Power Mapping in Blockadia: the strategic efficacy of blockades in the movement to keep fossil fuels in the ground

Authors: Theo LeQuesne*, UC Santa Barbara
Topics: Energy, Environment, Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: Climate Justice, Blockadia, Hegemony, Social Movements, Gramsci
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Roosevelt 1, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


As the urgency of keeping fossil fuels in the ground becomes ever more intense, climate justice campaigns have increasingly turned to the use of the blockade to force a crisis of legitimacy on the fossil fuel economy, obstruct fossil fuel development, assert Indigenous sovereignty, and prefigure a world after oil. This paper presents a Gramscian analysis of the strategic efficacy of using the blockade to claim and defend space against the encroachment of what Michael Watts calls “the oil frontier.” Drawing on participant action research, I look at what we can learn from Standing Rock’s confrontation with the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota, as well as the First Nation’s-led coalition of campaigns to stop the Trans Mountain pipeline in British Columbia. These two cases force us to engage with the efficacy of blockades and situate them within a broader array of complimentary, and sometimes contradictory, set of tactics. Deploying Gramsci’s concept of hegemony to demonstrate how both conflicts revolve around relations of consent, coercion, and compliance, I argue that in physically claiming and defending space, the blockade shifts climate justice activism away from a singular focus on either discursive or material theories of change to theories of change in which intervention in the power relations upon which fossil fuel companies depend is simultaneously material and discursive. Theories of change that understand power as both discursive and material allow activists to innovate tactics to challenge the relations of consent, compliance, and coercion upon which the fossil fuel industry's hegemony rests.

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