Gruvans makt i Sveriges Radios Meänraatio. Det är hela avsnittet som sänds, Johan pratar under tiden 6.01-12.01 och LKABs presschef Anders Lindberg pratar under tiden 12.50-18.22. Klicka här för att komma direkt till avsnittet.
Foto: Regina Veräjä.
Gruvans makt i Sveriges Radios Meänraatio. Det är hela avsnittet som sänds, Johan pratar under tiden 6.01-12.01 och LKABs presschef Anders Lindberg pratar under tiden 12.50-18.22. Klicka här för att komma direkt till avsnittet.
Foto: Regina Veräjä.
Äntligen är vår populärvetenskapliga bok om Kirunagruvan ute! Klicka här för att beställa boken.
Så här skriver förlaget om boken:
En gång i tiden satt gruvnäringen och Kiruna ihop. Ett ömsesidigt beroende som ändrats med tiden. Men vad händer när gruvbolaget inte behöver Kirunaborna i samma utsträckning? När bolaget mer och mer förlitar sig på arbetskraft i form av fly-in fly-out? När fast anställda kan ersättas av entreprenörer? När allt färre händer behövs för att få upp malmen?
In English: finally, our popular science book about the Kiruna mine is published, but in Swedish…
This might be a post more towards fellow academics and more in tune with what we, as academics, are supposed to do today – publish articles!
As for more ‘scientific deliveries’ we’ve promised two articles and a book from the project. One article (the one about Kiruna) is already out for review and today we managed to submit the second article, the one about the Canadian case. Let’s hope the editor and the reviewers find the article interesting enough to offer it to the readers of the journal. We’ll be able to tell more about what it is about once it has made it through this, or X number of other, review process!
Oh, by the way, we must confess that submitting a paper on a Friday, before embarking on the weekend, is not a bad feeling, particularly for us who have spent more time doing empirics and writing blog posts than working on producing scientific articles.
Oh, by the way, the book will be in Swedish… It’s been decided now. Finally. We think.
Have a nice weekend – rock on!
They’re not easy to find and haven’t been re-issued, the 4×400 pages doctoral dissertation in economic history by Ulf Eriksson, entitled “Gruva och arbete. Kiirunavaara 1890-1990” (in Swedish, translated as “Mine and work. Kiirunavaara 1890-1990”). Published and defended in 1991 at Uppsala University, Eriksson (from Kiruna) presents an impressive, predominantly empirical, labour process history from inside the gates of the Kiruna mine.
We have once again got our hands on somebody else’s copies and couldn’t help translate a section since it triggers thoughts on the particular and peculiar workplace an underground mine constitutes. Let’s face it, a mine is not a clothing factory. Just think about going down the Kiruna mine and find yourself on a road linked to a road network of about 600 km, all underground. This presents a spatially interesting challenge to the organising of work and management control. Below, Eriksson reflects upon the difficulty of identifying any clear cause-and-effect relations between the introduction and development of new technology and the way work was organised, and argues that the mountain itself shouldn’t be underestimated:
“The perhaps single most important reason for the lack of immediate and direct causality-arrows between technology and organisation was that an adjustment always had to be done to the specific nature of the object of work, that is, to the limitations set by the mountain and the ore body’s geographic and structural peculiarities for the organisation of work. This, for example, was actualised in the case of management’s possibilities to in practice direct and control the work.” (Eriksson 1991, part III: 152)
Academic life is especially good when leading to new and inspiring collaborations. Early June, we got a visit to Luleå by professor Bradon Ellem from Sydney University. Bradon has vast experiences from the mining industry in the Pilbara (North Western Australia). He also happened to be a great thinker and theoriser of space-time aspects relevant to mining, aspects we’re bending our minds around at the moment.
Together with Bradon we’ve started writing a paper, aimed at organization studies and its dealings with space-time aspects, with our ethnography of the Kiruna mine as empirical material (Bradon has been to Kiruna a couple of times). Looking very much forward to this! We’d also like to flag Bradon’s new book, analysing the history of industrial relations in the iron ore industry, The Pilbara: From the Deserts Profits Come. It’ll be published in July 2017 by UWA Publishing.
Three days of sensemaking on ‘what is this about?’ and ‘so what?’.
A Baldrick-style idea for one article and a h-ll of a lot stories with which to cook a book.
As noticed from all the storytellerposts perhaps, we’re in the process of writing-up our empirical material. The feeling of having too little material is quickly changed into a feeling of having too much…
At the outset of the project we aimed at writing two scientific papers and one research monograph. The two papers are now in process. We sent one extended abstract of a paper on the Kiruna mine to the European Group of Organizations Studies (EGOS) conference in Copenhagen, early July. We just got accepted, which is great news. EGOS tends to be a high quality conference. For us, this means a clear deadline, which is also great news (how else get things done?!). We’ve also sent one extended abstract on the Canadian case to the Swedish society for working life studies (FALF) conference outside Malmö in mid-June. Hopefully, they’ll give us the green light, and another deadline. Maybe we see some of you at one or two of these conferences?
The research monograph, however, is debated between us at the moment. It’s not a debate on whether or not we should write it – we will – but in what format (traditional or more ‘thick magazine’ like) and in which language (English or Swedish). While quarrelling, the massaging of the empirical material continues. Either way, we look forward to come out and speak with more ‘traditional’ scientific products in the near future.
Below is a musicvideo by us (in Swedish) about “The book of LKAB : the national treasure of Sweden”, published by LKAB, the mining company running the Kiruna mine. The book celebrates the first 125 years of mining in Malmfälten and it is available in both English and Swedish. It’s a very informative read, revealing how rich and international the history of mining in the north is. We highly recommend it. But, it is also a book written for the company and the song is based on a more critical reading.
The song is on the Organizing rocks album “Gruvan, makten, samhället” and you can find it on all major digital distributors. It is also available on Youtube. Click here to get it on Spotify.
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).
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)
…Summer holiday and would like to wish you all a great Summer. We’ll spend part of our vacation working with the next music album from the project (called “Production”), which we hope will be released on all digital music sites during Fall. We’ll let you know:-) We might also pick up one or two (or three) books. On the reading list right now:
Do you know of any other good reads? Let us know!
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.
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?