Contested Claims to the Future: Public Spectacles and Shifting Extractive Frontiers in Senegal

Authors: Ashley Fent*, Vassar College
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: Senegal, mining, resource extraction, spectacle, political ecology
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 1:30 PM / 2:45 PM
Room: Virtual 36
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Spectacles and images of resource wealth often play performative roles in capital accumulation, national culture, and what Giza Weszkalnys terms a “speculative epistemology” that seeks to apprehend resource potentiality and attract investors. Yet it is also critical to examine the relationship between public visibility and secrecy, and to investigate the audiences and temporalities of spectacles. To whom do certain images circulate, and when? What are the effects of this for capital circulation? Drawing on ethnographic and archival research in Senegal, this paper examines two projects—a heavy mineral sands mine and a concession of offshore natural gas blocks—that have generated widespread public controversy. The Senegalese government has enthusiastically opened new frontiers for mineral and hydrocarbon extraction, triggering debates about future ecological, social, and economic impacts. Building on Anna Tsing’s theorization of “spectacular accumulation,” I argue that in the cases explored in this paper, public spectacles did not only create avenues for investment—they also produced obstacles to it. From the early 2000s, the government and companies circulated various images of new opportunities for exploration and investment. However, various social groups have generated more punctuated spectacles through televised debates, public demonstrations, and news articles, in order to assert public claims to the future value of Senegal’s natural resources and to delegitimize private benefits and secretive contracts. This paper emphasizes the importance of considering the divergent audiences, engineers, and effects of resource spectacles, and the multiple temporalites and spatialities through which knowledge, illusion, and speculation are circulated.

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