Gruvans makt i Sveriges Radios Meänraatio. Det är hela avsnittet som sänds, Johan pratar under tiden 6.01-12.01 och LKABs presschef Anders Lindberg pratar under tiden 12.50-18.22. Klicka här för att komma direkt till avsnittet.
Foto: Regina Veräjä.
Gruvans makt i Sveriges Radios Meänraatio. Det är hela avsnittet som sänds, Johan pratar under tiden 6.01-12.01 och LKABs presschef Anders Lindberg pratar under tiden 12.50-18.22. Klicka här för att komma direkt till avsnittet.
Foto: Regina Veräjä.
Äntligen är vår populärvetenskapliga bok om Kirunagruvan ute! Klicka här för att beställa boken.
Så här skriver förlaget om boken:
En gång i tiden satt gruvnäringen och Kiruna ihop. Ett ömsesidigt beroende som ändrats med tiden. Men vad händer när gruvbolaget inte behöver Kirunaborna i samma utsträckning? När bolaget mer och mer förlitar sig på arbetskraft i form av fly-in fly-out? När fast anställda kan ersättas av entreprenörer? När allt färre händer behövs för att få upp malmen?
In English: finally, our popular science book about the Kiruna mine is published, but in Swedish…
This is a post written by our friend and colleague Michał Zawadzki:
I remember my first experience with Organizing Rocks project in 2015. I just came back to Krakow after amazing postdoc period at Gothenburg Research Institute and was missing Sweden so much. It was my academic colleague, Monika Kostera, who shared the Org Rock blog to me, knowing that my soul suffers a lot.
Reading the blog for the first time was an incredible experience in many ways. I was shocked that it is possible to use cross-media methods in ethnographic research and that it might have such a great impact on understanding the research results. When listening to the song Kiruna you maggot or We the North I was in Sweden again, this time up to the North, observing the labour process in Kiruna mine. But what is more important, I discovered a beauty of ethnographic research: a slow data collection, immersion in the culture, meeting other people to understand their lives.
Many things happened in my life since then. I recorded drums for Organizing Rock songs and started academic as well as musical collaboration with Tommy. I invited Tommy and Johan to Krakow where we discussed their project and played some music. And, yes!, I finally moved to Sweden in 2018, now working at Jönköping University.
When I read the blog posts I re-discover its beauty again. I have a feeling that labour processes at academia are even faster than in 2015 due to casino-capitalism but reading Org Rock blog reminds me what is still the most important in research: building trust-based relations with people, slow and detailed process of data collection, excitement and maybe most importantly: happiness. Take a look on Johan’s and Tommy’s faces when they talk to local people in Kiruna and you will get what I mean!
But what is the most important lesson I learnt from Organizing Rocks? That no single individual’s actions can bring the changes for which the individual hoped, but rather the process of history directed by those actions. You never know what might happen when you take particular action and how you affect other people’s lives. Did Tommy and Johan think about turning my life upside down when starting this project? I don’t think so!
We’ve been quiet for a while, but decided to release a new song. It’s in Swedish, called “Sheriffen” (the Sherif). You’ll find it on all streaming sites. Here are the links to Spotify, Apple music, and YouTube. Hope you dig it!
Our paper on the fly-in/fly-out work regime at the uranium mine in Saskatchewan is now published with open access. Click here to access the paper via the homepage of the Journal of Rural Studies.
Our paper on the remote uranium mine in Saskatchewan, Canada, has just been accepted to the Journal of Rural Studies (JRS). It’s a relief, since we’ve worked a long time with this paper and worked hard to improve it after every setback (see the posts from April 2018 or December 2018). JRS got the best version! As soon as the paper comes on-line first we’ll make another post to notify you. Meanwhile, here’s the abstract:
The article presents a case analysis of the work regime at a uranium mine, located on indigenous land in northern Saskatchewan, Canada. All the miners are flown in and out (FIFO), and with nearly half the workforce coming from different indigenous communities. We ask how the miners participate in and experience life as FIFO workers, and enrol the community concept in the analysis. Defining community as not merely a group of people or a place but also, in the wake of Tönnies’ classic work, as a matter of attitude, the case analysis reveals a community at work but fragmentation of indigenous communities off work.
Our project is in the news in an interview with Tommy in several Swedish newspapers. Check it out at Svenska Dagbladet by clicking here (in Swedish).
Early on in our project, we decided to ask miners if they could tell about their relation to work, mine and community in front of a camera as well. We produced a couple of interviews on our blog, but once we were rejected by top management, the idea of filming interviews became more sensitive. Eventually, we abandoned this part of the project, although we did produce interviews with academics as well as a couple of simple music videos later on (click here to see all our videos). So, the research-as-film idea did not vanish, although we felt that our initial idea of producing a lengthy documentary towards the end of our project wasn’t pursued. Other scholars go all the way, though. One film that we were recommended is the research documentary called Black Snow about a mining disaster in the UK. It is written and directed by management professor, Stephen Linstead. Watch it! On YouTube, the film is described like this:
Winner of the Best Research, Black Snow looks at the explosion at the Oaks Colliery in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, which despite being the world’s worst industrial loss of life in the 19th century, was a tragedy that remained relatively unremembered until 2015, when a group of ex-miners, trade unionists, and local historians attempted to raise money to erect a memorial for its 150th anniversary. The film tells three interlocking stories: the story of a historical community devastated by the disaster, struggling to survive; the story of a contemporary community, decimated by the loss of industry, rediscovering itself in the struggle to remember; and the story of a sculptor, struggling to make one last masterpiece. It features an original score by BBC Radio 2 Folk Award nominee Jed Grimes and Mercury Music Prize winner Robin File.
We’re making the last adjustments to the book about Kiruna and the mine (in Swedish) before sending it to potential publishers. In a chapter about broken memories we felt compelled to return to a conversation we had with a man who was born and raised in Kiruna, who worked with the mine for close to ten years, but now lives in Luleå.
In Kiruna, we often heard that many of those reacting strongly to the urban transformation did not live in Kiruna anymore, but had spent their adolescence in the town before moving south. This man is an example. He follows every move in the town and: “Every time [they make a move] I feel affected. In my heart I live in Kiruna, although I’ve lived in Luleå for 32 years. … I feel no belonging to Luleå Hockey. … When someone devalues Malmfälten, I react. There is no understanding of how it all hangs together, about the ore that comes down to Luleå [and the steel plant] which gives the waste heat [to heat houses in Luleå]”.
We feel this man never left Kiruna. Reflecting on the transformations since the 1980s he talks about how the community has been good at building from-within, with culture and sports, a lot of associations, and then managed to combine this through architecture in the built environment. Together, this created a strong sense of belonging and pride. “Nowadays”, he says, “I think the dimensions are wrong, with the roads and…, too forceful, they overdo it, there is no instinctive feel to it. Everything that is built is to an extent built without feeling.”
On September 3, the Association of Polar Early Career Scientists (APECS) hosted a workshop on the theme “Voices from the North. Exploring research on resource extraction, local communities and built environments in Northern Sweden”. Johan presented the project and participated in the discussion with young scholars in different fields. If you’re a young scholar with an eye to the Arctic, check out APECS and join the network.
Dear Johan and Tommy @ organizingrocks.org, I’d be happy to hit the ball back over the net. Thanks for blogging about Engaged Anthropology, and for continuing to host a very congenial interdisciplinary space to discuss questions about research in general, and positionality vis-à-vis the mining industry more specifically.
Here’s your first question:
Constructive criticism is essential to academic scholarship, as are a diversity of perspectives, so I have no objection to the fact that fellow scholars might report on their disagreements and differences of opinion. Johan and Tommy present the following concerns raised by my critics— who, it is worth noting, were referring to my earlier book, Mining Capitalism, rather than Engaged Anthropology, although it is appropriate to consider their comments in relation to the new work as well:
Essentially these comments boil down to one thing, that in most of the eight case studies examined in Engaged Anthropology, I elected to align myself with one side of an ongoing conflict or dispute. So, for example: With the people affected by pollution from the Ok Tedi mine in Papua New Guinea. In support of West Papuans seeking independence from Indonesia. In recognition of the loss and damage to persons and property caused by nuclear weapons testing in the Marshall Islands. And in favor of states fulfilling their international obligations to indigenous peoples in the Amazon by recognizing their land rights, etc.
However, one of the chapters in the new book discusses a conflict between Native Americans and the museum of archaeology at my university over the disposition of human remains in its collections in which I tried to identify the common ground between the disputants rather than taking sides. It is ironic that this was the case for which the personal repercussions associated with my intervention were the greatest, not the interactions in which I supported one side in a conflict over the others.
But let me reply succinctly to each of the criticisms raised here:
On being dogmatic: Chapter one of Engaged Anthropology, which reflects on my extended participation in the campaign against the Ok Tedi copper and gold mine in Papua New Guinea, addresses this concern head on. This includes discussions left out of my earlier work due to their potential to harm my informants, a decision that is not unique to engaged anthropology but rather a concern that is widely shared among scientific researchers. The chapter also explains the value of articulating a legitimate perspective or point of view that has been excluded from the public domain. In addition, I do try to recognize competing points of view in my writing, even if only by way of critique. But in this chapter I also argue that it pays to revisit some topics later, when they no longer pose a risk to our informants.
On being insufficiently robust: No single text can answer all of the questions it is possible to raise in relation to a given subject. So we have to prioritize. If academic work encourages others to ask new or excluded questions, that should count as a success rather than a shortcoming or failure. I’d rather write a text that prompts additional questions than one that closes down further discussion.
On treating subjects asymmetrically: I must have been home sick from school on the day we were taught to treat all actors and their interests equally. Many potential research subjects already have the capacity to tell their own stories. This is especially true when we study corporations, as Johan and Tommy point out. With respect to the indigenous people I write about in my first book, Reverse Anthropology, I used to think about my work as a kind of ‘amplification’, referring to sharing the views of those with whom we work with larger audiences, which sometimes includes translating their perspectives into terms that make them comprehensible across cultural and linguistic divides.
But in defense of Mining Capitalism, I do devote considerable space to allowing the mining company and its representatives to speak for themselves. One of the primary arguments in the book is that it is valuable to study how corporations engage with their critics. For this, one doesn’t necessarily need to be ‘embedded’ within the corporation. I acknowledge that other researchers elect to work from within the ‘belly of the beast’, although they need to be mindful of the powerful disciplining effects that corporations exert on their employees and researchers who chose this strategy, which can affect their representations and limit their access to other interested parties.
On not levelling stakeholders on equal footing: This refers to treating all stakeholders evenly, whereas I would start out by questioning the concept of stakeholders, which assumes that all of the parties have commensurate interests in the matter. Mining companies want to extract valuable ore at low cost; communities may want employment and economic development, but they often have other interests as well, including the protection of their environments and health.
On more activism than science: One of the arguments in the book, which I try to illustrate through the case study method, is that insights derived from engaged anthropology have the capacity to travel beyond the original context or research agenda rather than being limited to it. This, I think, speaks to the broader goal of science, which is to produce generalizable knowledge or insights.
Now, on to your second question:
No doubt we all agree that keeping an open mind about what we are studying is essential to good research. This becomes harder to do the more one knows about a particular topic. But in another sense, this may free up the researcher to ask other questions.
Consequently, I would argue that there is adequate space in the academy for basic as well as engaged research projects. One shouldn’t have to pick and choose. Studying a new topic may throw you back into basic research mode; continuing to study that subject in new contexts will allow you to test and advance what you’ve learned before. As I suggest in the book, engaged anthropology always builds on prior research, and should also contribute back to scholarly debates.
Thanks again for the provocative questions and the opportunity to respond!
In a sister-project to Organizing rocks, funded by Handelsbanken’s research council, we take a historical approach to mining. One part of the project includes a comparison between the iron ore regions in Malmfälten (with the mines in Kiruna, Malmberget and Svappavaara) and in the Pilbara, western Australia. The Pilbara comparison is based on a collaboration with Professor Bradon Ellem at the University of Sydney. Recently a comparative paper from the project was published in the European Journal of Industrial Relations with the title “Neoliberal trajectories in mining: Comparing Malmfälten and the Pilbara”. It gives our Organizing rocks project more of a context and historical grounding. Although we’re completely biased here, it is a nice read! Click here to access the paper on the journal’s homepage (and if you don’t have open access, e-mail Johan at firstname.lastname@example.org). Here’s the abstract:
We compare the iron ore sectors and mining regions of Malmfälten in Sweden and the Pilbara in Australia. Both are physically isolated and the product is economically vital, but we find differences in industrial relations which accord with what would be expected in coordinated and liberal market economies. A closer examination, attentive to history and geography and in which changes in institutional form and function are highlighted, reveals, however, that these differences are more apparent than real, and that there is a common neoliberal trajectory. This analysis also suggests that changes in these sites at times drive transformations in national industrial relations.
Whether in the Region of Bougainville (Papau New Guinea) or Malmfälten (Sweden), the economic, social and environmental impacts of mining are significant and tend to provoke strong reactions from a vast variety of actors. Contested business, contested areas, means navigating multifaceted, complex and value-laden relations. This requires engaged and sensitive social scientists that continuously reflect on their own values and interests. This is a discussion that we have covered before on this blog, but we just got a very good reason to revisit it.
Stuart Kirsch, anthropologist at the University of Michigan, who previously have contributed to this blog, have written yet another thought-provoking book, this time more focused on the research approach he has practiced and developed when studying mining conflicts, Engaged anthropology: politics beyond the text. ‘Engaged anthropology’, it triggers our thoughts on an ‘engaged organization studies’. Not sure we’ve heard of such a term, have you? Maybe ‘reflexivity’ comes close, but it is, we think, more of an apolitical character; as if reflexivity would be possible from a neutral position.
Engaged, we believe that without being engaged we would never get interesting empirical material, but Stuart takes this more than one step further. So, if you get nervous when scientific ideals such as objectivity, neutrality, distance etc. are challenged, do not read further.
To give you a teaser and an idea of what Stuart’s approach is all about, here are some quotes from the introductory chapter:
As might be guessed, Stuart’s engaged anthropological research on mining, particularly in Papau New Guinea, has also been the target of critique, such as: being dogmatic, not robust enough, lacking symmetry between actors, not levelling stakeholders on equal footing, more activism than science etc. We can recognise our own engagement in Organizing rocks in some of this critique and we have to some extent struggled with it since the start. How do our values, interests, methods, readings, influence our ‘science-in-action’ in the Kiruna and McArthur mines? Are we neglecting some actors, perspectives, statements, signs? Are we shying away from certain topics because we are scared to put our chins out? Are we always ready to question ourselves, ready to change? We’ve previously written about the “risk of being co-opted or of developing rather dogmatic stances” and that we should “constantly be in doubt, a bit skeptical, and to have a sensitive mode”, which, we admit, might come across as rather cryptic formulations, but yes, they matter, to us.
We’ve also met the oppressed, heard the voice and read the words of the privileged, and, yes, we’re not immune to these influences. It is impossible to be impartial, to stand on neutral ground. So, in this sense, why not claim that active engagement (through dialogues, in our case) is required?
In the type of critique launched against Stuart’s work, we do share the call for broad, inclusive engagements, in terms of whose voices are heard, and the need for phenomenon-driven (less a priori-settled) research strategies. If the phenomenon is complex and multifaceted so must also our methods and conceptual frameworks be. Paraphrasing John Law’s rather brutal take on this: it takes mess to capture mess. A priori openness, a sort of curiosity of what might be found when talking openly, with genuine interest and respect, with a diverse set of people, in different settings, is a research strategy that we’ve practiced in Organizing rocks.
But, we don’t agree with most of the critique launched against Stuart’s work. Although useful to be aware of it, it does suffer from one major deficit: it lacks power and power relations. For us, these issues were upfront, input-value in our project. Entering a large-scale mining arena, such as the one in Kiruna, we know that power relations are asymmetrical and we cannot be naive about this. A priori, whose voices are heard, who matters? Who are marginalized, excluded, silenced? In our case, the first answer on people’s lips is the company, LKAB. In a way, the old saying is true: ‘When LKAB has a cold, society sneezes’. This is an early-warning signal that there are power asymmetries and, hence, no equal footing, in Kiruna. How did we deal with this?
Organizing rocks is a basic research project. One way that we handled power asymmetries while also studying them was to remain in control of our research aims and questions; to not, for example, compromise on the questions we ask. This is our area of control, our responsibility, and one way to treat them all on equal footing. It was also one reason why the company (e.g. top management) did not want to meet us. Top management did not want to participate on any equal footing. Meeting, for example, local unions or local indigenous people, they never tried to control the questions we were asking. They agreed to meet, to converse, so for them we could have empathy, we listened, we tried to understand, and tried to come out as slightly different actors following our meetings. Luckily for a study striving for a ‘multi’ approach, the actor refusing to meet us (e.g. top management) ‘speaks’ in other ways (media, web, social media, reports etc.) so we have at least some idea on where they stand and why, but as we understood it, they felt that we were engaged in the wrong issues, and engaging these in the wrong way. As was told to us: we are not useful to LKAB. So, as also written about on this blog before, we were banned by top management (in Luleå and in Stockholm) from coming inside the gates to the mine in Kiruna (local workers and managers seemed to think that what we were asking were relevant and important).
As Stuart also has reported, when one door closes, others are opened. Ironically, when top management said no, closed the entry gates to the mine for us, actors who would not talk to us previously now decided to do so – but again, without trying to control us.
While our access to people inside the gates in Kiruna was restrained in the end, this was not the case with Cameco at McArthur in Canada, which immediately raised the risk of a wrong type of engagement, of us ‘cozying up to the corporation (see Emily Eaton’s blogpost). Many times, it felt like balancing on a knife’s edge. It’s never easy, for us at least. You might be a judge of how we’ve navigated, comparing the Kiruna case with the Canadian case (based on our blogposts on McArthur; there’s the scientific article on the case, but we’ve just submitted it, again, see the logbook). For now, it helps reading about engaged anthropology!
What if all scholars were as articulated on positioning and engagement as Stuart (what if we were?)? It would for sure enhance derivation and honesty-in-field and in-text, make it easier to evaluate whether or not to trust the descriptions and their arguments, to be able to judge how they have positioned themselves when analyzing. So, we try to consider research that hides behind screens of neutrality, objectivity and impartiality as highly problematic; those who most likely are very engaged but only implicitly so (of course we’re not saying that any subjective stance are okey; again, we’ve to avoid dogmatism and fight analyses that ‘stand on’ shaky ground). But, mirror mirror on the wall, who are you researching for, and why? What about those who write about ‘equal footing’ or assume that capitalist expansion as a ‘natural good’, and their research? We know dozens of skilled Swedish researchers who in their research engage fully in making mining more efficient, productive and profitable, but without any reflections whatsoever about the politics of their engagement. It is more or less taken for granted; perceived as a natural, neutral position; from one perspective thus conflating a currently dominant perspective with a right. Would it not be fair to ask for a similar transparency as in Stuart’s case?
Questions to Stuart (maybe he’ll answer!):
The headline of this post is also the headline for our scientific paper on the Kiruna case in Organization. While waiting for the proofs, we thought we’d write a paragraph, extended abstract-style, on what it is about.
Based on our ethnography of the Kiruna mine, the paper aims to strike a conversation with Actor-Network Theory’s (ANT) theorizing of space. ANT is one of those academic literatures that we have followed since the late 1990s. Many times we have told ourselves to stop thinking of it, stop using it, move on, but it has in various ways found itself back into our heads and laptops. Reading ANT triggers this mixed feeling of (i) yes, there is something original and insightful here, (ii) nah, this is common sense dressed in difficult words, and (iii) shit, we have no clue what they mean. It’s a good combo for not getting rid of a literature. Our best efforts to engage with ANT is probably two of our previous papers on codes of ethics, one in Organization in 2009 and one in Business and Professional Ethics Journal in 2015, not to forget Tommy’s dissertation from 2004. But why ANT and the Kiruna mine? We were battling with spatial complexity, of the mine being enacted differently wherever/whenever we went. Enter, again, ANT. But, while seeking ‘thinking-help’ we found ourselves in that mixed feeling. Out of it therefore came not only a use but also a critique of ANT, particularly what has emerged as a risk of drifting into spatial pluralism. ANT wasn’t suppose to. Not to our understanding anyway. Our hand to hold in the paper became Annemarie Mol’s The Body Multiple (2002). What a book. Read it. Period. It’s not about a mine, but about atherosclerosis(!). Mol sets out a space multiple approach in which seemingly disparate enactments of the mining operations can be understood in terms of coexistence and difference, inclusion and exclusion. Such an account casts aside a kind of neatness that jeopardizes what makes ANT great – its empirical openness, and openness for complexity, that things might not just add up, not possible to sort out, which might be stressing to some. So, this is what the paper is about. Very empirical, very ANT.