Book Kiruna LKAB Media

Gruvans makt i radion

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.

Book Iron Kiruna LKAB Luleå

Gruvans makt – ny bok ute!

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…

Kiruna Michal Monika Music Researcher Sweden

History directed by the action: how is Organizing Rocks affecting my life?

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!

Kiruna LKAB Media

In the news

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).

Kiruna Luleå Storyteller

Storyteller #43 – building from-within

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.”

Cameco Canada Emily Kiruna LKAB Researcher Stuart

Engaged organization studies

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.

(Kirsch, 2018)

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:

  • “a commitment to mobilising anthropology for constructive interventions into politics”
  • “engaged anthropology is primarily concerned with the politics of participation
  • “the practice of engaged anthropology involves taking risks in how we conduct research and make use of ethnographic knowledge”
  • “anthropologists have more to contribute to the solution of these problems [social justice, environmental devastation, neocolonialism etc.] than their texts”
  • “It is the desire to both understand and actively respond to these issues that motivates anthropologists who pursue contemporary forms of engaged anthropology”
  • “engaged research lacks the certainty of more conventional forms of research in terms of guaranteeing academic outputs”
  • “advocacy can actually provide access to a wider range of interlocutors and facilitate participation in events”

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!):

  • Stuart, how do you (besides suggesting they should read your book) answer the type of critique we’ve mentioned above?
  • Knowing that you want to destabilise the dichotomy between academic and engaged forms of research, we still need to ask: Can basic (phenomenon-driven, no idea of a solution etc.) and engaged research be a happy marriage?
Article Kiruna

Organizing Rocks: Actor-Network Theory and Space

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.

Article Kiruna

Worth waiting (and working) for!

The paper on the Kiruna case has been accepted! On January 2, 2018, we submitted the paper to the scientific journal Organization. After a couple rounds of reviews and revisions we got an acceptance letter from the editor yesterday, February 27, 2019. It’s been worth waiting and working for. In a way, it’s the least conventional paper we’ve written and we really want the paper out-there to be picked up by you and/or other curious people. We’re also happy that Organization became the outlet.

When will the paper be available to read? Well, for those of you not familiar with the system, there is now a proof-reading and formatting process with the journal, and then it will be published ‘on-line first’, before it gets a dedicated issue of the journal to figure in. As our project is funded by a research council (Forte), in turn funded by tax payers’ money, we have a budget for paying for the paper to be ‘open access’ once on-line first. How long this process might take is difficult to say, but in the meantime we’ll release small ‘teasers’ on the blog.

Kiruna LKAB

Storyteller #38 – mining and migration

Mines tend to be located in remote regions, such as Kiruna (Malmfälten) and McArthur River (Northern Saskatchewan). Over time this has caused a core challenge for mining companies: how to enrol workers to these resource peripheries?

In Kiruna the first rocks were knocked loose in 1896 and once the mine started, workers from all over Sweden (and parts of Finland), many whom had spent years building the railway from Kiruna to Viktoriahamn (now Narvik), Norway, migrated to Kiruna to become miners. Around the mine the local community of Kiruna was built. Local reproduction of workers was crucial as there were scarce opportunities to do drive-in/drive-out or fly-in/fly-out!

Reflecting on this today, things are different – well, of course! But this particular phenomenon, the challenge of remoteness in getting access to workers to the mines, is of core interest to our project. Today, remoteness is not as serious a problem for a mining company, in this supposedly ‘old economy’, as commuting is much more feasible, work-schedules even accommodate it. This changes the company’s position visavis society, as local reproduction, and current ‘reserve army’, is not as crucial anymore. How much social engagement in the local community should the company invest in when many workers do not live there? After all, the main responsibility for LKAB and Cameco is to generate revenue to its owners. No? Cameco turned it around in MCA, ‘stay in your (non-mining based) local community and we’ll come get you’, but for LKAB in Kiruna, it is facing a depopulating local community once built entirely around the mine.

We’re writing about this at the moment in a forthcoming book (in Swedish) and we have it as bits and pieces in the two articles that we’re fighting to get accepted. What triggered this post, however, was yet another one of our many storytellers. Once upon a time people migrated to Kiruna, not anymore, or? Reading through some of the interviews again, one with a municipal officer in particular, it struck us that at the time of our empirical studies, the crisis in Syria started and unprecedented amounts of refugees came to Sweden. Some of them were also sent to Kiruna, to this depopulating, remote area in Sweden. While the municipality fought to negotiate the urban transformation of Kiruna with LKAB, where lack of housing was (is) a key concern due partly through commuters/contractors buying/borrowing real estate, and partly due to the mine ‘undermining’ the town (we’ve written about this in earlier posts), Syrian refugees stood at the train station, needing a place to stay, something to do. Kiruna also needs people if it is to combat depopulation, where some see refugees as an opportunity, but the mine does not need people (well, they lack some specialists, but the workforce is in general being reduced). Also, these people were not really migrants, but refugees – forced to leave since they are at risk staying in the home country, not strategically choosing Kiruna as a place to live, to be safe, or to come work at a mine. But still, here they are. As a municipal officer told us:

We have a situation with an [municipal] organization that is on its knees already before this [refugee crisis], with social welfare and the schools, all that goes on in the school world, with need of host families, with vulnerable children. All possible things, lack of teachers, lack of competence [staff with formal competence] at the social services, and then all of a sudden you are facing these things [the refugee crisis]. We don’t even have housing. It’s completely absurd. Ten, fifteen years ago we received money from the state to tear houses down. We could have used them now. But we got a hell of a lot of money to tear those houses down. Now we must start building houses and wherever we start planning, there are appeals against us to the dying days. Everybody wants houses but not next to me…

As we re-read more interviews, self-reflection leads to self-criticism: we didn’t ask about the refugee crisis further. Why didn’t we? What happened to the refugees? Did Kiruna and/or the mine managed to integrate some of them? We did not see them in the mine during our stay (then again we were not allowed inside the gates after November 2015) and we did not hear anybody talk about refugees getting work inside the gates. The mine, with all respect, seems to be an ‘white, predominately, male space’ (in our visits we could not spot any mine worker with other ethnicity, but among the cleaners some said there were). It might be the case that LKAB were helping out (with different resources), but it would be interesting to dig further into whether the company have an idea of viewing refugees as future miners.

Kiruna LKAB

A new living room

Besides the sheer physical presence of the mine, one of the first things that strike a visitor to Kiruna is its city hall, commonly referred to as Kiruna’s “living room”. The building is not only architecturally fascinating but also a salute to democracy – an incarnation of an open and transparent society. This building has now been closed and will be dismantled due to the expanding mine. A new living room has therefore been built and recently inaugurated.

The old city hall, without the clock tower.

In a way, the dismantling of the old city hall and the construction of the new one actualises the relations between business and society, both the dependencies and the tensions, the past and the future. One thing is certain, however: the town cannot be where the mine is.

Side by side, according to this banner.

Transformation, progress, future together, according to this banner.

The new city hall, 4 km east of the old one (and the mine).

The new living room.

The new living room.


Kiruna Supplier

Modular and movable – smart and sustainable?

We’re reading the magazine for the Euro Mine Expo 2018 in Skellefteå, Sweden, a fair and conference for the mining industry that just recently closed (we didn’t participate).

It’s always interesting to study what the industry itself considers to be salient issues and themes. The themes of the conference were innovation and business development, sustainability in action, and future outlook. Most of the magazine consists of ads of rather traditional character, pushing products and services with a technical jargon. One full-page ad on “modular space premises” stood out, however (see the picture heading this post). “The future is changing. Modular and movable”. Overall, our experiences echo this, and in a way it captures an important issue, and tension, in mining today, at least in the contexts of our project.

An industry highly tied to a particular place is changing its ‘spatial fix’, which, again, is one reason for why it is such an exciting industry to study. MCA in Saskatchewan has already broken the link between mine and (a nearby) community, which enables some people to stay in their local, small and remote communities in northern Saskatchewan. In Kiruna, however, the situation is different and the future seem less certain in terms of where the (decreasing) workforce can/will live.

Later in the ad it is concluded that modular space premises are “smart and sustainable”, but that is a debatable claim; a claim possible only within a more narrow win-win capitalist perspective. One important question to be asked and discussed: smart and sustainable, in what way, for whom?

Aboriginals Kiruna LKAB

Where mines are, the state is not?

Time to call out the Swedish state? We’re reminded of the role of the state when reading a three-part article series by Jonas Fröberg in one of the largest Swedish daily newspapers, Svenska Dagbladet (the articles are in Swedish).

The articles focus on conflicts around mines in the north (Kallak in Jokkmokk municipality is mentioned) between different stakeholders, particularly the Sami people and the mining companies, but predominantly zoom in on how the state has managed to postpone decisions where it has been expected to put the foot down, either siding with mining or the indigenous Sami people. Such decisions, it seems, are heavily sought for from both (or all) sides of the debated projects. Capital and people are eager to know (nature seems silent, vulnerable). 

In our Swedish case, the state is the owner of LKAB and has profit demands on the company, but it tends to claim that LKAB is just like any other company, somehow justifying a hands-off approach when it comes to interfering in the relationship between the company and its local stakeholders (the municipality, local Sami villages etc.).

We’ve written about the Sami people on the blog before so we briefly zoom on the state as an important stakeholder for the municipality; politically, financially and regulatory. During the project we’ve encountered people in Kiruna that definitely want to call out the state to be more visible, to step forward and take explicit stands. Some examples from our field work:

I can be totally honest [about moving the city], the state has almost abdicated from the question. (ombudsman, local union)

LKAB is pretty good at lobbying the state, and work in different ways with this. We have never, for example, had the Swedish Prime Minister to visit us publicly in Kiruna. They went by, by bus, one time. Fredrik Reinfeldt [former Prime Minister], he went straight down to LKAB. (local politician)

One illustrative quote that we also used in our art exhibitions of the project:

If they could, they would’ve moved that God damn mine to Stockholm. (worker, above ground)


Mining and Death

Death is always present, explicitly so for people in war zones, civic unrest, starvation etc. How about death and work? For undertakers and professionals in palliative care, for example, death is highly present, but for most of us at work, the presence of death is more shady. It might be in the back of our minds, in a story over-heard in the coffee room, in an e-mail from the boss that a colleague we didn’t know has passed away. How is death present for mine workers?

We might say Death is lurking and occasionally pays a visit. Death tolls are very low in the Kiruna mine (the latest lethal incident in 2008, if we recall correctly) and there’s been real improvements over the years, but some parts of some jobs are still very risky. Many of those we speak with have stories to tell about accidents and incidents, sometimes how they or a colleague escaped death. They have mental, and some also physical, scars.

Analyzing this a bit ‘on the fly’, mining and death are salient through:

  • Rituals: saying farewell after a week’s shift by saluting that “we’ve survived yet another week”.
  • Togetherness: saying hi to familiar faces (but not necessarily familiar persons) in town
  • Superstition: there are restless souls “walking in the mine” (ghosts, spirits).
  • Humor: with a twinkle in the eye, “what can we do, we have to go work”.

In hindsight, however, as we’re done collecting empirical material, it occurs to us that during our many conversations with miners we never asked explicitly about death. Why? It also occur to us that it is rather strange that we did not talk to representatives of the Swedish church in Kiruna, as an organization in Kiruna with a significant role and impact, spiritually of course, but also symbolically. Why?

One simple, tentative and without-any-excuses answer is that in our rather open ethnography, nobody pointed us in such a direction.

Kiruna Storyteller Worker

Storyteller #37 – view of the mine growing up

This storyteller, born and raised in Kiruna, working as “Summerbird”, reflects on the image of the mine when growing up (the image heading the post is by artist Magnus Fredriksson).

It has been a very romanticized picture of the mine. The pride of working there. It was quite … It was awesome when you were a child, I remember going outside the gate, waiting for Dad to finish [work], and then Mom came and picked him up. So you thought: there is where I’d like to work. But you also got to hear this: ‘The dream factory’. Work is not that hard, a lot of money for not much work, and so on. So that’s what you could hear.