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Resource extraction and dealing with inequality in the Pacific


Alex Golub, Tobias Schwoerer, Emilka Skrzypek

Session presentation

This panel examines forms of inequality that occur on the site of extractive industries in the Pacific. We are interested in ‘extractive industries’ in the broad sense, encompassing but not limited to mining, gas, petroleum, forestry, and fishing. Current models of stakeholder engagements in resource relations tend to present all actors as equal. They largely avoid dealing with inequality and pretend that power disparities, indigenous life worlds and the very points of disagreement can be treated as externalities. Consequently, the real issues, inequalities and differences are all too often expressed and dealt with through conflict and disruption, showing both that the difficulties are real, and that they are in need of re-thinking. What kind of political-economic inequalities are produced, enhanced, or getting entrenched as a result of extraction? How do local communities, extractive industries, state governments and other organisations address and deal with emerging and already existing hierarchies and inequalities? The panel creates a space for researchers to explore contemporary contexts, and to debate how the resource extraction industries deal with inequality in the Pacific.

Paper submissions are closed

Accepted papers

Resource extraction and enchained inequality in New Guinea

Knauft Bruce (Emory University)

Recent research has explored local, regional, and national impacts of resource extraction in New Guinea - including books by Kirsch, Golub, Jacka, Denoon, Kiersey, and others. Beyond areas most directly impacting by mining or petroleum/LNG projects are larger entrainments of expectation and inequality among local peoples who are not so directly impacted. In the Strickland-Bosavi area of PNG, this includes groups such as Kubo and Gebusi, where hopes of resource development are raised and then either dashed or deferred. This paper considers the resonating chain of expectations and inequalities that both connect and differentiate areas more and less directly impacted by large-scale resource extraction, including by its promise, expectation, and anticipation. This includes internal competition and rivalry, including over land rights, in the absence of actual resource development per se. Internal divisiveness easily reinforces external reluctance to actively engage with local peoples in initiating or developing resource projects, or in paying compensation when the identity of legitimate beneficiaries is unclear or contested. Intrusion of government officials and titling agencies as intermediaries easily perpetuates and intensifies these problems, creating a larger ethic of mutual antagonism and distrust. At general issue are dynamics and trajectories of inequality that alternately connect and polarize peoples perceived to benefit more, or less, from resource extraction.

Inconvenient Relations: Dealing with Inequality and the Rendering of Gende Society

Laura Zimmer-Tamakoshi

Foreign mining operations and "landowners" have turbo-charged inequality, fragmenting the Gende community and riding roughshod over gender and other inconvenient relations that once upheld Gende society. Dealing with inequality through gambling, ancestral gerrymandering, selective divorce and remarriage between and within clan clusters, and other practices to strengthen land claims, landowner groups have increasingly transgressed traditional values in efforts to deal with capitalist enterprises and wealthier Gende. Discounting women's land rights, "landowners" are complicit with foreign mining personnel who view the category "landowners" as representing men and not women. Such outsiders prefer that "landowners" be easily pinpointed. That this was not the case among claimants at the Ramu Nickel site in 1995 posed a problem. First using ancestral gerrymandering to accommodate an influx of "landowners", the Gende living near the proposed mine site then began divorcing women from more distant settlements and rejecting sisters' claims. The same consolidation tactics are being used by Gende at the Yandera copper project. Documenting Gende dealings with inequality for over thirty-six years, I find the rendering of Gende society a critical turn signifying the end of "everyone or no one" egalitarianism.

The Broker: Inequality, Loss and the PNG LNG Project

Monica Minnegal (The Univeristy of Melbourne)

Peter D Dwyer (The Univeristy of Melbourne)

As an extractive industry consolidates in a green field, particular men may emerge as leaders, acting to negotiate relations between members of their own community and representatives of the state, the companies and neighbouring communities. To the extent that such men are recognised and feted by outsiders so they are vulnerable to becoming complicit in, or submerged by, an ethos of inequality that, initially, they sought to manage on behalf of their constituents. In contexts of these kinds, brokers may contribute to emerging inequalities in home communities and, ultimately, experience a personal sense of failure and loss. This paper presents a case study from the Papua New Guinea Liquefied Natural Gas project.

Extraction, inequality and violence in Island Melanesia

Matthew Allen

Drawing upon field research in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville and Solomon Islands, this paper suggests that islands can provide exceptionally potent settings for the spatialised patterns of contentious politics that attend large-scale extractive projects. Throughout Melanesia, large-scale mining projects have the potential to produce or exacerbate spatial forms of inequality and uneven development. However, I argue that the distinctive geographical and territorial properties of islands – their stark boundedness – renders them unusually powerful ‘containers’ for the relative deprivation that is often produced and reproduced by extractive enclaves. This dynamic contributed to the 'scaling up' of the armed conflicts in Bougainville (1989-1988) and Solomon Islands (1998-2003) from the scale of customary landownership to the island scale, where, in both cases, the conflicts also became imbricated with broader ethno-territorial or ethno-nationalist agendas. Against this backdrop the paper also examines recent reforms to the regulatory and institutional frameworks for large-scale mining in Bougainville and Solomon Islands. In both cases the new arrangements go some way towards recognising the unique social and ecological challenges of mining on islands, and, in particular, the potential for mining projects to produce tensions and conflicts associated with spatial inequality.

Custom, power and ideology in the Melanesian resources sector  

Nick Bainton (University of Queensland)

This paper develops a framework for making sense of landowner conflicts in resource extraction settings, or more specifically, the sorts of claims that landowners make on companies and governments and other ‘actors’. Working from E.P. Thompson’s discussion of the moral basis of the rioting crowd in eighteenth century England, it is clear that we cannot simply reduce the history of landowner protests to an abbreviated ‘economistic’ picture – a series of spasmodic responses to the political economy of resource extraction. Rather than focus on ‘resistance’ per se or the centre stage script of company-community dramas, attention must be directed towards backstage processes – to the ideological processes at play and the moral claims that landowners make upon resource companies, the state, and fellow community members. I shall illustrate this with examples from across PNG.

Validating knowledge and verifying experience - knowledge, relations and agreement making at resource extraction projects in Papua New Guinea

Emilka Skrzypek (University of St Andrews)

Mediating the cultural frames of non-western peoples, industry and legal systems in the politically charged context of the mineral extraction industry is hardly straightforward. The practice of agreement making at mining projects in Papua New Guinea favours prescribed processes and particular kinds of knowledge, advantaging mining companies and ‘science’ and reinforcing a range of power inequalities in mining contexts. Using ethnographic examples, this paper looks at the different ways in which companies and local communities ‘do’ knowledge at resource extraction projects, and the impact this has on broadly conceived resource relations, and their outcomes.

Who Decides the Future, Who Makes the Past? Inequality and Authority After a Gold Mine in Papua New Guinea

Jordan Haug (University of California San Diego)

Since the closure of the Misima Gold Mine in 2000 the island of Misima, Papua New Guinea, has experienced severe environmental, economic, and social challenges. However, when asked what the most pressing social problems on the island are, many Misimans will reply that their primary concern is one of authority, or who gets to talk and who's talk matters. By focusing on the Misiman categories of “talk” (baba) and “authority” (logugui), this paper investigates how the legacies of extractive industries are embedded in the lived experience of everyday social interactions long after these industries depart. Who negotiates present conflicts in public, who creates authoritative accounts of the past, and who sets future agendas are all contentious debates on Misima, and Misimans often understand their stakes as the root causes of collective disappointment over the legacy of the Misima Gold Mine. Furthermore, this concern over authority is a common the prism in which Misimans talk about diverse forms of inequality, including racial, gender, economic, labor, and generational disparities. This paper asks what aspects of Misiman history contribute to this dynamic, why public discourse on a national level reflects these concerns over political authority, and how global extractive industries contribute to these crises of local authority.

Challenging and Renewing Political Inequalities in the Extractive Regime: The Wafi-Golpu Mining Warden’s Hearings

Tobias Schwoerer (University of Lucerne)

This paper analyses the reconfiguration of decision-making power within and between social groups potentially affected by mining. With the advent of mining, existing power structures and decision-making processes are not just re-embedded in an assumed normative social order but also reconfigured when authority and leadership are challenged and redistributed in the process of negotiating the imperatives of the extractive industries. In a social context where kinship is central for the political organization of economic life, its fluid nature is drawn on by representatives from differentially-situated lineage groups, resulting in renewed power imbalances within and between them. I use the setting of the mining warden’s hearing for the Wafi-Golpu mine in Papua New Guinea’s Morobe Province to foreground my analysis, as it constitutes a structural node for the legitimation of a complex regime of resource extraction, at the same time it is a space for claiming rights and contesting representations by competing local groups. Disparities in political resources, differences in access to information, as well as varying expectations and imaginations on costs and benefits of the mine all contribute to political inequalities within affected communities long before the mining starts.

Mine as Filter: Ideologies of Place and the Development of People at the Porgera Gold Mine, Papua New Guinea

Alex Golub (University of Hawai'i-Manoa)

The Porgera gold mine has now been in operation for roughly three decades. The states goal of nearly all stake holders has been to 'trade a mountain for development' -- to hope that the development created by the mine would offset the mine's negative effects. But who or what were supposed to be 'developed', and who or what have actually benefitted from the mine? In this paper I hypothesize that dominant discourses of development imagine development happening to a place: The Porgera valley. This is because 1) the mine's physical location and zoning include a spatialized imagination of is impact and 2) there is a perduring imagination of Papua New Guinean ethnic groups as stationary and territorialized. There are good reasons to argue that 'Porgera' as a place has, in net, benefitted from the mine. At the same time, there are good reasons to suspect that the mine has acted as a 'filter', and that many people and classes of people have benefitted from the mine, even as others have suffered from its presence. Understanding these patterns of emergent inequality and injury require rethinking assumptions about the mobility, ethnicity, corporate nature, and territorialization of Papua New Guineans. Such a rethinking challenges concepts inherited from the colonial period regarding what Papua New Guineans are like and what they can or should imagine a good life to be.