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Concession blocks, spiraling open-pits, and wily start-ups: Spatialities of Andean extractivism

Authors: Carwil Bjork-James*, Vanderbilt University
Topics: Human-Environment Geography, Latin America, Indigenous Peoples
Keywords: neo-extractivism, spatiality, mining, socio-environmental conflict, Peru, Bolivia, neoliberalism
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Mining literally transforms the Earth’s surface into a source of valuable commodities. This paper explores how extractive industries and technologies bring the abstract consumptive power of the global economy into contact with the material landscape. I analyze this process of material extraction and financial abstraction by focusing on two open-pit mining projects, the Sumitomo Corporation’s San Cristóbal mine, currently the largest in Bolivia, and Bear Creek Mining’s fruitless Santa Ana mine, which was blocked by protests in Peru in 2011. I examine the technologies, legal and financial instruments, and practices that along the value chain that stretches from mineral-containing regions to the Vancouver Stock Exchange. Generalizing, I propose that many layers of extraction and abstraction each impose a new spatiality on the landscape.

The global demand for precious metals has to be operationalized through a series of schema that operate at the levels of engineering, property ownership, territorial governance, national “investment climate,” and capital mobilization. Neoliberal investment policies standardized many of these schema, making them equally accessible to any foreign direct investor. Twenty-first century shifts, including a China-led global commodity boom, new capital-intensive industries, and the Canada-centered venture-capital-ization of the mining sector are also reshaping the flows of material and capital. At each level of the process, there is an effort to streamline and routinize the process, and to offer the underlying precious minerals for sale within containers that bear successively less trace of the material realities of the minerals, their extraction, and its impact on the environment.

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