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Politics of Resource Extraction

Violence, Criminalization, and Conflict Transformation in Resource Extractive Contexts

Resource extraction initiatives on indigenous communities’ territories have created conflict between indigenous peoples and both public and private developers. While such initiatives are situated in places of lucrative industrial potential to developers, they often operate on lands of cultural and ecological significance to indigenous peoples. Governmental and corporate developers have criminalized dissent, utilized military violence with punitive intent in protest contexts and conflicts, and have disrespected the mandate of free, prior and informed consent in engaging with indigenous communities. Projects addressing these topics explore partner communities’ experiences with violence and examine their strategies of resistance and the ways in which they counter forced “development.” Projects associated with this theme aim to identify options for conflict resolution and for alliance building in such contexts.

The indigenous-extractivist interface

This research theme centers itself on the incursion of contemporary forms of natural resource extraction into indigenous territories, communities and their life projects. Conceptually, we can see global extractives and indigenous societies as two modes characterized by distinct ontologies, territorialities, temporalities and markedly different positions within the larger political economy (Cruikshank 2005). Conflict and violence (of different orders) or negotiation and adaptation bookend the dynamics of how the interplay between indigenous and extractivist modes play out. This research theme thus seeks to bring together the remarkable range of experiences of the CICADA teams to: [a] better understand the dynamics of the indigenous-extractivist interface; [b] highlight how resource extraction bears upon the elaboration of life projects; [c] articulate strategies for protecting communities and territories; [d] identify sources of power to undertake such actions; and [e] facilitate cross-learning between the team members of the programme.

Local diagnostics and political action

Work within this theme explores the concrete political, social, and economic interfaces between communities and the extractives sector. Two interfaces will be of special interest: 1) the local diagnostics that are made by communities regarding the context and effects of resource extraction on their territories, and 2) the spaces of political action where communities enact strategies for countering forced “development.” Although diagnostics might be seen as preceding actions and strategies to some extent, the two constantly feed into each other. Projects within this theme aim to explore th perception of various forms of violence embedded in the law, the structure of the State, and corporate governmentality that shape and frame the conditions of extraction at various scales. They are also attuned to the multiple ways that corporate governmentality deploys itself in zones targeted for resource extraction through strategies for “managing” community relations or producing community consent (Li, 2009; Welker, 2009). For their part researchers have devised a substantial conceptual vocabulary distinguishing between structural, symbolic, direct, and many other forms of violence that intervene in resource extraction contexts (Lee Peluso and Watts 2001). They have also used the lenses of anti-politics (Nadasdy 2005), governmentality (Escobar 2008), and emotional marginalization (Morales and Harris 2014) in resource management contexts to create narratives that make the dynamics of exclusion and/or reduction to ‘bare life’ more visible (Gregory and Pred 2006; Tyner 2014). Researchers, writers, and documentarians concerned with social suffering (Farmer 2010) identify the ways in which violence and intense racism work to position indigenous communities more vulnerably in relation to the law and social care (Tyner 2014). This work dovetails with efforts made to bring local voices, experiences, and diagnostics of violence to the fore in discussions of unrelenting resource extraction (CNCA 2014).

The interface between communities and the actors and structures of natural resource extraction is not merely diagnostic. Perceiving, naming, and documenting the violent causes and effects of development agendas articulates with creative community responses. In contexts of structural violence and marginalization, resistance often takes the shape of reinvesting sites of power. If the law, the structure of the State, and corporate governmentality can be seen as vectors of violence, and are often narrated as such, they are also potential sites of actions and strategies (Anaya, 2005). Lawsuits, re-appropriation of nominally “consultative” processes, pressures made for the strengthening of accountability, and participation in various dispute resolution processes can be seen as examples of ways in which communities try to work the system from within in order to address the unacceptable aspects, or the unacceptable nature, of resource extraction (McGee, 2009; Kirsch, 2014; North, L., Clark, T. D., & Patroni 2006). However, these efforts can meet with substantial opposition, if not with outright criminalization (Cunneen 2011; Pedersen 2014).

Our uniqueness

CICADA’s structure of global partnered research provides a unique opportunity for comparison and learning between different contexts. This is a built-in strength of the programme given the tremendous diversity of experiences its indigenous partners have had in their encounters with extractives. This diversity is rooted both in the variation in legal, state, and political economic contexts as well as in the creativity of responses generated at the local level. One of the key practical challenges of the programme is how to encourage productive exchanges in perspectives and experiences. That said, creating constructive spaces and modes of exchange has the potential to contribute key insights and approaches to the larger problem of how to navigate the indigenous-extractivist interface.

Research questions

This theme’s researchers are concerned with the following questions:

  • How do the dynamics engendered by natural resource development play out in the elaboration of indigenous life projects? This question can be considered from different angles: how does extractivism undermine or challenge the capacity of indigenous nations and communities to chart out their future? Or, conversely, how do the challenges posed by extractives trigger responses or create un-anticipated spaces in which life projects can be pursued?
  • What are the different forms of community-based diagnostics and socio-political action evidenced in the various contexts encompassed by CICADA? How have these related to another?
  • How does the interplay between extractivist and indigenous modes register within the other research themes of CICADA? How might the thematic orientation and methodologies used in a particular research theme dovetail with the challenges and responses generated by extractives?

Theme Leaders: Martin HĂ©bert, Catherine Nolin, Daviken Studnicki-Gizbert

Theme Contributors

Kirsten Anker
José Aylwin
Janelle Baker
Ciaran O’Faircheallaigh
John G. Galaty
Kevin Gould
Gordon Hickey
Sylvie Poirier
Catherine Potvin
Thierry Rodon
Colin H. Scott
Jon Unruh
Karine Vanthuyne


Associated Projects

Canadian First Nations’ Ontologies, Environmental Knowledge, and Co-Governance in the Face of Large-Scale Extractive Industries

Dialogues on Sustainability

Documenting Oral History of Development in the Comarca NgÀbe-Buglé, Panama

Environmental Impact Assessment and Social Impact of Mining in Eeyou Istchee, Nunavik and Nunavut

Impacts of Violence in the Latin American Democratic Context: the Case of Chile and Mexico

Indigenous Engagements with Mining in Canada and Guatemala: Developing Refined Understandings through Collaboration and Comparison

Living Well in the Torres Strait: Indigenous Engagement with Economic Change and Development

Centre for Indigenous Conservation and Development Alternatives