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!
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:
Stuart, how do you (besides suggesting they should read your book) answer the type of critique we’ve mentioned above?
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:
not robust enough,
lacking symmetry [in its treatment of] different actors,
not levelling stakeholders on equal footing
more activism than science etc.
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:
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?
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!
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:
“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?
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.
We are eager to share our paper on the Canadian case with you, but the paper is dividing reviewers, and editors have so far gone with the more critical one. It is a bit frustrating. Below you’ll find an extract from the last reject of the paper, with a focus on what the two reviewers think about our case study:
Reviewer 1 (inviting ‘revise and resubmit’ where we must re-work how we theorize the case):
This is a well written paper and presents a fascinating and engaging case analysis of a Uranium mine in the far North of Canada. The empirical material is brilliantly captured to present a nuanced analysis of the intersections of class, ethnicity, geography and the overlapping of workplace culture and wider social divisions. It is certainly worth publishing this empirical material and this would be a great case for teaching, as well as for future research, on the extractive industries, cultural identity at work, shift-working, and social divisions within the workplace.
Reviewer 2 (advocating a reject of the paper):
The Methodology section was very hard to read and it did not give a strong sense of the paper’s purpose. Despite the author(s) tried to explain the rational for the selection of the study samples, the information presented was less focused, and all the information was mixed together. The author(s) may wish to consider employing appropriate headings in order to better outline the structure of this section.
More specifically, the reader needs a great deal more information regarding the format and details of your analysis, as well as justification for the selection of informants. In addition, a more detailed description of the analysis of the interviews is needed. For example, interview protocol: Was there an interview protocol? Who conducted these interviews, several researchers, only one, different in the interviews? When were the interviews conducted? Were the respondents provided the questions before hand? Please provide a step by step protocol covering all aspects of the interviewing process.
Transcriptions: How were the digital recordings transcribed? How were the transcriptions verified and checked for errors? Who did this?
For example, who coded and analyzed the data? Was there just one coder, or were there multiple coders? If there were multiple coders, how was inter-coder reliability addressed? Did the author(s) leave an audit trail?
Data analysis: How was data analyzed, software or manually? In either case provide how the results were evaluated based on prior codes and categories? Were any other codes identified for the assessment? If not, how was the data categorized to evaluate across respondents?
I strongly recommend the authors read books or papers on qualitative research, particularly the chapter on trustworthiness in qualitative research. I think it might be helpful in providing fodder for your methodology section. Addressing these issues may also then provide a framework by which you can justify/clarify your informant selection.
The editor concludes:
The manuscript is far from being ready to be published in its current form, as you can see from the reviewers comments below. It is not possible for me to ask you to do major revisions, as I have had great difficulties finding reviewers. Three reviewers agreed to review the manuscript, but only two has delivered so far, and I could not wait for the last one to deliver as I have been unable to get in contact with the person again. Of the two remaining reviewers, only one is willing to continue to review the manuscript. To put it simply, it is not possible to let you revise the paper under this submission.
A decision letter from the editor, handling our Canadian case-based paper, had a ‘reject’ in it, but also comments from two reviewers (none from the editor).
After a first reading, some of the comments seem very helpful (must say, though, we are not our best us when reading comments in a reject for the first time; they sort of have to sink in): choices/re-choices we probably must make, readings we probably should engage in, nuances leading the reader the wrong way that must be changed etc.
However, we couldn’t also help feeling that we were not really read for who we were claiming to be, feeling a bit like lost miners. If allowed:
Scene 1: The feeling when submitting the paper – we have drilled and blasted, created cavities, and a lot of waste for sure, but managed to sort out and crush (it’s a metaphor, remember) that high-qualitive material that could be sent up to the Dream factory above ground where the findings in the shape of a small but genius little pellet was produced and sent away through the electronic manuscript submission system, a pellet that beyond any doubt would change contemporary thinking about the world of work in mining.
Scene 2: The feeling when receiving reviews and the reject – we drilled and blasted in the wrong area, the cavities were apparently created two hundred meters to the side of where we blasted (and didn’t appear until recently), for some reason we managed to sort out and crush mostly waste, not iron ore, though we did send the crushed waste to the Dream factory okay (hey, high-five!), where the pellet produced in the end was more un-shaped than round, way too porous for others to handle, fell apart too easily when put under pressure, way too light to carry any weight.
Scene 3: The feeling when getting back into re-writing the paper – unknown, to be written, we’re now on vacation.
Framing scenes 1 and 2 in a song, but not one of our own, we quote two verses from the seven dwarfs and their mining song “Heigh-ho” (from the movie Snow White and the 7 dwarfs), where the end of the second got us a bit hooked:
We dig dig dig dig dig dig dig in our mine the whole day through
To dig dig dig dig dig dig dig is what we really like to do
It ain’t no trick to get rich quick
If you dig dig dig with a shovel or a pick
In a mine! In a mine! In a mine! In a mine!
Where a million diamonds shine!
We dig dig dig dig dig dig dig from early morn till night
We dig dig dig dig dig dig dig up everything in sight
We dig up diamonds by the score
A thousand rubies, sometimes more
But we don’t know what we dig ’em for
We dig dig dig a-dig dig
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.
Again, this is a post more towards fellow academics, but with some relevance for the ‘universe’ outside academia as well.
We just got a decision from the scientific journal Work, Employment & Society that our qualitative paper on the Canadian case was not sent out for review, a so-called desk reject. This is not the first time it has happened to us(!), but it always brings out the bad-loosers in us. Then things usually calm down and we re-work and submit it to another journal. Sometimes this ‘cycle’ takes years, which is also where the practical relevance comes in: it is very tempting to just publish the paper here on the blog so it is up to all of you to decide its relevance and usefulness. Maybe we’ll do this eventually.
Why was the paper rejected then? Here is the letter-from-the-editor in full (anonymized):
Thank you for submitting the above manuscript for consideration in Work, Employment and Society, which I read with interest. I have decided not send it out for review, and will set out my reasons for this.
This is a well written paper about a an interesting topic. You have located it well in the sociological context and in terms of current debates, and no doubt the research will at some point form the basis of a good paper.
However, there is a significant problem with your methodology, insofar as it can be understood from your paper. Firstly, I was unclear as to how many interviews had been conducted, with the demographic profile of the participants, and with the form of the interviews. It was not clear how interviewees were selected, nor what the ‘meetings’ constituted, nor whether interviews with contractors were recorded.
Secondly, interviews with ‘people’ at the mine were described as informal and therefore not recorded, although the sentence setting this out appears to contradict itself on this point. If these were miners, as distinct from managers and administrators, we need to know if they were invited to participate in interviews and declined. More generally, we need to know whether participants gave any sort of informed consent to the use of their words, and whether the quotations used were from transcriptions or from the notes you say were made shortly after the informal conversations.
These are important points, and as it stands the lack of clarity regarding methods means that the paper is not suitable for publication in WES.
There is clearly useful material in your research, and I would encourage you to address these points in preparing a paper which is closer to being in a publishable form, whether in another sociological journal or in one dealing with industrial relations or human resource management.
I am sorry not to be the conveyors of better news, and wish you well with redrafting the paper for submission elsewhere.
Our view is that these objections/questions can be viewed as fair (and highly manageable) reviewer comments, but not grounds for a desk reject. We looked forward to a discussion on the actual substance of the paper, its ideas and contributions, but missed this opportunity, based on objections/questions more on form than on content.
“You are meters, you are tonnes”, sings Johan Airijoki, singer-songwriter from Gällivare, Malmfälten (in Swedish). Among the key performance indicators that miners speaks to us about, we find that those two are rather salient: how many meters advanced as new tunnels are made (drifting) and how many tonnes of ore are loaded on your shift. In short: “You are meters, you are tonnes”.
Kiruna is part of the region called Malmfälten (in direct translation “the fields of ore”), so it is not really a secret what is commonly seen as fueling the region: mining. Another answer, however, might be: art. Whether it is the mining industry, the harshness and striking beauty of the landscape, the long Winters, the heat in the sauna, the never ending nights (and mosquitos) during Summers, the people, or all of the above, this region has over time produced great art and this also drives the region.
Just recently, Kiruna became the place for the new county art hall, previously in Luleå. In Kiruna, the town hall has always also been an impressive exhibition of art for all visitors to see, apparent now as it is being dismantled along with the art collection (which will travel to the new town hall). Previously, we have told about our collaboration with local Kiruna artist Magnus Fredriksson (see our posts from our art exhibitions, of which Magnus has played a key part, click here for his webpage) and how his art (mainly animations) make use of the local culture and landscape. In our project he took some of the metaphors of the mine and the company and translated them into paintings that not only captured the particular metaphor, but also triggered the imagination further. You are meters, you are tonnes, sometimes the workers underground are spoken of as being at ‘the front’. Magnus took the metaphor to a trench in one of the great wars, with warplanes flying above miners drinking coffee. Of course, the great wars are not an unsensitive issue for the company and for Malmfälten. Iron ore was in high demand. In another painting, the metaphor of the company as a Mother was illustrated, with a naked white woman with three pairs of bare breasts, rolling in on a hamburger-bed, breastfeeding a whole choir of people through an arrangement reminding of gear used when milking cows. In a third painting, of the metaphor of the Dream factory, the factory turns zoo-animals into rainbowcolored mince…
It’s like: you had me at ‘Hello’. We cannot stop looking, and thinking.
We are continuously getting to know other local artists. Unsurprisingly, they not only give us a better feel for the place and the people, but they also many times seem more effective then us in ‘capturing’ labour and power-related issues that we see, hear and feel, and tear the few hairs on our heads to digest, understand and express.
We’re writing a paper on the Kiruna case. We’ve been going at it for quite some time and although we’re nudging it forward, we never seem to remember that each paper is a quagmire.
And, as soon as we’re writing, we don’t blog. Why? Because you wouldn’t be interested in the writing process perhaps. Or perhaps we don’t know how to write about our own writing process…
One try: we start with an original idea (from our point of view), carefully drafted, and planned out on a hand-sketched piece of paper. Then, off we go to writing! But then, always, a quagmire and a computer hard drive full of ‘previous versions’. It is as if nothing good could come out of a smooth and rational writing process, and that we never seem to learn and just surrender to this fact. Writing is art, writing is struggle, writing is never smooth, writing is pain and pleasure, and it always, always, always becomes something else!
We could probably apply the same conceptual and methodological ideas going in to the paper on the Kiruna case (inspired by some writings on Actor-Network Theory) on our own writing process. The paper, this singular paper, to paraphrase Annemarie Mol (2002), will be more than one but less than many, full of difference but in some way or another it hangs together.
Present state of the paper: version 27, and counting. We’ll be back.
Yesterday we opened the exhibition of the project at the city library in Luleå. Colleagues, friends and strangers made it through our photos, videos, sounds, music and texts, as well as Magnus Fredriksson’s artwork. We’re very happy to be able to have this interaction with people and hope many more find their way to the library during the remained of September (we close the exhibition on Sep 30).
A friend and colleague to us, professor Rickard Garvare, took some wonderful photos, which he has allowed us to share on our site:
Blogupdates have been less frequent during the last couple of months. We believe its because we’re in the writing-up phase. It’s not easy to invite you to the analytical mess we’re in. But on the other hand, that’s probably the reason why we should share more.
We’re conceptually tearing our hair (oh well, we’re both almost bold), sometimes splitting hairs, around the concepts of space and time. In the application for Organizing rocks, as sources of inspiration, we cited the work on “action nets” by Barbara Czarniawska, but we haven’t really returned to this concept during our empirical endeavors. Since a couple of months back, we’re digging into it and are finding ourselves back into the actor-network theory literature.
In 1999, we took a doctoral course together that introduced us to this literature. Johan used it lightly in his dissertation while Tommy went deeper and developed part of this literature in his dissertation. He also ended up spending a year at the sociology department (with John Law, a main contributor to ANT) in Lancaster, UK. Together, we’ve since then also written two articles on codes of ethics with ANT as main body of reference (also co-authored with Sven Helin). So, here we go again, older and wiser, we thought…
Nah, if it is one thing that the ANT-literature manages well, it is to simultaneously inspire and confuse the reader. There is a mixed feeling of ‘there is something here’ and ‘what the h-ll do they mean?’ How about (our constructions): a ‘flat mine in fire space’ or a ‘mine as a mutable mobile in fluid space’? Czarniawska’s writings help out to some extent here, predominantly because she develops her own ‘dialect’ of ANT that is useful to organising studies. We must follow her in that ambition, although our ethnography of the Kiruna mine in particular also challenges her previous ANT-inspired theorising on space-time. Which is good of course, it’s how it should be!
The picture heading this post is of the Hjalmar Lundbohm house, part of the area that at the time of writing is moved to another location in Kiruna due to the expanding mine. In the background, you’ll see the famous clock at the city hall. This clock is also being dismantled and moved to the new city centre.
Our logbook has been updated. And by the way, Tommy has released a solo album in Swedish with some of songs also relevant to Organizing rocks. Click here to listen to it on Spotify.