Accounting for materiality: geology versus volume in the Northwest Territories, Canada

Authors: Matilda Becker*, University of Oxford
Topics: Political Geography, Natural Resources, Canada
Keywords: materiality, minerals, geo-accounting, Indigenous territories, infrastructure
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 55
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

This paper argues that the current focus on volume in resource geographies needs to be
complemented with a material analysis of the speculative process of identifying minerals and its
socio-political consequences. I draw on political geology literature on earthly materiality and the
politics of volume (Steinberg and Peters, 2015; Bobbette and Donovan, 2019; Slesinger, 2020) to
consider the importance of heterogeneous geological materiality for the construction of
cartographic spaces and frontier extraction economies. To demonstrate this, I examine Arctic
infrastructure routing proposals that are supported by cartographic representations of mineral
potential in the Slave Geological Province (SGP) of the Northwest Territories, Canada.

Here, an attention to minerals’ diverse properties – type, distribution, quality – and geoscientific
identification methods, underlines that thinking volumetrically alone obscures the specificities of
speculative resource accounting. The latter is driven by the difficulty of collecting evenly spread,
comparable and reliable geodata, especially in vast, geologically underexplored areas. Instead of
volumetric data, economic geologists make use of surficial proxies of mineral potential, derived
from historic techno-legal relations with land, thus bypassing the lack of available geodata within
the SGP. I further academic critiques of resource accounting and speculative geopolitics
(Weszkalnys, 2015; Kama and Kuchler, 2019), highlighting how unreliable geo-accounting devices
sustain social injustices in frontier resource economies. Specifically, they devalue the estimated
mineral potential of Indigenous compared to Crown lands. By side-lining their lands in
infrastructure project planning, the opportunity for Indigenous governments to develop resource
extraction on their traditional territories is compromised.

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