Aboriginals Book Cameco LKAB Researcher Supplier

Empathizing with the subjects of study

We’re reading the book “Mining capitalism: the relationship between corporations and their critics” by Stuart Kirsch (2014, University of California Press). It’s an impressive study, based on more than two decades of ethnographic research related to particularly one indigenous community and its struggle with the OK Tedi mine on Papua New Guinea. We’ll have reasons to come back to this book further on, but one thing strikes us early on.

On page 12 Kirsch writes: “However, conducting ethnographic research within the corporation poses a risk of co-optation, because the tendency of ethnographers to empathize with the subjects of their research may influence their findings or temper their critical perspectives.” First impression reading this is that this is always a risk, regardless of where we move about, who we talk to, interact with. It has to be dealt with, not avoided or rejected. Second impression is that in Kirsch’s case, it is perhaps more straightforward in terms of where his values align, given the proven environmental and social devastation inflicted on indigenous communities following the OK Tedi operations and on the rather evident power asymmetries between corporations and states on one hand and the communities and NGOs on the other hand. Still, even in cases where the actors and their interests seem clear, they’re oftentimes not.

We sometime move around inside different companies within the realm of our project (LKAB, Cameco, contractors). For sure, we get to know people, develop relations beyond mere professional relations with some of these persons. And they are not homogeneous ‘corporate persons’. They are ‘whole’ persons in ‘whole’ realities. Large companies like LKAB and Cameco are also not homogeneous, regardless of how effective the communication and branding departments are.

But, as we see it, to be able to discover something, researchers, as do all human beings, need empathy to be able to investigate an interest further. This said, the so-called subjectivity is not a fallacy, it is a precondition for scientific research.

However, there is a risk of being co-opted or of developing rather dogmatic stances. The cure for this is to constantly be in doubt, a bit skeptical, and to have a sensitive mode. We might be wrong. It might even be reasonable to think that we are very often wrong (wrong in the meaning of understanding different perspectives, not in terms of true or false).

Aboriginals Kiruna LKAB Media Music

What local people? Us local people!

The two sisters Maxida och Mimie Märak were the source of inspiration for this song by Tommy. Their energy in the (as shown in a four episodes documentary broadcasted by the Swedish state television, SVT) made it necessary to grab the pen and the guitar. Please find a proper stereo to play it; if you use a telephone, then at least use headphones.

In the documentary (episode 2), The Sápmi sisters claim their rights through rap, yoik and dance. They are an interesting example of how it is possible to find ways to “speak up” and resist. They are also an example on how younger generations are trying to secure a continuous Sámi struggle; a struggle that does not imply “victory over the other part”, but rather a struggle resulting in better dialogues between the state, the corporations and the indigenous, local, people.

Another source of inspiration, also found in the documentary, is a scene when a corporation has a Public Relations event. The man talking is Clive Sinclair-Poulton, representing Beowulf Mining, and he says that ”I show this slide primarily for the people in UK and Ireland because one of the major questions I get is what are the local people gonna say about this project. And I show them this picture and I say ‘what local people?’” (the picture is all nature, taken near Jokkmokk).

This example of “what local people?” is relevant because it represents a common story on how indigenous people are marginalized (on many places on this earth) and how they lose in court. It is also a story that are backed up by academic research – both in terms of relations to corporations (see e.g. Subhabrata Bobby Banerjee, 1, Naomi Klein, 2) and in relation to the state (e.g. Bradley Reed Howard, 3). For example, they do not share the notion of property rights, an essential part of the jurisdictional lingua franca in the Western part of the world (e.g. Helen Verran, 4). The same story can be found in Kiruna and the state-owned company LKAB’s relation to the Sámi people, e.g. in recent years primarily concerning the villages Gabna and Laevas who are both affected by the movement of Kiruna town (e.g. 4 below).


Us local people?

Text, music, instruments, lead vocals, production: Tommy Jensen

Backing vocals: Pia Jensen

The song Us local people contains a short excerpt from Sofia-Jannok and the jojk “Yoik of the wind”.


A room of ties

Camera flashes

Silver grey speaks

Its all nature

What about locals?

The crowd asks

”What local people”

The grey says


No mans land

Says local people

Its on loan

To freely roam

Herding reindeers’

Telling stories

Chanting the yoik

For at least 2500 years


Us global people

We the few

We the elite

Earth’s real nomads

We will fight

And keep tell

What local people?

What local people?


What local people

Us local people

We the few

We the north

We in Sápmi

We will fight

To claim our rights


Laplanders in

A territorial vague land

Don’t call it clash of civilization

In the name of mixophobia and purity

In the name of mixophobia and purity

In the name of mixophobia and purity

Recognize the property rights view

Where to own – all things are commoditized

Is to control – all things are optimized

Is to rule – all things are capitalized

Is to exploit – we are all victimized

Be it animals, plants or people

Be it minerals, soil or rocks


In a legal room

Full of suits and Gákti

There was heat

But only one part will take the beat

A man with a black tie

But with the white noise

Spoke in the name

Of the business model


In the silent court

A woman voiced

Through syllabic


The Sámi tongue

Called for luondu

And all things intrinsic value


The judge favored

Capital injection

Said goodbye with a

Bang for your buck


But we will fight

To keep our right

What else can we do



1. Banerjee Subhabrata Bobby Banerjee (2000), “Whose land is it anyway? National interest, indigenous stakeholders and colonial discourses: The case of the Jabiluka uranium mine”. Organization & Environment, 13(11), p.3-38.

Banerjee Subhabrata Bobby Banerjee (2003), “The practice of stakeholder colonialism: National interest and colonial discourses in the management of indigenous stakeholders.” In Prasad, A. (ed.), Postcolonial Theory and Organizational Analysis. New York: Palgrave.

Banerjee Subhabrata Bobby Banerjee (2007), ‘Corporate Social Responsibility: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. ‘, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

2. Klein, Naomi. (2014), This Changes Everything: Capitalism Against the Climate. New

York: Simon & Schuster.

3. Bradley Reed Howard (2003), Indigenous people and the state: The struggle for native rights. Northern Illinois University Press.

4. Verran, Helen (1998), ‘Re-Imagining Land Ownership in Australia’, Postcolonial Studies, 1: 237-254.

Verran, H & Christie, M. (2011) Doing Difference Together – Towards a Dialogue with Aboriginal Knowledge Authorities Through an Australian Comparative Empirical Philosophical Inquiry, Culture and Dialogue, 1(2), 21-36.

Verran, H. (2011), “Imagining Nature Politics in the Era of Australia’s Emerging Market in Environmental Services Interventions.” Special Issue: “The Politics of Imagination.” J. Latimer & B. Skeggs, eds. The Sociological Review 59.3: 411–431.

5. Sia Spiliopoulou Åkermark and Miriam Talah (2007). Samernas rätt till deltagande och samråd: Fysisk planering och infrastruktur. Report for Svenska Avdelningen av Internationella Juristkommissionen.

Music Nature

We the north

Another song from the project. Lyrics by Johan Sandström, but all the rest (music, song, production) by Tommy Jensen.


We the north

The story of the north
A seeping flow
A one-way road
By truck, river, train
Left is what was
All else down the drain

Who decides, who says
Who knows
Who stays
To find out, to decide
The strategy of the rest
Reaping the one-way tide

It’s not the rock
It’s not the river
It’s not the mountain
It’s not the tree
It’s the things in between
That the rest don’t see
So don’t blame the rock, river,
mountain and the tree

The questions to the north
It’s power over words
It’s power over distance
The method of the rest
No room for resistance

It’s not the rock
It’s not the river
It’s not the mountain
It’s not the tree
It’s the things in between
That the rest don’t see
So don’t blame the rock, river,
mountain and the tree

Iron, power, tree
How do you feel
Spirit, flower, bee
An impossible deal
Iron, power, tree
How do you feel
Spirit, flower, bee
An impossible deal

Show me the border
Show me the line
Between you and me
Between past and now
It’s an invisible divide
Making worlds collide

It’s not the rock
It’s not the river
It’s not the mountain
It’s not the tree
It’s the things in between
That the rest don’t see
So don’t blame the rock, river,
mountain and the tree

Kiruna LKAB Supplier Worker

Well-known but unspoken

LKAB dominates Kiruna. Does it sound too simple? Is LKAB with its Kirunavaara mine dictating the terms of conditions in Kiruna?

The complex relation between LKAB and the community of Kiruna, with its different civil society associations, small and medium-sized firms, politicians, citizens, nature and the mine with its massive infrastructure, can be understood through storytelling and metaphors. So far the stories and metaphors we have come across suggest an asymmetrical relation. For good and for worse, LKAB dominates Kiruna. Just think of metaphors such as “the patron”, “the mafia”, “the wallet filler” (for LKAB) and “the motor that powers society”, “the sun”, “mother” and “the dream factory” (for the mine and/or the works above ground). Or the rather well-travelled story: “When LKAB sneezes, society grows a cold”.

It is, however, important not to jump to conclusions. LKAB might sneeze without certain stakeholders growing a cold. It might also be the case that the stakeholders sneeze and LKAB grows a cold. That is, the told and metaphorically enriched asymmetrical relation, as well as the historical symbiosis between LKAB and Kiruna, that we have come across might be a kind of habitual historical and contemporary way of making sense of LKAB and Kiruna. It is more or less a way of talking, a local saying, something taken for granted. To us, as researchers, we need to be aware of this as it might overshadow other stories and metaphors about how LKAB and the mine are dependent on Kiruna and on the company’s different stakeholders. We have not come across many such stories yet, but perhaps we haven’t been listening carefully enough, or we have been addressing the wrong themes, phrasing the wrong questions, or perhaps we’ve simply been in the wrong places talking to the wrong people.

One specific question related to this, that seems to occupy minds at LKAB and in Kiruna is that the present time is a time of hardship, which among other things spills over into relations between the company and its suppliers. It was not a long time ago when the company announced that “it is time to renegotiate the contracts”. Given the way stories and metaphors so far point to outspoken and significant power asymmetries, it seems as if these asymmetries are just as existing but much more subtle and tacit in the renegotiating process. They are there, but not really mentioned. Somehow summarizing our many conversations with several persons on this topic from our seven visits to Kiruna, it goes something like this:

LKAB has its many official guidelines and policies (also on ethics), but it is another thing to describe how these are practiced. It is hard to find the correct words. It is just a strong pressure to conform to what they want and they are rather ‘professional’ at this. So, sitting down to renegotiate contracts and terms of conditions, it is difficult to really speak up, to mention certain things, and that even though it is well-known, it better remains unspoken.

But this is not really unique, is it? Just think of other, in their specific contexts, very large businesses and their stakeholder relations (at the bottom of this post, we recommend two of our previous, albeit non-mining related, publications on corporate stakeholder management). Whether anybody wants it or not, these businesses influence – maybe even dominate – local communities. Such a story might be highly relevant, but at the same time, it is also too narrow. A relevant question for us to ask, then, given that we better be critical towards dominant stories, is: are there contexts and situations where representatives of LKAB find themselves being part in a familiar storytelling practice, in which they have to refrain from articulating what are well-known but better remain unspoken?


“Like a battalion of tanks” 2013 SJM

Stakeholder theory and globalization 2011 OS

Iron Kiruna LKAB Management Union Worker


What is the relation between capital and workers today? Is a political will and struggle still present? As in the strike in 1969/1970 where the predominant part of the workers (a strong collective) in Svappavaara and Kiruna jointly shouted out that “we are humans”, “we want higher salaries”, “a safer and more humane workload”.

If human dignity, salary, and safe and humane working conditions were essential in the 1969 strike, then what could be essential today?

A common social science analysis is the continuous individualizing process, in which the bandwagon of development is the consumer society. In an evolving consumer society, the social state is on the retreat (the state that attempted to craft collective solutions to individual problems) and individuals increasingly need to craft successful strategies to collective problems themselves. If you succeed, congrats, if not, sorry, but there is little “we the collective” can do about it.

Yet, in the Kiruna mine 99 % of the workers employed by LKAB are members of the union. An impressive figure, regardless if you like unions or not. So, in theory the political will and struggle are theoretically manifested in this high degree of membership. When talking to mining veterans, however, they rather explicitly state that the younger generations are only passive members (the union – those who serve as ombudsmen – need to tackle this) and have lost the political will to fight on behalf of a collective. Thus, implicitly they say that it is a matter of a shift in generations (a classic) and that it is a matter of a collective that behaves like swarms of bees.

Decision making and relations between different subjects (or species) in a swarm “are coordinated without being integrated” (Zygmunt Bauman, 2001, Community, Polity Press, especially pages 127-129). A swarm then, consists of individuals that fail to develop joint political and ethical purposes and will, that is, a collective movement.

If we accept this analysis, it is bad news for the unions and the unions can even be said to be partly guilty in fueling this development (see Huzzard, 2000, Labourning to learn, Borea, Umeå; listen also to our song “Labouring to learn. The Tony Huzzard song”). So, no collective will and struggle, no integrated effort made to develop joint political and ethical purposes around how to influence and change the relation between capital and labour.

But all this might be exaggerated. It might be a question of a ‘threshold level’. In 1969 a series of events led up to a point where a coordinated collective started to integrate and act in unison. The question then is if there, today, are any signs of events unfolding that carry with them a potential for political collective struggle? We are not so sure about this so far (probably never will be), but some signs seem relevant to at least consider. Miners on Facebook sometimes post about “bad” things, including pictures (despite that it is forbidden), occasional spontaneous outbursts of “sit-down-strikes” occur (small strikes), there also happens that part of the production system suddenly loose its “flow” (or becomes less efficient and productive) and when management wonders about what is happening, the reply from the shop-floor is “talk to us”.

Let us not forget also that the markets for metals and minerals are volatile and at this time the price for iron ore has been going down from record levels to what some say are more normal levels but others say are signs of a regression. That the price will be rather low for a while now seems, however, to be rather consensual. Contemporary times might, then, be thought of as a “window of opportunity” containing a main context in which a series of events occur that triggers collective integration and action.

We would like to add that concerning the specific case of LKAB:s Kirunamine and our focus on power relations and labour process, we are really neither fearing nor wishing for a rise of political will and struggle (it would be an interesting twist to our case, though), but on a general level, the societal level, the collective political will and struggle, we think, are necessary to protect and develop democracy in general and industrial democracy in particular.


Researcher Sweden

The paradox of the north

On October 24, Johan talked about the paradox of the north at a book and image fair in Luleå. The paradox of the north is basically about the enormous investments made in the north (predominantly in mining and wind power), but where the returns for the rural areas where the mines and wind power parks are located are remarkably scant.

Johan was asked to talk from a researcher’s perspective, and he was joined by author Mikael Niemi from Pajala and journalist Arne Müller from Umeå. Müller had just launched a book with the title “Norrlandsparadoxen” (The paradox of the north), focusing on the mining industry and the wind power industry. Niemi had just lived through the hopes and despairs of Northland Resources’ project in the Kaunisvaara iron ore mine outside Pajala, ending in 2014 with a bankruptcy (total debts of about 14 billion Swedish crowns).


An edited and translated version of what Johan said follows:

The paradox of the north from my perspective, as a social scientist, is that we as researchers do not ask and study certain questions enough, that we are relatively quiet on important and difficult questions, that we rather seem to endorse a one-sided story of how to grow the north than to open for up for basic social science research on what is actually going on up here.

The project ”Organizing rocks” that I, together with Tommy Jensen at Stockholm University, am running is first of all a basic research project. Basic research is motivated by the researcher’s curiosity and interest, and does not have any taker, buyer or customer. It is not controlled by the state or industry’s short-term interests and is in this sense free.

The phenomenon that we are curious of and interested in is how a modern underground mine is organized, with a particular focus on changing power relations in the labour process. The labour process in mining is complex today. It is more blurred, mutable and far reaching compared to before. It therefore has to be followed and we have to be responsive and sensitive to it. We also have to be emphatic towards the people involved in the labour process, if we want to understand it that is. That implies that the methods and theories that we use cannot impose too much order on the phenomenon before the actual study, which again means that we cannot promise any particular solutions to any particular problems. This is part of the charm with basic research.

To let a company, a union, a municipality, an NGO or a university control us and our results will therefore not be the case. People working for such organisations are most likely very valuable to us, that they participate and that we allow them to participate, but not to control us – not in terms of input (research questions, problematization etc.), throughput (how we conduct the empirical study, with whom etc.), and output (expected benefits, or utility, for certain stakeholders etc.).

Basic research also has a value beyond the particular project, which lies in the role of being a critical, independent voice. A social insurance perhaps. The word ’critical’ is important here as it does not mean being ’against’. We have colleagues that are scared to death of being perceived as critical, but for us this is perhaps our most important responsibility: to not buy into poor explanations, to unravel paradoxes and contradictions (such as the paradox of the north), to not reduce complex phenomenon too much, to challenge, to listen to what is not said and not allowed to be said, to listen to who is not talking and not allowed to talk, to those who cannot talk. That is being critical. Not to a priori being against something or someone. It is also a position from which it is possible to discover nuances in what is complex!

That is why it is difficult to a priori know if basic social research on labour processes and changing power relations in underground mines pays off for someone. That is sort of the wrong question, which might come across as rather provoking today as there is a growing pressure on researchers to deliver quick and concrete answers on utilities. These utilities have also been increasingly connected to increasing industrial effectiveness, productivity and profitability, and to a large extent built on viewing the world through the lens of what can be quantified, priced, commercialised, and turned into someone’s property.

As a contrast to basic research, there is applied research. Already from the start, you know what you want to use the results for. There is a strive to find solutions to particular problems. It could be about formulating a new policy, develop a new product, a new way to measure, improve a production process. There is a taker, buyer or customer, someone who controls the results.

Applied research is also very important. There are a lot of concrete problems out there that need to be solved. But applied research should also be critically scrutinised. Whose problems are solved, or should be solved, and based on what premises? Applied research can vary a lot in terms of whose needs and problems it is aimed for. Our impression of mining research is that it largely focuses on increasing the effectiveness, productivity and profitability in the mines of today and in the future. There is a great mobilisation of resources, time, places and people around this.

That this research exist is of course not a problem, but if it dominates, it is a societal problem. It becomes research for certain stakeholders, with certain stakes on their mind, that risk further the power assymetries between different societal actors (and not to forget the muted Nature). Several questions are not asked, several voices are not heard.

For us then, Organizing rocks is first of all a basic research project, aiming to be more inclusive in terms of who, what, why, when, for whom, and by whom, and by posing more open research problems (how is a modern mine organized, where does a mine begin and end).

Other basic research questions relevant to the paradox of the north and to Organizing rocks could be:

– Should we live where we work, besides the mine for example, or should we get used to new times, that we should not expect a society by the mine and that all should live in the cities? The ore flows and we as well? This question should be seen against the growing trend in mines being more short-lived (due to increasing effectivity and productivity), in a growing industry around mounting temporal housing solutions, in the increasing use of different short-term labour contracts, as well as in the light of urbanization. How is this perceived by the people living through these processes and which questions do they ask to the rest of us?

– How can we understand the aboriginals (for example the Same people in Sweden, First nations in Canada, Aboriginees in Australia) who often constitute the strongest opponents to new mines while more of them start working for the mining industry? What can aboriginals with one foot in each camp (so to speak) tell us about their situation and their choices, and which questions do they ask to the rest of us?

– How can persons involved in a labour process organize themselves today, in times of individualization? Is there a common ground, common interests, a common story? Is there a collective political will and capability? Is it even desirable or necessary? Why? According to whom?


Photo by: Samuel Sandström (also the featured image for this post).

LKAB Management

End of the road? Part 3

Faced with the reply from a top manager that the company LKAB has no interest to participate in our project, one outcome so far is that we were contacted by a person, that we met previously, that could help us to establish new routes to workers and managers. News travel fast.



After method

Here is a song about how we think and live method (lyrics and music: Tommy Jensen).

After method (The John Law song)

What is a labour process?

Where does it begin and end?

Who and what does it contain?

Where does it appear?

And who are loosing out?

What is power?

Is it power over?

Is it power through?

Or power with?

Or all of the above?

Rather be a stigmatic than a dogmatic

An outsider than a conservative

They say fairy-tale, we say story telling

They say normative, we say sensitive

Pushing the boundaries is hard

But harder to keep to comfort zones

Pushing the boundaries is hard

Why eat same method greens?

After method

Breaking might and freight

After method

Breaking tradition and rigidity

Who has the chance to tell?

Whose experience count?

What is excluded?

The relation between them and us?

Our laboratory and theirs?

What is proper science?

Whose account count?

What are truths and facts?

What are right conditions?

And who judges whom?

Why believe in programs?

Having multiple realities?

Why mirror reality?

If it is about interferences?

Why keep distance?

When there’s a lack of closeness? 

Why arguing for sameness?

When difference is what we have?

Rather be a stigmatic than a dogmatic

An outsider than a conservative

They say fairy-tale, we say story telling

They say normative, we say sensitive

Pushing the boundaries is hard

But harder to keep to comfort zones

Pushing the boundaries is hard

Why eat same method greens?

After method

Breaking might and freight

After method

Breaking tradition and rigidity

After method …

Kiruna LKAB

Mining the schools

We overhear a group of young girls while drinking beer at the hotel. It sounds interesting. Could we engage in the conversation?

We decide not. Two, middle-aged men, beer-breaths, trying to tie in with young girls… Nah, not a good idea. We refrain from this opportunity; we have experienced a similar situation before, and bailed out. However, this evening we dare to interfere to the extent that we say: ”You have an interesting conversation. One of you don’t seem to like Kiruna, but you [looking at another girl] seem to like it very much!” The first, Kiruna-critical girl answers: ”As soon as I get money I will fly out from this godforsaken town.” The other girl says: ”Nothing can get me to leave this place.” She loves it here.

After briefly explaining the project and that we are researchers, the Kiruna-positive girl agrees to show up the day after for an interview. She also promises to try to bring other’s, including the more Kiruna-critical girl. She arrives alone, however. She tells us that she finished the gymnasium last spring and that she now works extra trying to figure out what to do.

Her story is fascinating, but the part that we remember most vividly, however, is about when she was 15, when it was time to choose a direction for the studies at the gymnasium. The company, LKAB, was there to inform about their programs (read more about it here). She remembers that she at the time thought they were were really offensive, almost frightening, arguing along the lines that ”if you don’t go to the LKAB gymnasium and become a miner, what else can you do?”, “it’s the only secure option”, etc.

The intensity in this young girl’s voice when telling us this story is obvious. Her experience of it, four years later, is still strong.

We cannot but help to remember the exhibition of t-shirts at the Kiruna city hall. A translation of the t-shirt that rank different individuals above reads in English:

  1. Those who work at LK(AB)
  2. Sami people
  3. The amateur theater association
  4. Space engineers
  5. Personell at the Icehotel
  6. Girls who work for LK(AB)
  7. Kristina Zakrisson (the Mayor)
  8. Tourists
  9. Semi-Samis
  10. People from the village (referring to small villages in the north, around Kiruna)
LKAB Management Researcher

End of the road? Part 2

“Who [from the company] governs you?”, the middle manager asks. “Nobody”, one of us answers.

This conversation took place in a coffee room inside the gates of LKAB and the meeting was coincidental. The answer to the question was appearingly very provocative, received by a person who took very seriously the importance of line, hierarchy and control. Albeit differently put, we’ve received this question before, but we have then, to the best of our abilities, explained our project (purpose, method, the ethical guidelines, types of questions etc.) and then the response in all cases – up until now – has always been: “Ok. Then I know. Let’s go. I’ll talk to you.” We believe these persons saw us as serious scholars.

This conversation was different. The person reported it (us!) to management and we later received an email from a manager on a higher level. We answered and later received another email, but from a manager on an even higher level (top level). This resulted in an exchange of emails and a conclusion from the top manager that our project is not of interest to LKAB and that the company therefore withdraws its participation in the project.

Of course, we must respect this. Our project is not about delivering results so as to increase the company’s efficiency, productivity and/or profitability. Times are also hard now at LKAB, given the pressure to cut costs to adjust to a lower iron ore price, so spending time talking to us and other outsiders might be better spent dealing with more operational issues. But, we were still a bit surprised: the company has never participated in the project in the first place so how can it withdraw? Regardless, we couldn’t help to think: is this the end of the road for the project when it comes to getting inside the gates?

Importantly, in this conversation we were also confronted with a requirement from the company to control our research (for example, to see our material before publishing), but we carefully stated that there is no such right and that this would also imply revealing interviews with different individuals, which would be a very strong violation of the ethical guidelines (from the Swedish Research Council/Vetenskapsrådet). Some interviewees are open with who they are, but it is still a matter between us and them what is revealed, what is published.

In our last email we explained again that we are social science researchers doing basic (not applied) research about labour processes and power relations, and that neither top management, owners or union representatives can or should control our research. This said, we strongly emphasized that our door is always open to ‘the company’ (from our view, though, this mail conversation is with one top manager, claiming to represent the whole company, with one individual) and to anyone who is interested in our project. In the case of the top management of the company, we absolutely hope that we’ll have a dialogue further on (it should be said that we’ve already interviewed a member of the company’s board and the approach from the chairman of LKAB is that they must meet researchers).

In the best of all worlds, everybody shares the same fascination for the very complex labour processes in modern underground mines as we do, but we would be naive to assume this in all cases. The downside for us here, however, is that we might miss out on certain and perhaps important perspectives. This is a loss for us and for all interested in the topics of our project.

As a post script, in the final paragraph in the last email there was a general advice from the manager: “I recommend you to secure a formal approval from the top management before you start to conduct your study”. This advice, from our point of view, is quite upsetting, but also revealing. It lays bare the inherent tension between basic research and societal stakeholders’ attempt at defining the purpose, usefulness, or even utility, of research. To paraphrase Michel Foucault: “basic research needs to be defended”, or perhaps Zygmunt Bauman: “social science is under siege”.

Kiruna LKAB Management Worker


New management practices and information technology is challenging the boundaries between work and other spheres of life. But who is setting the boundaries between on/off-work, and between body and mind?

It seems that for blue collar workers, the physical entry/exit passage to the mine is a solid barrier between work and off work. When they enter, they are at work, when they leave, they are off work. For example, once the worker is registered for work, inside the gates, it is not okey to temporarily de-register and fetch something outside the gates (perhaps an important document or the food box in the car). A worker told us that when a worker moves this way, he or she can get a warning. Movement of blue collar workers’ bodies are restricted and continuously tracked inside the gates, but how about information? The workers are not allowed to use social media to show pictures from daily work life. You need permission from the company to take pictures. But workers do this anyway. Information technology and social media seem to escape physical barriers and set rules.

The managers we talk to, however, experience a much more fluid work-life. The physical body is allowed to move around and they continously get reports on how the organizing of rocks proceeds. There is a constant flow of mails and SMSs. This do not only occur when something out of the ordinary happens at work. He or she can, of course, choose to not check mails or SMSs when off work. Those whom we talk to are, however, constantly on line, “just checking”. To be informed about things at work while off work, they seem to argue, makes it easier to come to work. They are more updated and can avoid surprises.

Worlds collide, however, when managers initiate contacts with blue-collar workers that are off work. One example given to us tells of a manager calling a worker at home, inquiring about an event at work. The conversation is not about sharing information, but about inquiring information, and about investigation. Old and new versions of information technology (social media and telephone calls) are obviously ignorant to physical boundaries, but this also raises the question of which practical usages is okey or not, and who is setting the rules?

Book Researcher

Science is performative

”Science in action” (Latour, 1987) by the French sociologist Bruno Latour is a major inspiration for our study. Basically the message by Latour is that science is performative, not ostensive. Instead of viewing science as merely attempting to describe things, with an objective gaze, from a neutral position, a performative view on science implies that the way scientists develop their theories and assemble their methods change the very thing it attempts to describe. This also applies to other human and nonhuman things that, in the vocabulary of the English sociologist John Law, the scientific study happens to interfere with (Law, 2004). Be it atoms, microbes, plants, or organizing rocks.

science in actionJohn Law