Subterranean Territories: Authority and Contestation in an Indonesian Gold Mining Concession

Authors: Matthew Libassi*, University of California - Berkeley
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Human-Environment Geography, Asia
Keywords: territory, underground, gold, small-scale mining, Indonesia
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 1:30 PM / 2:45 PM
Room: Virtual 31
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In Indonesia, as in most countries around the world, subsurface resources are the domain of the state. Their cataloguing, permitting, and government-legitimated extraction comprise one element of state territorialization of the subterranean. However, like all processes of territorialization, state control of the underground is always incomplete and subject to competing uses of space and resources. One of the clearest examples of such contestation is informal, artisanal or small-scale mining. In this paper, I examine a case of gold mining conflict in West Java, Indonesia. There, state-corporate and informal mining compete over the same gold reserves, directly confronting each other both above and below ground. I highlight the techniques by which a state-owned mining company attempts to assert its territorial control and consolidate its legitimacy. First, I situate this within the context of Indonesian histories of extraction and shifting popular discourses on natural resources. Next, I show how this territorial conflict is shaped by the material concerns of accessing and navigating three dimensional subterranean spaces as well as conceptual ways of knowing the underground. Finally, I explore how state actors consolidate control over the subsurface by discursively reframing the underground in nationalistic terms.

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