mining, expectations and turbulent times: locating accelerated change in rural Sierra Leone. History & Anthropology. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02757206.2016.1222524
Emerson M. Sanchez
PhD Candidate, Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance, University of Canberra, Philippines
Research sites: Philippines
For my PhD research, I am looking at the role of deliberation in resolving the tension between expertise and public participation in environmental knowledge production in Philippine mining.
Postdoc, Max Weber Centre for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies, Erfurt University, Denmark
sidsareen (Skype, Twitter)
Research sites: India
I have worked on access to and authority over resources in a conflict region, focussing on mechanisms of access, institutional authority and implications for governance and local democracy. Recently I have begun applying the same political ecology lens used in the case of forests in my approach to sustainability transitions, specifically solar energy politics mapped within the regional political economy of the electricity distribution sector in two Western Indian states. While these issues are only partly concerned with the subterranean, they are closely linked with underground resource extraction, either in the form of energy substitutes (fuel wood, solar energy) or as supply-side manifestations. I have worked on practices of representing securitisation as development pertaining to mining in an insurgency-affected, politically-unstable context, employing the concept of an assemblage.
Further reading: https://samaj.revues.org/4153
Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Colgate University, United States
Research sites: United States, Argentina
My scholarship analyzes the political-economic and cultural processes that form people, natural materials and the relationships between them. It examines the capitalist production and consumption of two quite different subsurface
materials, oil and dinosaur fossils, both of which have become highly-prized commodities around the globe. I am particularly concerned with questions of agency, that is, how people are, and are not, able to shape the large-scale processes that affect their lives and the material world around them. I consider these questions through ethnographic research in the Americas, first by investigating oil and neoliberalism in Argentina and currently by analyzing the science-entertainment complex revealed through dinosaurs in the United States.
Further reading: Resources for Reform: Oil and Neoliberalism in Argentina (Stanford UP, 2012)
Associate Professor, Division of Engineering, Design and Society, Colorado School of Mines, USA
Research sites: USA, Peru, Colombia
Trained as an anthropologist, my research interests focus around the mining and energy industries, with particular emphasis in corporate social responsibility, engineers, labor and gender. I am currently investigating the intersections between engineering and CSR on the NSF grant “The Ethics of Extraction: Integrating Corporate Social Responsibility into Engineering Education.” Through ethnographic interviews and participant-observation, my postdoc and I are exploring how CSR and questions of social acceptance of the extractive industries influence engineering practice. We are using insights from that research to introduce curricular innovations into engineering and social science courses at three universities. My previous work focused specifically on the gender dynamics of extractive industries, based on my work and research in Wyoming coal mines. My book Mining Coal and Undermining Gender: Rhythms of Work and Family in the American West was funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Science Foundation.
Further reading: Smith, Jessica M. and Abraham Tidwell. 2016. Everyday Lives of Energy Transitions: Contested Sociotechnical Imaginaries in the American West. Social Studies of Science 46(3): 327-350. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0306312716644534
Associate Professor, Departamento de Sociología, Universidad Alberto Hurtado, Chile
Research sites: Chile
Based on a three-year multi-sited ethnography and an STS conceptual framework, my current research project problematizes contemporary ways of governing mining waste in Chile through the analysis of the life cycle of tailings, the main kind of waste produced by mining operations in the country. In particular, the project studies two key moments on the material lives of tailings. First, it deals with the production and handling of tailings as a part of the daily operation of a large copper mine located in southern Chile. By analyzing the practices and techniques set to transport and accumulate tailings and the controversies continually emerging around it, it explores how tailings are embedded in tensions between multiple non-coherent ontologies, from which only precarious orderings can be enacted. Secondly, tailings are toxic ruins, as seen in the case of a long abandoned tailings depository located in northern Chile. By looking at the different practices and devices set in place by the Chilean government’s environmental agency to know and control the tailings’ toxicity to the surrounding population, it understands tailings as the toxic afterlife of former projects of national development and resource exploitation.
Further reading: “Caring for waste: Handling tailings in a Chilean copper mine” Environment and Planning A, 2016, volume 48, issue 8, p. 1532-1548
Sarah E. Vaughn
Assistant Professor, Anthropology, University of California Berkeley, USA
Research sites: Guyana
Her current book project Engineering Vulnerability: Expertise and Climate Change in Guyana is about the politics of belonging that informs the climate adaptation of a major dam system. She is also working on a project that considers the cultural overlaps in the mapping of extractive resources and human trafficking in the Guiana Shield.
Further reading: December 2012. “Reconstructing the citizen: Disaster, citizenship, and expertise in racial Guyana.” Critique of Anthropology 32(4): 359-86.
PhD Student, Northeastern University, United States
Research sites: United States
Lourdes Vera is a PhD student in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology and a member of the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute (SSEHRI) at Northeastern University. As a former high school science teacher, she is interested in how D.I.Y. tools and data visualization can facilitate deeper understandings of scientific phenomena to mobilize individuals from all skill levels and backgrounds for environmental advocacy. As a research assistant to Sara Wylie, she is working to develop and validate an inexpensive photopaper tool that measures low, chronic amounts of the toxic gas hydrogen sulfide emitted from oil and gas production. Within this project, she is looking at how different disciplines approach questions of exposure and scientific validation. She is also working on establishing methods for interactive, open source mapping for community reportbacks and participant action research.
Further reading: Lourdes Vera. “Community Health Impacts from Oil and Gas Development in Texas: The Perspective of Sharon Wilson.” New Solutions November 2016, 26:496-507.
Fellow, Harvard University Center for the Environment, United States of America
Research sites: United States of America
I examine how the physical geography and remnant resources generated through geologic time in the American West decisively influenced western settlement and the advancement of American science in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. For example, in the early nineteenth century, the “Great American Desert” laid waste to dreams of the western garden hoped for by Jeffersonian America. After the Civil War, the West was reborn and infused with new dreams of a reconstructed, industrial, and united American nation. Encouraged by the Homestead Act and the building of the transcontinental railroads it was also seen as an untilled garden, ready for eager homesteaders to make the desert “blossom as the rose.” Undergirding this dramatic shift in vision were the cultural representations and industrial uses of the material remains of paleo-environments. The remains of the ancient West were unearthed by paleontologists, government surveyors, railroad workers and engineers. Through government reports, these scientists breathed new life into the ancient denizens and environments of the West. Boosters absorbed the authority of their science to lend credence to visions of a plastic West that would once again become a verdant Eden. Fossils and fossil fuels drove the imaginations and industrial technologies that sought to transform and reclaim the West.