Panel 15: State formation and extractive frontiers

Line Jakobsen, Danish Institute for International Studies, (chair)

Abstract: Social contracts around coal mining in Colombia

This paper will discuss the forming and reforming of social contracts in and around a coal mining site in the northern Colombia. Based on recent fieldwork, I explore how large-scale mining conducted by a multinational corporation through its security practices produces certain forms of political subjectivity (Schramm and Krause 2011) among people influenced by the mine. I understand ‘security practices’ as all those activities and strategies that the company use in attempting to create and maintain consent about the operation. I argue that what ‘managers of consent’ present as being dialogue, sustainable development and responsible mining, are in practice different technologies of governance that make people embody certain conducts that function as securing the wellbeing of the company. Managers of consent is a way of trying to cover all those actors that work to protect the corporation, which include not only key employees of the corporations, but also state agencies, interest organizations, NGOs and certain public ‘experts’ or opinion leaders. I will discuss to what a degree armed groups and political elites fit into this category as well. In attempting to create consent, the corporation, through the assistance of these managers of consent, gradually become a local sovereign (Barkan 2013), as it shapes certain imaginaries of the past and the future, funds health services, education and build public spaces and takes on a ‘democratizing’ role through their dialogue roundtables (see also Himley 2013; Guáqueta 2013). Alongside these ‘soft’ expressions of security comes the use of private and public security forces, secret intelligence work as well as divide and conquer techniques. The paper discusses how these hard and soft dynamics – working in a continuum - are productive for expressions of political subjectivities and social contracts.

Joel Correia, University of Florida,

Abstract: Presence through absence: State formation, Indigenous citizenship, and regimes of resource rule in South America’s Gran Chaco

The frontier can be imagined as a dialectical relationship between state presence and state absence whence authority, resource rule, and citizenship are constantly in flux. Frontiers literally define states and the geographic imaginaries whereby citizenship is negotiated vis-à-vis the body politic. Yet, frontiers are also spaces where formal state authority is often fleeting, usurped by other actors and processes that vie for resource control. South America’s Gran Chaco forest region that spans Paraguay, Argentina, and Bolivia is such a space of contested governance, struggle, and a tenuous relation with the state. The Gran Chaco has long been at the edge the three states it crosses, on their distant margins where the exercise of political authority is fraught. New dynamics of frontier extractivism are reconfiguring socio-spatial authority and drawing the Gran Chaco into (inter)national imaginaries as astronomical rates of deforestation due to struggles over access to resources, particularly land for soybean production and cattle ranching, increasingly threaten Indigenous territories and Indigenous lives. Scholars have shown how non-state actors produce state-like forms of rule in frontier spaces through (extra)legal actions that produce new regimes of governance and authority while spurring insurgent citizenship movements that respond to defend or reclaim territorial control. This paper, however, draws from Lund’s theorizations of “rule and rupture,” and Gordillo’s ethnographies of rubble, to argue that Indigenous peoples across the Chaco leverage absence and moments of resource rupture in uneven ways to advance their territorial authority by resisting the expansion of the soybean frontier and consequently redefine the limits of rights-based claims central to liberal conceptions of citizenship. This paper bridges my extensive ethnographic research with Indigenous peoples in Paraguay’s Chaco since 2013 with recent investigations in Bolivia and Argentina in 2019 to consider articulations and incongruencies between state formation and Indigenous citizenship across the Gran Chaco. 

Arvid Stiernström & Seem Arora-Jonsson, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences,;

Abstract: Unfinished territories: talking claims and rural governance in Northern Sweden

Territory is conventionally constructed as national. It is the basis on which states claim authority over people and resources within their boundaries (Baviskar, 2008). In this paper, we expand on the conventional thinking on territory- that is the relation between place and power (Elden, 2013) in the context of two potential mines planned in northern Sweden. We show how, not only government authorities but also other actors (e.g. landowners, indigenous communities, civil society organisations, mining companies) construct narratives that ‘territorialize,’  with the potential to alter the relations of power to space and governance of land. State interventions in the rural north have created layers of legislation that regulate land use and property rights over the same space. Based on material from ongoing fieldwork in northern Sweden, we analyse how authorities and local actors define and claim space as their own in narratives that are made legitimate by attaching them to normative systems (c.f.Tamanaha, 2008)that may extend across scale - such as state policy or international legislation. Still at the exploration stage, the mines may or may not become operational, and yet the prospect involves a plurality of local actors. The positions taken by the actors range from outright resistance to subtle recalcitrance or to a pro-mining stance, but they have also changed over time. The potential mines may thus be seen as “open moments” (Lund, 2016, p. 1202)where questions of rights and claims to land contend. We argue that such contestations throw light on how rural governance is also the result of acts of territorialisation that go beyond the rule of authorities and resistance as local actors too territorialise rural space and destabilise notions of how land is meant to be governed.

Michael Eilenberg, University of Aarhus,

Judith Verweijen, University of Sussex,

Abstract: The evolving techniques of engineering extraction and land control: Analyzing political (re)actions ‘from above’ in the ‘global war on terrorism’

In recent years, grassroots mobilisation around extractive projects and land grabbing is increasingly conceptualized as ‘political reactions from below’ (Borras & Franco, 2013), a notion that widens the existing perspectives of ‘resistance’ and ‘social movements’ by also including reactions like acquiescence and incorporation. While examining reactions ‘from below’ is pertinent, it does not allow for fully grasping the ways in which large-scale extractive and land projects are rendered socially and politically feasible in spite of multi-faceted resistance.To understand how extraction is engineered, it is crucial to also study political (re)actions ‘from above’ (Geenen & Verweijen 2017) or the operations, strategies, and tactics of extraction companies and governments in response to or anticipation of protest. These (re)actionsencompass variegated efforts not only to ‘manage’ dissent and ‘manufacture’ consent, but also to prevent opposition from emerging in the first place. They also include a wide spectrum of different forms of violence, following the logics of ‘corporate counterinsurgency’. This contribution zooms in on the question to what extent the ‘global war on terrorism’ has induced transformations in political (re) actions from above, including by facilitating the labeling of protesters as ‘domestic extremists’ and deploying forces under the banner of ‘counter-terrorism’ operations. It concludes that a focus on core mechanisms, logics and discursive configurations shows that–taking colonial concession companies as a point of departure– there are more historical continuities than discontinuities.