Kiruna LKAB Storyteller Supplier

Storyteller #12 – “when the company sneezes…

…the whole town gets a cold.” This is an old saying, repeated to us by storyteller #12, working for a contractor to the Company, LKAB.

– You use to say that when LKAB sneezes, the whole town gets a cold, so in these more difficult times we’re also influenced. We’ve had to lower our prices and all contractors have been summoned to LKAB to lower their prices.

– Yes, we’ve heard about this and even read about it in the media.

– Yes, it’s widely known.

– How are they in the negotiations then?

– It’s our owners (of the contractor) who are involved in that, I’m not part of it, but it’s surely a matter of give-and-take. It’s obvious that LKAB reads our annual accounts so maybe they draw their conclusions. We must also make money in order to develop so…

– So they can check your profit margins?

– Yes, absolutely, I believe they do, and through that they can say that ‘you could reduce this amount’. I think they do this, they are smart.

Book Nature Researcher Review Union Worker

Undermining gender

Johan has read “Mining coal and undermining gender: rhythms of work and family in the American west” by Jessica Smith Rolston (Rutgers University Press, 2014). Here are some of his reflections:

At the outset of our project we knew that gender would play an important role, particularly given the history and context of the Kiruna mine (also for the Saskatchewan-case). There’s almost a mythology around the miner, a man of few words, with strong hands and a will to take risks in order to get the job done. For sure, many other mining areas share a similar myth. On occasions, we’ve also experienced stories and instances in Kiruna where this myth is reproduced, but the most common example is some sort of ‘light’ version of it, mixed up with more modern discourses on gender, equality and work environment. A lot has also happened since ‘men of high statue’ “founded” the mine in the late 1890s, but there is still a long way to go, as shown by Eira Andersson in her dissertation “Malmens manliga mysterium” (in Swedish, title translated: “The ore’s male mystery”, from 2012; see also the video-interview on gender and mining with professor Lena Abrahamsson on this blog from February 9, this year).

Reading Smith Rolston’s book gave a new dimension to gender and mining. Her in-depth ethnographic study of the coal mines in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin (the largest coal producer in the US) gives a contextual feel for, and a nuanced, almost positive, perspective on how gender is done and undone in the mines. I won’t attempt to cover the entire book here (visit her work-page to access references to her work and reviews of the book), but to share some of the thoughts, hopefully giving you reasons to pick up your own copy of the book!

The context, oh the context, it cannot be emphasised enough: it’s always important to ground studies in context. This book makes an excellent case of this. Gender is performed differently in this particular context (as compared for instance with the Appalachian mines, a recurrent comparative case in the book; in Sweden, we often direct our comparisons to Brazilian mines and, not surprisingly, we look quite good). Between 20-25% of those working in the Wyoming mines are women (this is higher than in any Swedish mine!) and this has been the case since the start of the mines in the late 1970s, partly explained by the region’s agrarian history and cultural context where both men, women and youth worked in the fields (making the person asking the question ‘why couldn’t a woman be a miner?’ look rather stupid – of course they can!). Several matters addressed throughout the book are recognisable in our studies, albeit with some contextual differences: great examples on how bodies matter in a gendered labour process (urinating, menstruation etc.), the rotation schedule and the context of work matter for the family-strong bonds created at work and the juggling act between work and home, being a non-unionised site matter for the relation between workers and workers-managers, enabling well-paid but low education jobs (“blue-collar aristocracy”) matters for the providing of family and for creating the opportunities for the kids to attend university (and thereby avoid ending up in the mines), and much more. I also like the emphasis in the book on how the miners talk to each other, how it matters in order to understand gender performances (the jargong and particularly the humor). One thing I missed was a more elaborative discussion on how career and recruitment were played out in practice, how gender was performed related to these issues.

Focusing on the method, the author has close ties to the worksites, the homes and the people, and, hence, to the phenomenon she is researching. It’s an inspiring ‘native ethnography’, making me think of the four days and three nights I spent at the McArthur River uranium mine in Saskatchewan. I left with the feeling of only scratching the surface of ‘what’s going here’, writing the lyrics for our song “Wolfpack” (on our Production album) on my trip back home. Reading Smith Rolston shows the benefits (as well as some of the challenges) from truly engaging with the field, even when it includes family.

Her father works in the mines she’s studying and she has also worked their during Summer, later spending a lot of time on site as a researcher. Epistemologically, the way she approaches the phenomenon is very interesting, enrolling all senses, on site, in order to understand gender performances. The empirical material is unique, giving me a feeling throughout the book of getting to know the people, their work-ethic, work culture, and how they balance work and family with a tough rotation schedule. This approach also create strong bonds with several of the persons studied. The author mentions that this creates a responsibility of not jeopardising their trust by painting outsiders (such as me) “negative portrayals” of the miners (which seems to be a common type of portrayal in the US according to the author; I think of a fiction book I read last year where this is the case, on Appalachian coal mining, “Grey mountain”, by John Grisham). This is an issue of representation, of how to communicate findings from the study that are scientifically interesting and relevant, while not necessarily being in agreement with, or seen as positive by, those studied. This balancing act goes on throughout the book and although the author is very transparent about it, I’d sometimes liked to have seen a more front-loaded treatment of issues-with-friction.

A feeling that occasionally came back throughout my reading was that although particular performances of “gender neutrality” could be argued, some of these nevertheless took place on an already gendered stage (there’s no “ungendered” space). In lack of better words, this meta-level of analysis could have played a more important role in some sections. I also lacked a more thorough treatment of the wider context, missing a deeper analyses beyond the local context, on the overall market context for the coal mining and how this is perceived by the miners. This also goes for the growing importance of sustainability issues, particularly the climate change debate and the role of coal in the work towards sustainability. It’s understandable that locals focus on the local context and natural environment, and that they take good care of it, loving their outdoors, but I imagine that they also have thought about, for example, climate change related to their work and off-work life. That is, just as much as I enjoyed reading about how the miners reflected on how people outside the area didn’t understand the importance of the coal mines for the supply of electricity in the US (a miner is quoted: “Half of every lightbulb in the U.S. is lit by coal… but a lot of people can’t think behind the wall”, p 31), I miss how they in turn reflected on how their idea of how work and place matter when focusing on how mining coal also risk undermining other places and people (past and future).

Kiruna LKAB Storyteller Worker

Storyteller #10 – education and a good salary

Storyteller #10 is a young person working under ground, educated through the LKAB program at the gymnasial level.

– How did you get into the mine?

– I went to the LKAB gymnasium (a specific program at the local gymnasium in Kiruna) and then you automatically get an internship during Summer, and sometimes I continued (working) during Summers. When I graduated I ended up under ground.

[talk about the content of the education]


– Why did you choose it (the LKAB program)?

– I didn’t know what I wanted to take and then it was like, take the LK program and then you’ll get a good job, good pay, it’s easier to get it. Almost all from my class have got a job at LK if they wanted to and the pay is good.

– Is it better under ground?

– Under ground you have an under ground addition and a miner addition (to your salary), and shorter days, so it’s better. But then you have the mountain above your head, so it’s what you…

[later we come back to the role of education and the good pay]


– Your friends, the ones you socialise with after work, do they also work at LKAB?

– Some.

– Not all of them?

– The ones I went to class with.

– Okay.

– They still work at LK. But then there are many who are kindergarten teachers, in health care, cashiers and so on.

– Do you talk about the mine when you socialise?

– It has a lot to do with my salary, it’s a big topic of conversation.

– In what way?

– It’s like I can afford everything, a lot about that, money interferes pretty much I think, that they (LKAB) pay well but not ‘down town’ (for other organisations) and still you work similar times and struggle just as much but…

– What do you say (to them) then?

– Well, it’s like, I usually say that you also should have taken the LKAB program.

Kiruna LKAB Storyteller Supplier

Storyteller #8 – contractors

Storyteller #8 is a man, working above ground, a white collar. This story is about the role of contractors.

– I’d say that the majority of the jobs (done by contractors) are done by local companies. If you look at international companies, they have a relatively small share, particularly if you compare with geographical areas that are closer to the rest of Europe. It’s pretty far up to Kiruna or Malmberget, which means that we don’t have the same global market. So, the majority is made up of local companies, then there’s a small, small share of international companies.

– Could you say that many of them… used to be employed by the Company, or? Maybe you don’t track this…

– Yes, but it’s both, it’s both companies that have always worked here, they’ve always had their own companies. Before we used to have more functions in-house but during a period now we’ve outsourced and during that time, maybe it was more that you said to those skilled people, that ‘couldn’t you start this company’…

– Okay, so we could hire you?

– Yes, it was probably a bit like that. […]

– I’m thinking, that much I’ve understood, that there’s a very strong faith in the Company, that it carries Kiruna in a way. Does that mentality exist among the contractors, that it is the Company that should fix it, that should pay the bill? Do you understand what I mean? It’s a kind of patron mentality. If something happens, the Company will come in and fix it.

– Yes, that’s the case. It (the Company) is a very important customer to a lot of contractors, that’s how it is. From history you also know that when times are worse, it’s the contractors that go first. You protect the own staff over everything else.

Book Researcher Review

Spatial divisions of labour

We think that it is always of great interest to read a so-called classic book. Doreen Massey’s book Spatial Divisions of Labour (social structures and the geography of production) is definitely a social science classic and a relevant one for our project (Palgrave, second edition, 1984/1995). In Tommy’s words:

Massey is for me a rather demanding author; not that the language is tricky, nor the analysis exceptionally complicated. The demanding part is that she, quite frankly, writes rather boringly. But this is of course just a shallow complaint from a reader that is too easily bored. From (finally) reading this book, I take away quite a few gems (you have to discover yourself) and a clearer understanding in what way this intellectual person affected the academic discussion and ways in which to understand capital and capital accumulation and how capitalism ‘works’ with geography and how geography affects capitalism. More specific, I also learned more about economic uneven development, conceptualization of place and time, and also gendered spatial division of labour.

My favorite quote from the book is: “The motif of all these arguments, and one which is repeated in various forms throughout this book, is that the ‘the requirements of accumulation do not arrive raw at the factory gate’.” (p. 309)

Kiruna LKAB Management Union Worker

Different stories about the collective

Early on in the project we talked to workers and managers that had worked at the Kiruna mine for a long time. Among the topics discussed was whether or not there is a worker collective today; in a deeper sense than in terms of union membership. A collective who can collectively agree that they have had enough and from that act in unison.

At the time the story we heard (thus interpreted) was a story that sung along the chords of individualism; young people today are more individualistic, want to earn good money and go do fun things in their leisure time. They want pleasure, which does not rule out that they can work hard, it means that they have individual life expectations on and off work.

Recently, however, we’ve come across another tune. The experienced workers we’ve met recently counter this view, arguing that if pressed, there is still a very strong collective, comparable to the generation of 1969 (the famous Kiruna strike). One reason for this shift in tune and song might stem from the fact that the present time is precarious. The iron ore market are down, focus is on cost reductions (from expansion to defense), efficiency seeking re-organization, lay-offs etc. This implies increasing pressure on workers and what we may hear is actually the first signs of that enough is enough.

Aboriginals Kiruna LKAB Union

Meeting Sami people

What is so obvious in the labor process in the uranium mine in Saskatchewan – the integration of indigenous people – is less so in the Kiruna case. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the Sami people in and around Kiruna aren’t drawn into and affected by the labour process in the Kiruna mine. We think of the picture heading this post, the LKAB moose and the reindeer, and the relation in-between.

An empirical blindspot in our Swedish case study so far is that we haven’t approached representatives of the Sami people. It’s something that we planned, and initially has started, but not yet really executed. One reason for this is that they are not explicitly drawn into the labor process by LKAB or the unions (they’re there, but not addressed). One reason for this implicitness is that the Sami people don’t have to be addressed as a people with rights to their land by LKAB or any other mining company as these rights do not exist. The Sami people stand in a very weak power position. Times might be a changing, however, given the Girjas’ case and the Kallak case (not cases tied to the Kiruna mine).

During the last weeks, we’ve started a movement from the outside-in, in which we’ve had the chance and privilege to speak to two leading Sami representatives. It’s rather obvious, we should have done this earlier. Why? It provides a very different perspective on the mine, work, power, nature, consumption, society etc. From our reading of, for example, post colonial theory and anthropology and from our initial encounters with Sami people indicate that the Swedish context does not stand out in terms of indigenous people – there are different ontologies about development, colonial history and the relation between humans and nature, and with regards to financial and legal power asymmetries. The two last aspects – financial and legal power asymmetries – are rather surprising, however. We’ve read case studies about mining in so-called failed states and developing countries, and we have our own comparative study in a very comparable society, Canada. What strikes us is that the legal rights for indigenous people in many cases are much stronger than in Sweden (and there are often contractual arrangements providing economic compensation to them), rights that also provide a platform from which a resistance can be built (but it is also a source for internal conflict among indigenous people). A bit paradoxical perhaps, countries with weak institutions also seem to provide a context in which resistance from indigenous people can grow much more explicit.

In Sweden, indigenous people live with strong state institutions, weak legal rights and financial shortages. We’re not saying that the Sami people are facing worse conditions than indigenous people in failed states and developing countries, not at all; we merely claim that the Sami people, embedded as they are in a highly secular, modern and rich country face real obstacles when trying to claim what they (and many others) see as their rights.

But, conceptual thinking and academic reasoning are not enough; it might be a good start, but it remains for us to meet more Sami people drawn into the Kiruna mine, and to listen, to try to better understand.


Iron Kiruna LKAB Luleå Management Media Politician

Annual meeting

Yesterday, Johan attended LKAB:s annual meeting in Luleå, Sweden. It was an interesting, maybe even odd, experience (see a picture gallery further down).

A lot of suits, difficult to know how many attended, maybe 50 people. I feel rather alone in my hoodie (or bunny-hug as they say in Saskatchewan). Besides top management and board members of LKAB, the Swedish Minister of Industry, Mikael Damberg, was there, our national superstar Charlotte Kalla (cross-country skier, sponsored by LKAB), all the relevant media (state television and radio, local newspapers), the Mayor of Kiruna, the former Governor of Norrbotten etc.

Except for a few of those present, we’re there to watch and listen. This is a ceremony, a staged performance. LKAB has 700 000 stocks and all of them are owned by the Swedish state. The annual meeting, that is, is a dialogue between two persons, the chairman of the board (also elected as the chairman of the meeting) and a young man sent by the state. This creates an almost comical situation. Even the chairman couldn’t help smile once in a while. The chairman says: “Can the meeting approve of the agenda?” The young man from the state says: “Yes”. He’s the state, the meeting, the people. A company owned by us the people, channeled through this one person. It’s a very apparent case of the Leviathan (as in the state, and also as in all LKAB:s mines) being represented and translated by individuals (as in Alex Golub’s Leviathans at the gold mine, 2014).

Three keynotes are delivered, one by the chairman, one by the new CEO, and one by the Minister of Industry. With a special eye to Kiruna, our case, the chairman mentions the process of moving parts of Kiruna and about the company’s “extended role” (I interpret it as the company is not only a mining company, but also city planner and a construction company). The CEO also mentions Kiruna, but it has more to do with troubles with the works (one “bärring” had to be replaced) and with some of the shafts. This led to the value of the assets in Kiruna being written off with 7 billion Swedish crowns. It is also mentioned that given the troubles of getting the stone up from the Kiruna mine, the open pit iron ore mines in Svappavaara (about 60 km from Kiruna) will feed the Kiruna mine with goods, thereby being explicitly drawn into the labor process of the Kiruna mine.

Once the official meeting is over, there is no invitation for questions, but the head of communication interviews Charlotte Kalla on stage and two awards are handed out, one to a women floorball team in Kiruna/Pajala and one to an artist from Koskullskulle. They get 50000 Swedish crowns each. Then there are hors-d’œuvre and mingle time. I get to meet some old acquaintances.

Photos by Johan Sandström:

Kiruna LKAB Management Music

End of the road? Part 4

We’re not allowed anymore to go inside the gates in Kiruna, to meet workers and managers during their work-time. This is the message from both LKAB:s top management and the chairman of the board, a message that is unfortunate for the project but that we, of course, will respect. The song “Outside the Gates” is an emotional response to this decision, but as the first line goes: “This is not an unhappy song!”

Below you find the lyrics and the audio file, but first we briefly summarize the arguments put forth by different parties that led to the decision:

From top management
The project is not sanctioned by LKAB.
The project is not aligned with the company’s goals and strategies.
We have tricked ourselves inside the gates by approaching lower-level managers.

The board of the company
Agrees with top management.
Don’t see why a state-owned company should have any special demands for transparency, for accommodating basic research. On the contrary, we are told that LKAB is just like any other company, competing on the market.

Our view
It’s basic research, which is why we cannot allow it to be controlled by anyone.
We meet, and have responsibility for, individuals; not artificial bodies such as corporations (or other organizations).
We’re not studying the company, but the labor process (that involves several other organizations).
Top management simply don’t like the project.

Click below for the audio file with the song (lyrics below; you might have to reload the page for the file to show):

Outside the gates – again (black piano keys and pouring rain)

Lyrics and music: Tommy Jensen
Piano, keyboards, vocals: Tommy Jensen

Backing vocals: Alica Minina

This is not an unhappy song
Don’t think twice about that
Just because it’s in a minor key
And dressed-up in lo-fi style

It is a realistic song, yet somewhat hard
Hard to beat, hard to accept
But that’s part of the messiness in research

This is not a blame and shame song
Don’t think twice about that
Just because it is about relational breakdown
And oozing of how corporate power interferes

It is a personal song, about failed dialogues
Hard to beat, hard to accept
Human interaction matter

Outside the gates we struggle where to go next
Outside the gates it feels as the project disappeared
Inside our minds we have to adapt
Inside our minds we have to overcome
What has now become a radically different endeavor
Calls for the “science of muddling through”
But what says that this is bad and disappointing?
Maybe there are other gates to be entered

This is not a complaint song
Don’t think twice about that
Just because it is mellow and slow
And sung with a low voice and hunged head

It is a hopeful song, full of promises
Hard to beat, hard to accept
Yet breakdowns
Leads to new questions

Aboriginals Book Nature Researcher Review Stuart

Mining capitalism

We’re reflecting on the book Mining capitalism (University of California Press, 2014) by Stuart Kirsch, professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan.

We’ve mentioned this book before, but thought we’d dedicate a post on why we see it as relevant and useful to Organizing rocks. First of all, it’s a very encompassing book, targeting the relationship between corporations and their critics, between capitalist modes of production and critics of it, a dialectical relation that “can never be completely resolved; they can only be renegotiated in new forms” (p 3). Kirsch’s main research focus is how corporations “counteract the discourse and strategies of their critics” (p 3), and vice versa, our reading tells us. The book, and the main case in the book, is based on “more than two decades of ethnographic research and participation in the indigenous political movement that challenged the environmental impact of the Ok Tedi copper and gold mine in Papua New Guinea” (p 9).

Kirsch states that as the mining industry traditionally hasn’t been involved in consumer politics (not a consumer product), it rather recently has had to engage in public relations (PR) and communication, where the Ok Tedi case constitutes a pioneering case. It’s now common that mining companies have elaborate strategies for targeting their critics and for their need to achieve or keep a social license to operate mines (the quest for legitimacy).

Kirsch outlines two different strategies, the politics of space and the politics of time. The politics of space is used to deal with how indigenous people and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) organize in “transnational action networks” (p 2) and how this enables them to “replicate the geographic distribution of capital by putting pressure on the corporation wherever it operates” (p 3; p 53). Global, boundary-crossing corporations (and their use of the politics of space) are today matched by global, boundary-crossing NGOs. The politics of time is used to deal with “the means by which elites extend their power over the body politic through their control over the social construction of time” (p 191). We think particularly of the sunk costs and inertia permeating mining projects. Once started, they are usually very difficult to challenge; talk about a rock solid path dependency! Or? It’s of course not carved in stone, solids (usually) leak and risk becoming something else (e.g. a mine turns into an environmental problem in the presence and future, a mine turns into a turist attraction, etc.). This makes Kirsch conclude that focusing on the time before a mine is opened is a more hopeful strategy when aiming to prevent environmental harm. This is also a debate that has emerged in Sweden rather recently.

Kirsch’s chapter on “Corporate science” speaks very well to our project. It compares the tobacco, petroleum, pharmaceutical and mining industries in their approach to scientific research. In order to handle corporate critics, PR alone doesn’t seem to get the job done. Corporations also need to enroll science in their quest for legitimacy and continued exploration. Kirsch finds strong similarities among the industries in how they increasingly permeate the directions and contents of university research, enhancing the risk of uncritical science and co-opted scientists. Kirsch even argues that this might be intrinsic to contemporary capitalism. Among the examples he cites to support his analysis, we can also add the International Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility at Nottingham University, UK, being launched with 3,8 million British pounds from the tobacco industry (click here, and see bottom of page 2). This is also an example of how industry increasingly has taken over the promotion of the CSR discourse from their critics, ending up with a weak version of sustainability, at best, often filled with oxymoron’s such as ‘clean coal’ (mentioned by Kirsch) and ‘green pellets’ (iron ore, as in our study).

A highly relevant aspect in Kirsch’s book, for Organizing rocks, is the focus on different power asymmetries. Indigenous people and NGOs are usually not in a position to offer 3,8 million British pounds to ‘independent’ researchers and institutions, or mount an impressive staff of litigators to manage a legal conflict on mining. These are not only asymmetries in financial and legal muscles, but perhaps more importantly in knowledge and in which discourses conflicts are supposedly decided. For example, for indigenous people to use their own discourse on the environment in conflicts with mining corporations runs smack into the rational, scientific discourse and the judicial discourse inherent in court rooms. On power and knowledge, asymmetries on the environmental, social and economic consequences of mining are what seem to motivate Kirsch’s engagement in the Ok Tedi case, working more on the side of the locals, of those affected. Which information did the locals get, which did they not get, and how could they interpret and make sense of it? We see similar asymmetries in the Swedish case, where, for example, neither the municipality of Kiruna or the Sami villages have an expert in geology and is therefore in the hands of the information the mining company, LKAB, gives.

Hovering over the conflicts between corporations and their critics is the role of the state(s), and it’s a complex and complicated ‘body’. The state often have multiple roles as a shareholder/owner, a regulator (also in our Swedish case) and as geopolitically accountable for securing equal opportunities and conditions throughout ‘the whole state territory’. Mining companies also come with promises of economic growth, promises difficult for states to neglect, it seems. Kirsch states that: “the state can be described as riding on the backs of the elephants, on which it depends to run the country (Kirsch 1996). The interests and appetites of the elephants may be placed ahead of the needs of citizens, who only contribute a small share of the country’s budget.” (p 32) With the state actively promoting mining, might also place a wet blanket over other initiatives to develop the particular region, resulting in that “the other sectors of the economy continue to be neglected” (p 33).

Much has been said about the eroding of the state (from the argument that it is a serious problem to that it is simply a wrong assumption), but it is hard to deny the complexities globalization (cf. Jensen & Sandström 2011*) brings with it and its pressure on (the very recent innovation) of the nation state, its governments and state apparatus.

What about the future of so-called more responsible mining, then? Kirsch states that: “More than two decades of research and practical experience in seeking reforms tempers my optimism” (p 221). The responsible mine, according to Kirsch, is like a mythical beast that people have heard about but not seen. Concluding the book, he states that: “The goal of political organizing on these issues is not to stop all new mining permanently but rather to compel the industry to improve its practices by raising international standards; to ensure that these standards are obligatory rather than just voluntary; and to establish fair, effective, and transparent mechanisms for complaint resolution, coupled with the swift application of strong sanctions to ensure compliance.” (p 221)

Reading Kirsch’s book, we also come to think of how most studies on globalization, capitalism, mining and corporations, tend to focus on tensions between a colonizing West/North and a colonized East/South, on a Western mining company in a developing nation (as in Kirsch 2014, Rajak 2014, Welker 2015; Alex Golub, Leviathans at the gold mine, 2014, x-x1, decides on the concept of “Euro-christian”), whereas we try to stay with the enactment of similar processes but in affluent settings, in well-developed nations (Canada and Sweden), and remote areas therein (Saskatchewan and Norrbotten). There are, we notice, similarities between affluent countries and countries that are hard to pin down as ‘states’ (weak states, failed states), but in our study we see emerging and somewhat unique vulnerabilities in so-called developed regions (or Euro-christian). We also argue that labor processes have been neglected in contemporary research. As Kirsch states: “Although labor conflict in the mining industry has not disappeared, its political significance has been greatly diminished” (p 5), based on the argument that worker collectives and unions are weakened and where more neoliberal ideas increasingly permeate the industry. But, we believe, therein lies an important reason to once again focus on labor and power.

These are some of our reflections from Kirsch’s book, but we promise, there are plenty more (on audit culture, freedom and money, the resource curse etc.). It’s a very rich and thought-provoking book.


* Jensen, Tommy and Sandström, Johan (2011) Stakeholder theory and globalization: The challenges of power and responsibility. Organization Studies 32(4), 473-488.


Book Researcher Review

Enacting a mining corporation

We’re reflecting on “Enacting the corporation: an American mining firm in post-authoritarian Indonesia” (University of California Press, 2014) by anthropologist Marina Welker.

Although in intervals, we read. We prefer to read books, preferably good books. Not all good books happen to be relevant to Organizing rocks, though, but reading Marina Welker’s book reminded us again that we should start sharing good readings on our blog (a review of Stuart Kirsch’s “Mining capitalism” is on its way), hopefully inspiring others to pick up these books!

Welker focuses on the American company Newmont Mining, at its headquarters in Denver, USA, and at its Batu Hijau Copper and Gold mine in Sumbawa, Indonesia, following social relations and material practices tied to the company’s “ameliorative disciplines” (as CSR and environment). She sets out to “show that people enact corporations in multiple ways, and that these enactments involve struggles over the boundaries, interests, and responsibilities of the corporation” (p 1). We read it as a resistance to static, simplistic and reductionist accounts of corporations’ role and responsibilities. Both radical corporate critics and neoliberals tend to reduce the idea of the corporation to a homo economicus profit machine, but although an idea with some currency on a higher level, in practice, it is very difficult to identify such a pure enactment of the corporation.

For us, as rather eclectic organizational scholars inspired by Erving Goffman, Zygmunt Bauman, John Law, Annemarie Mol (great to see her in Welker’s book), Richard Rorty, Barbara Czarniawska, and many, many others, this is not a novel idea, but that doesn’t mean that our field celebrates complexity, ‘contextuality’, materiality and contradictions! On the contrary, we see Welker’s study as more important than ever given the complexity of the role and responsibilities of the corporation in our ambivalent times. Tracing the corporation across time and space, from Denver to Sumbawa, from the archives to ‘here and now’, through social relations and material practices, Welker shows that “enactments are provisional, context-specific, and variously successful and resonant” (p 6). Albeit with a different phenomena in focus – the labor process – we are trying to do something similar with Organizing rocks.

Particularly interesting is Welker’s discussion on how two main competing and co-existing enactments of the corporation seem to be at work: the patronage model and the sustainable development model. The patronage model is where “the company acts as a surrogate state providing jobs, tangible welfare, and infrastructure to local communities” (p 69), as sitting on a “pot of money”, in our Swedish case a model very much practiced and expected by local people in Kiruna of the owner of the Kiruna mine, LKAB. The sustainable development model is to some extent neoliberal “as it embraces programs that cost less than those of the patronage model and transfers responsibility for community welfare from the company to community members themselves or the state” (p 71), also as a kind of help to self-help, of developing a set of entrepreneurial skills (the role of the state, however, might differ here from the neoliberal model). This model is recognizable in how top management at LKAB enacts the role and responsibility of the corporation, particularly in its treatment of suppliers and in its role in the move of central parts of Kiruna, where they to some extent try to move away from the patronage model.

Echoing what we recognize in our project then is that: “From a cosmopolitan CSR perspective, sustainability occupied the moral high ground; but in the local moral economy, a patronage approach formed a political and practical necessity” (p 102). A bit harshly but very vividly put by a Newmont manager advocating more of a sustainable development model: “After the spaceship landed, everyone wanted to get on it. What they didn’t understand was that it was going to leave and wouldn’t be taking them along.” (p 104) LKAB and the Kiruna mine have a longer history (a marriage) with the town of Kiruna, but dealing with finite resources, there’ll be a day when the spaceship leaves Spaceland.

Reading the book we get several other associations and without spoiling your own reading there are excellent stuff on social distance (leaving HQ in Denver vs. leaving the Newmont’s Townsite in Sumbawa), the diffusion of corporate and capitalistic values (from HQ in Denver, in local ‘entrepreneurial trainings’ in Sumbawa), corporate strategy of transparency (where being transparent backfired on the company), supplier relations (hiring locals, unskilled vs skilled jobs, making the contracting process more competitive and suppliers more ‘individualized’), the complexities of alliances of interest (between company representatives and local community and NGOs), how local communities are affected by a mine (pollution, a gated Townsite), and the complex role of the state (as regulator, business partner, owner, responsible for building infrastructure etc.). The book can also be read with an interest in qualitative and participatory research methodology.

Regarding Welker’s empirical material, she has tremendous access to the mining company, spending six months at Newmont HQ and one and a half year in Sumbawa, inside and outside the gates (this issue is something that has been debated here on the Organizing rocks blog). Welker states that she has “independent funding for my research and no contractual restrictions on what I might publish” (p 7). That sounds almost too good to be true when having access to ‘the corporate inside’, but reading the book, we don’t get the feeling that Welker has had to compromise on her intellectual integrity. She is careful in her account when it comes to individuals, which resonates well with the research ethics guidelines we also follow. Later in the book, however, she states: “I believe they [the managers letting her in] saw the potential for an experiment in enacting Newmont as a transparent corporation” (p 34). So, there might be something here (see also Emily Eaton’s blogpost from February 8, On Cozying up to corporations, and Stuart Kirsch’s response on March 24, Mining capitalism and corporate ethnography), but then again, there’ll always be interests and they always have to be handled. Welker reflects explicitly on this and also seems to have sold the idea of ‘no contractual restrictions’ to Newmont and perhaps other mining companies can pick up on it. We’re still struggling with this issue in the Organizing rocks project. It would be interesting to learn how Newmont’s executives have received this book.

In sum, Welker’s book is s a very impressive and enjoyable read. She is reflexive considering her epistemology, navigates among literary giants and recent research, writes in an accessible style (she’s very much in the text, we love it!), reveals an impressive empirical material, and, most important of all, has an important message about scholars embracing rather than reducing the complexities of how a corporation is enacted and the consequences of this for its role and responsibilities in society. We’re glad she focused on mining!

A final reflection: “If the corporation is multiple, then our analytics must be multiple as well” (p 218), yes, but we read this in a research monograph and although it proves to be a very good injection to our own thinking, what about “multiple” in terms of how research is communicated? When do we get to see the “Enacting the corporation” movie and hear the song?


Book Kiruna LKAB Management Media Union Worker

Working hard or hardly working?

On March 18, local newspapers report that two workers at LKAB:s iron ore mine in Malmberget (125 km from Kiruna) have been caught furnishing a secret sleeping room at work. On March 26, they are fired. Two other workers chose to resign.

On March 20, we arrive in Kiruna, and the first person we meet is the man delivering the rental car. He is born and raised in Kiruna, and used to work in the Kiruna mine when he was younger. About miners sleeping at work, also in the Kiruna mine, he just laugh: “Everybody knows!”.

Yes, we’ve also heard this from our many conversations with workers, managers and others in Kiruna, although we must state that we have never seen one of these sleeping spaces ourselves. We have, however, met those who said that they can point such a space out to us. Reactions in social media also reveal that “sleepworkers” seems to be a well-known phenomenon, although this is questioned by the company’s information manager as a way of talking without necessarily knowing that this phenomenon exists in practice.

Both a union representative and the company’s information manager state that sleeping during formal breaks is okay, but not when you’re supposed to work. Perhaps we have to be self-critical, the information manager adds, how this particular case could be allowed to happen.

Several questions are actualized by this event. Assuming that sleeping at work, to a large or small extent, is a real phenomenon,

  • why bring this to media, at this particular time? On March 20, the CEO is in the papers talking about difficult years to come. Does this have anything to do with going public with the sleepworkers?
  • where is management? The workers are revealed and fired, but what about managers? If this is well-known by people outside the gates, it must be known by managers as well. It seems that only the sleeping workers are held responsible and what message is thereby sent to workers (and managers and external stakeholders)?
  • how is it that sleepworkers’ efforts are not made visible? Their efforts should be missed by management and made visible when performance is measured, no?

Underground workers we’ve met talk about the importance of a good work morale and that those workers who work should be at work, nobody else (see the first video with Ronja from October 22, 2015, and the one with Göran from October 15, 2015, for example). We recently heard from an underground worker that they now work harder than ever in order to handle the pressure to increase productivity. In Swedish: “Vi sliter som aldrig förr”. But still, some workers are not.

Swedish sociologist Roland Paulsen, in his book “Empty labor” (Cambridge University Press, 2014), states that: ”sleeping employees represent a theoretical challenge to the supposed rationality of wage labor” (xiii). Empty labor, as “everything you do at work that is not your work” (p 5), is not only very common but also very under-researched, particularly if we see beyond collective ideas about idleness and workplace resistance and zoom in on how and why individuals manage to not work at work. After all, empty labor “can be a trap; it can be a way of coping, a personal pleasure, or a type of sabotage, depending on the organizational context and the subjective intent of the employee” (p 41).

Does sleepworking imply that organizational rationality has to be re-thought, so as to make room for (but not necessarily accept) sleepworking as part of a rational phenomena of organizations, or does it infer a stronger focus to defend the current, dominant discourse of organizational rationality? We lean towards the former (and towards studies – and others – that take such a perspective seriously).

Book Nature Researcher Stuart

Mining capitalism and corporate ethnography

Below, please find a text by Stuart Kirsch, professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan, author of (among many other texts) Mining capitalism (University of California Press, 2014):

“Response to Organizing Rocks blog

Many thanks for engaging with the discussion in Mining Capitalism about corporate ethnography. The question of attachment to the subject or object of scientific research is even broader than our immediate concern: we tend to develop long-standing commitments to that which we study. For example, many of the wildlife biologists I know have gone on to become active conservationists to ensure the survival of the species they study, and archaeologists and historians may see their role as actively preserving the memories of societies and individuals that might otherwise fade from recognition.

But within corporate environments, empathy isn’t the only risk. Corporations possess powerful modes of disciplining employees, which extend to internal reformers and whistle-blowers. Internalizing and domesticating critique is what lets corporations claim that while critics may have been right to target them with environmental criticism in the past, it is no longer necessary to do so as they’ve already taken these messages on board, and consequently have reformed their operations to address concerns about sustainability. Hence the popular corporate oxymorons of “sustainable mining” and “clean coal” promoted by the industry.

Moreover, it is hard to imagine that ethnographers are capable of avoiding these forms of soft power entirely, even though we may try to convince ourselves of our independence. An interesting point of comparison is the relationship between the medical establishment and the pharmaceutical industry. Most doctors and researchers will say that they are not influenced by their financial relationship to ‘Big Pharma’, although they are less confident that the same holds true for their peers. Consequently, there have been significant reforms within the medical establishment to manage these relationships over the past decade, which mandate disclosure and attention to conflicts of interest.

While some of these measures trickle down to the social sciences through various oversight mechanisms, including ethical procedures established by institutional review boards, these policies are established primarily by people in the medical and natural sciences, and therefore may not be sufficient for our needs. Yet social scientists remain confident they can successfully navigate these relationships without any significant impact on their work, much like the majority of physicians prior to these reforms.

One of the ways this affects research on the mining industry is the often negative and sometimes dismissive reaction to social movements and nongovernmental organizations that are critical of industry practices. Close affiliations with mining companies — including driving around in company vehicles, wearing their hardhats, bunking in their facilities, and eating in their mess — may also alienate researchers from these NGOs, who are skeptical of social scientists who appear to have been captured or co-opted by industry. Furthermore, the mining industry has the resources to marshal data that is seen to trump anything produced by their under-resourced critics by virtue of their superior access to data and apparent thoroughness. Ironically, however, external critics tend to have a better track record than the industry in predicting future impacts from mining operations, which tend to be far more optimistic than is warranted.(1)

But I completely agree with the posters that we have to interact with and interview mining company personnel, and understand that getting access to mine sites and environmental data produced by mining companies is an essential part of doing research in this arena, even if this requires us to wear their hats on occasion. My only caveat is that we need to remain vigilant to the risks of cooptation and corporate discipline in these encounters, reservations that we all appear to share.

(1) See, for example, the study by Kuipers and others (2006) that shows how environmental impact assessments conducted by mining companies systematically underestimate their their impact on water quality (Kuipers, J.R., A.S. Maest, K.A. MacHardy, and G. Lawson. 2006. Comparison of Predicted and Actual Water Quality at Hardrock Mines: The Reliability of Predictions in Environmental Impact Statements. Prepared for Earthworks. 195 pp. Available online at:”

The picture heading this blogpost is of Johan and Tommy in the visitors mine in Kiruna, Sweden.

Music Worker

Resistance: A tit for a butt

A small story – but so strong! A girl meets boys, in a boyzone, and their pin-up calendars in the coffee room under ground.

What to do, except for complaining to the boys and the organization? Well, after some attempts, this girl decided to have her own calendars at display down the mine. Male, naked, hunks (we assume, haven’t seem them). A sort of resistance. If this is a good story we can think twice about (a better story would be that the boyzone realized that a boyzone is not a boys zone only, and maybe the organization could have done more). But it shows a young person’s character.

This story was told in an interview, almost in passing, and it is a story that is so easily lost because:

  1. It is about hegemony
  2. It is about gender
  3. It is about every day resistance that at the end of the day concerns naked and exploited bodies

Then music is a beauty; by writing a song we can take this smallish story, one of so many other interesting stories, and make it the sole story, and also include other smallish observations. The song format allows us to be rather explicit, the storytelling in this song is direct, but it is not vulgar and sensation-seeking in any way. This is how it is. Body and soul, flesh and bones – hanging on a wall. Most certainly it would be labeled with “explicit language” if ever streamed through a commercial music channel (or being on a CD record). But we are not on a commercial channel. With utmost certainly publishing houses and reviewers would probably react strongly: Words like butt, pussy, dick, tit does not easily make its way to printed academic texts. At least not publishing houses and journals that deal with management.

Enjoy the song and upfront lyrics by clicking on the file below (you might have to reload the page for the audio file to show!).


Lyrics: Johan Sandström and Tommy Jensen

Music: Tommy Jensen

Instruments and vocals: Tommy Jensen

A tit for a butt
A pussy for a dick
On a wall, not allowed
In a meeting, well okay!

Ape and society
Men and their caves
Girls and big tires
In a mindful mine

The true story of doggy style
Is a story of unwillingness, of exclusion, of inequality

A pose for a pose
Sexuality and taste
We have gay people
We are an okay mine

Norms and society
People and their caves
We like your beard
But we’re not gay

The true story of the commons
is a story of assymmetry, of suppression, of depression

The true story of common style
is above all a story of oppression

A tit for a butt
Sexuality and taste
Come work for us
Tell us how it is