Book Kiruna LKAB Media

Gruvans makt i radion

Gruvans makt i Sveriges Radios Meänraatio. Det är hela avsnittet som sänds, Johan pratar under tiden 6.01-12.01 och LKABs presschef Anders Lindberg pratar under tiden 12.50-18.22. Klicka här för att komma direkt till avsnittet.

Foto: Regina Veräjä.

Book Iron Kiruna LKAB Luleå

Gruvans makt – ny bok ute!

Äntligen är vår populärvetenskapliga bok om Kirunagruvan ute! Klicka här för att beställa boken.

Så här skriver förlaget om boken:

En gång i tiden satt gruvnäringen och Kiruna ihop. Ett ömsesidigt beroende som ändrats med tiden. Men vad händer när gruvbolaget inte behöver Kirunaborna i samma utsträckning? När bolaget mer och mer förlitar sig på arbetskraft i form av fly-in fly-out? När fast anställda kan ersättas av entreprenörer? När allt färre händer behövs för att få upp malmen?

In English: finally, our popular science book about the Kiruna mine is published, but in Swedish…

Kiruna LKAB Media

In the news

Our project is in the news in an interview with Tommy in several Swedish newspapers. Check it out at Svenska Dagbladet by clicking here (in Swedish).

Article Bradon LKAB Union

Neoliberal trajectories in mining

In a sister-project to Organizing rocks, funded by Handelsbanken’s research council, we take a historical approach to mining. One part of the project includes a comparison between the iron ore regions in Malmfälten (with the mines in Kiruna, Malmberget and Svappavaara) and in the Pilbara, western Australia. The Pilbara comparison is based on a collaboration with Professor Bradon Ellem at the University of Sydney. Recently a comparative paper from the project was published in the European Journal of Industrial Relations with the title “Neoliberal trajectories in mining: Comparing Malmfälten and the Pilbara”. It gives our Organizing rocks project more of a context and historical grounding. Although we’re completely biased here, it is a nice read! Click here to access the paper on the journal’s homepage (and if you don’t have open access, e-mail Johan at Here’s the abstract:

We compare the iron ore sectors and mining regions of Malmfälten in Sweden and the Pilbara in Australia. Both are physically isolated and the product is economically vital, but we find differences in industrial relations which accord with what would be expected in coordinated and liberal market economies. A closer examination, attentive to history and geography and in which changes in institutional form and function are highlighted, reveals, however, that these differences are more apparent than real, and that there is a common neoliberal trajectory. This analysis also suggests that changes in these sites at times drive transformations in national industrial relations.

Cameco Canada Emily Kiruna LKAB Researcher Stuart

Engaged organization studies

Whether in the Region of Bougainville (Papau New Guinea) or Malmfälten (Sweden), the economic, social and environmental impacts of mining are significant and tend to provoke strong reactions from a vast variety of actors. Contested business, contested areas, means navigating multifaceted, complex and value-laden relations. This requires engaged and sensitive social scientists that continuously reflect on their own values and interests. This is a discussion that we have covered before on this blog, but we just got a very good reason to revisit it.

Stuart Kirsch, anthropologist at the University of Michigan, who previously have contributed to this blog, have written yet another thought-provoking book, this time more focused on the research approach he has practiced and developed when studying mining conflicts, Engaged anthropology: politics beyond the text. ‘Engaged anthropology’, it triggers our thoughts on an ‘engaged organization studies’. Not sure we’ve heard of such a term, have you? Maybe ‘reflexivity’ comes close, but it is, we think, more of an apolitical character; as if reflexivity would be possible from a neutral position.

(Kirsch, 2018)

Engaged, we believe that without being engaged we would never get interesting empirical material, but Stuart takes this more than one step further. So, if you get nervous when scientific ideals such as objectivity, neutrality, distance etc. are challenged, do not read further.

To give you a teaser and an idea of what Stuart’s approach is all about, here are some quotes from the introductory chapter:

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

As might be guessed, Stuart’s engaged anthropological research on mining, particularly in Papau New Guinea, has also been the target of critique, such as: being dogmatic, not robust enough, lacking symmetry between actors, not levelling stakeholders on equal footing, more activism than science etc. We can recognise our own engagement in Organizing rocks in some of this critique and we have to some extent struggled with it since the start. How do our values, interests, methods, readings, influence our ‘science-in-action’ in the Kiruna and McArthur mines? Are we neglecting some actors, perspectives, statements, signs? Are we shying away from certain topics because we are scared to put our chins out? Are we always ready to question ourselves, ready to change? We’ve previously written about the “risk of being co-opted or of developing rather dogmatic stances” and that we should “constantly be in doubt, a bit skeptical, and to have a sensitive mode”, which, we admit, might come across as rather cryptic formulations, but yes, they matter, to us.

We’ve also met the oppressed, heard the voice and read the words of the privileged, and, yes, we’re not immune to these influences. It is impossible to be impartial, to stand on neutral ground. So, in this sense, why not claim that active engagement (through dialogues, in our case) is required?

In the type of critique launched against Stuart’s work, we do share the call for broad, inclusive engagements, in terms of whose voices are heard, and the need for phenomenon-driven (less a priori-settled) research strategies. If the phenomenon is complex and multifaceted so must also our methods and conceptual frameworks be. Paraphrasing John Law’s rather brutal take on this: it takes mess to capture mess. A priori openness, a sort of curiosity of what might be found when talking openly, with genuine interest and respect, with a diverse set of people, in different settings, is a research strategy that we’ve practiced in Organizing rocks.

But, we don’t agree with most of the critique launched against Stuart’s work. Although useful to be aware of it, it does suffer from one major deficit: it lacks power and power relations. For us, these issues were upfront, input-value in our project. Entering a large-scale mining arena, such as the one in Kiruna, we know that power relations are asymmetrical and we cannot be naive about this. A priori, whose voices are heard, who matters? Who are marginalized, excluded, silenced? In our case, the first answer on people’s lips is the company, LKAB. In a way, the old saying is true: ‘When LKAB has a cold, society sneezes’. This is an early-warning signal that there are power asymmetries and, hence, no equal footing, in Kiruna. How did we deal with this?

Organizing rocks is a basic research project. One way that we handled power asymmetries while also studying them was to remain in control of our research aims and questions; to not, for example, compromise on the questions we ask. This is our area of control, our responsibility, and one way to treat them all on equal footing. It was also one reason why the company (e.g. top management) did not want to meet us. Top management did not want to participate on any equal footing. Meeting, for example, local unions or local indigenous people, they never tried to control the questions we were asking. They agreed to meet, to converse, so for them we could have empathy, we listened, we tried to understand, and tried to come out as slightly different actors following our meetings. Luckily for a study striving for a ‘multi’ approach, the actor refusing to meet us (e.g. top management) ‘speaks’ in other ways (media, web, social media, reports etc.) so we have at least some idea on where they stand and why, but as we understood it, they felt that we were engaged in the wrong issues, and engaging these in the wrong way. As was told to us: we are not useful to LKAB. So, as also written about on this blog before, we were banned by top management (in Luleå and in Stockholm) from coming inside the gates to the mine in Kiruna (local workers and managers seemed to think that what we were asking were relevant and important).

As Stuart also has reported, when one door closes, others are opened. Ironically, when top management said no, closed the entry gates to the mine for us, actors who would not talk to us previously now decided to do so – but again, without trying to control us.

While our access to people inside the gates in Kiruna was restrained in the end, this was not the case with Cameco at McArthur in Canada, which immediately raised the risk of a wrong type of engagement, of us ‘cozying up to the corporation (see Emily Eaton’s blogpost). Many times, it felt like balancing on a knife’s edge. It’s never easy, for us at least. You might be a judge of how we’ve navigated, comparing the Kiruna case with the Canadian case (based on our blogposts on McArthur; there’s the scientific article on the case, but we’ve just submitted it, again, see the logbook). For now, it helps reading about engaged anthropology!

What if all scholars were as articulated on positioning and engagement as Stuart (what if we were?)? It would for sure enhance derivation and honesty-in-field and in-text, make it easier to evaluate whether or not to trust the descriptions and their arguments, to be able to judge how they have positioned themselves when analyzing. So, we try to consider research that hides behind screens of neutrality, objectivity and impartiality as highly problematic; those who most likely are very engaged but only implicitly so (of course we’re not saying that any subjective stance are okey; again, we’ve to avoid dogmatism and fight analyses that ‘stand on’ shaky ground). But, mirror mirror on the wall, who are you researching for, and why? What about those who write about ‘equal footing’ or assume that capitalist expansion as a ‘natural good’, and their research? We know dozens of skilled Swedish researchers who in their research engage fully in making mining more efficient, productive and profitable, but without any reflections whatsoever about the politics of their engagement. It is more or less taken for granted; perceived as a natural, neutral position; from one perspective thus conflating a currently dominant perspective with a right. Would it not be fair to ask for a similar transparency as in Stuart’s case?

Questions to Stuart (maybe he’ll answer!):

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

Storyteller #38 – mining and migration

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kiruna LKAB

A new living room

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

The old city hall, without the clock tower.

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

Side by side, according to this banner.

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

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

The new living room.

The new living room.


Aboriginals Kiruna LKAB

Where mines are, the state is not?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art Kiruna LKAB

Not all about mining…

Did you know, it’s not all about mining? It’s also about mushrooms, gardening and art.

* Since the 1980s, in an abandoned part of the mine on level 540, the mushroom shiitake is cultivated. The temperature is very even, no insects, basically a sterlie environment, which make the conditions perfect for the mushrooms.

* There used to be a garden inside the gates where “they grew tomatoes, grapes, melons and other fruits and vegetables that were exotic for the climate. Gardener Einar Eng worked in the garden for 49 years.” (The Book of LKAB, 2015: 155)

* LKAB has Sweden’s largest corporate art collection.

Kiruna LKAB Luleå Storyteller Union Worker

Storyteller #35 – the union and the Summerbirds

Every Summer, LKAB hires several hundreds of so-called “Summerbirds”; people – often young persons who have a break from their studies – that come in to work for a couple of months when ordinary staff are on vacation. As the trend of temporary workers is on the rise in general (although LKAB today work towards decreasing the use of ‘foreign services’), it is interesting to also turn the attention to the response from the unions on this issue. Talking to a Summerbird about this:

When I recently started working at SSAB [the steel plant in Luleå, as Summerbird], than we had a lecture. A person from the union came and talked [to us]. But we never had that at LKAB. Never. Not heard anything about it, not even mentioned to me…

Aboriginals Kiruna LKAB Management Music

New music video!

When we first arrived in Kiruna, early 2015, the downturn of the market was making its impact, inside and outside the gates. The mood in general seemed rather low. This song, “Stänger alla kranar” (in Swedish, roughly translated into “Closing all taps”), came out of how different people talked about the on-going and planned cost reductions in the company, but ended in a bricolage of more than just this. So, no one-liner about what it is about.

Kiruna LKAB Storyteller

Storyteller #32 – next level in the mine?

Just recently, top management has expressed itself in positive terms regarding plans for a new level in the Kiruna mine. The latest one, at 1365 meters below ground, has just recently been completed (although in use for some years already). Expected to last for about 15-20 years, it looks as if the Kirunavaara mine will continue to go deeper, although much is still uncertain. We recalled a discussion with a middle manager inside the gates that we had early on in the project, asking if a new main level is probable:

Yes, I think there’ll be a new level, in one way or another. It’s not sure it’ll look like the one on 1365 because 1365 is a luxury build. We got almost everything. Then it depends a bit on the conditions of the mountain down there. But the type of spaces we’ve done at 1365, I doubt that we’ll get them, for mountain mechanical reasons, on 1770 or something. But there might be other… I hope that in about ten years, then you’ll have other technological solutions for how to lift rocks, well, to solve rocks. Whatever those might be.

[we talk about zero-entry mining, no hands in the mine]

Yes, I’ve been involved in that a bit and there are many of these future projects that you: “Well, well, but just as long as he [sic!] doesn’t put up a tight time limit”, then I think we’ll get there soon, but…

[we talk about automation]

But we could have more robots, for sure. And I hope it will happen, partly to save people, not just in numbers but also their physics. We still have some risky jobs… [inaudible] It doesn’t matter if it falls down on a robot or if it gets the stone on top of it. There is no “ouch!”, just pull it out, repair it and then in with it again. So for that sake, I hope for zero entry.

LKAB Storyteller Supplier

Storyteller #26 – balancing between own people and contractors

Next storyteller is a contractor who (just as many of the other contractors we’ve talked) used to work for LKAB. The quotes below are from the part of our conversation where this person reflects on how a shifting balance between using the mining company’s own employees and contractors impact LKAB’s performance.

– I think the easiest way for LKAB is to cut away more parts (of the operations), to sell out parts and place them with contractors. That’s the easiest way to turn the ship around. […]

– Is there any risk (for LKAB) with such a strategy?

– Yes, you loose the in-house competence and the long-term perspective. And if you let go of too much you risk ending up in that conflict again, “whose responsibility is this?”. So, it has to be clear that LKAB still is the client, whereas the performer could be somebody else.

Kiruna LKAB Politician Storyteller Union Worker

Storyteller #24 – the work rotation vs. the local community

Last year we met a local politician in Kiruna. One theme in our conversation was how different work rotation schedules related to the local community, since workers who work in Kiruna but don’t live in Kiruna also don’t pay taxes in the municipality. The politician said:

When we discussed about there being a lot of people commuting [from outside the municipality to work in the mine], they have these work rotations schedules where they work seven days and are free seven days. There has been a discussion about whether or not IF Metall [the workers’ union] perhaps should make LK[AB] stop this. But, even those who live in Kiruna want these schedules. It’s very much a matter of… Before they [many commuters] went home to Tornedalen… They really want this. Work seven days and then spend seven days in their cabins. But the union doesn’t dare to push the issue since it works against their members.