Archives of the Planetary Mine: Culture, Nature Extraction, and Energy across the Americas

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April 24, 2023

Gianfranco Selgas is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at University College London and an affiliated researcher at the Nordic Institute of Latin American Studies, Stockholm University.

The use and abuse of energy, from minerals to fossil fuels, has significantly impacted how we find our planet today. The United Nations’ 2022 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report emphasized how energy consumption has driven the socioecological crisis of climate change. The relations between energy, nature extraction, and modernity sustained by patterns of uneven economic growth and the expansion and access to goods and services have been related to high levels of dependence, as well as to the capacities and skills generated by energy consumption. With the turn towards extractivism and energy as objects for critical inquiry, minerals and fossil fuels have become crucial additions to categories of cultural, political, and materialist analyses. The international workshop Archives of the Planetary Mine: Culture, Nature Extraction, and Energy across the Americas took the latter as a starting point to explore the intersections between culture, politics, energy consumption, and extractivism across North and Latin America.

Archives of the Planetary Mine took place on November 14-15, 2022, at the Nordic Institute of Latin American Studies (NILAS), Stockholm University, Sweden. It received financial support from Riksbankens jubileumsfond – The Swedish Foundation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, the Situated Ecologies Platform, and KTH - Royal Institute of Technology’s Department of Sustainable Development, Environmental Science and Engineering. The workshop addressed reckoning with unprecedented levels of energy consumption and it critically engaged with the logic of extraction from the perspective of social and cultural practices. Resource extraction involves a global network of capitalist production, material exchange, and technologies connecting nations and infrastructures across time and space. Sociologist Martín Arboleda defines this configuration as the planetary mine. By exploring how extractive zones across the Americas have become intermingled with an expanding constellation of international networks, participants set out to analyze and historicize the relations between culture and politics, extractivism, and energy from the outlook of material, textual, visual, and political case studies. We imagined the archives of the planetary mine as a multi-cultural, multi-material, and biodiverse record of the events that constitute our current socioecological crisis. In our discussions, the idea of the archive was implicit in our presentations, and it was understood as a critical praxis to register our pasts and presents and transport them into the future.

The workshop’s specific purpose was to illuminate the role played by energy consumption and extractivism in transforming human subjectivities, cultural practices, and the environment. Three main questions animated our discussions: 1) How does the cultural and political engagement with nature extraction and energy consumption render climate change visible as a multifaceted socioecological crisis?, 2) In what manner does our critical engagement with cultural practices, nature extraction, and energy consumption enable us to perceive social worlds as currently configured?, and 3) How have minerals (from gold to lithium) and fossil fuels (coal, petroleum, gas) significantly transformed human and extra-human environments and culture?

Archives of the Planetary Mine brought together twenty-seven junior and senior researchers and three keynote speakers. Paula Serafini (Queen Mary, University of London) delivered a keynote presentation on Patchwork Frameworks: Researching and Teaching Culture and Extraction in Urgent Times; Martín Arboleda (Diego Portales University, Chile) addressed Representing Extraction: Dependency and Economic Planning in 20th Century Latin America; and Jeff Diamanti (University of Amsterdam) delivered the presentation Bloom Ecologies: Critical Currents for the Hypoxic Age.

Framing these case studies as archives of the planetary mine helped us illuminate a socioecological approach to the agency of culture and politics vis-a-vis the blind spots of social, power, and environmental histories in the Americas and beyond.

Collectively, keynote speakers and participants addressed the historical, geographical, and geological magnitudes of energy consumption, as well as engaging critically with the extraction of nature as a condition of possibility for cultural production and social life. The various magnitudes of energy consumption and resource extraction were analyzed from the perspective of political ecology, environmental and economic history, urban studies, and art activism, emphasizing an interregional perspective of the Americas. This approach was relevant to nurturing cross-cutting discussions about North America and Latin America as worldwide providers, consumers, and drivers of nature and energy commodities and as territories deeply impacted by land plundering and rampant ecocide. Even though our focus was on the Americas, our discussions on cultural and political responses to resource extraction and energy consumption stressed how more-than-human natures, minerals, and environmental concerns should be accounted for at a local, national, and planetary scale.

Multi-disciplinarity and contrasting methodologies were relevant to address urgent questions related to climate pasts, presents and futures, sustainability, biocultural diversity, and resilience-justice in the Americas. Participants showed how categories of modernity, economic growth, and the rise of the capitalist economy can only be understood by illuminating the agential role of energy, nature, and mineral extraction in the formation of material infrastructures, as well as human subjectivities and cultural production practices. In their presentations, participants shared research on social struggles related to energy transition and the so-called green extractivism in Chilean and Argentinian lithium mines; agribusinesses and agrocide in Argentina and the Brazilian and Peruvian Amazon; ontological approaches to extractivism and Andean eco-social thought; petrocultural fiction writing in the US; or the connections between cultural institutions, artistic representation, and mineral extraction in Canada, the US, and Bolivia. Framing these case studies as archives of the planetary mine helped us illuminate a socioecological approach to the agency of culture and politics vis-a-vis the blind spots of social, power, and environmental histories in the Americas and beyond. We conceptualized these archives of the planetary mine as a radical horizon of possibilities to bring to the fore historical and current concerns related to an ethical commitment to environmental, economic, and social justice.

Over the course of two days, however, the workshop also became a space of shared solidarity and camaraderie. The archives of the planetary mine invite us to pay attention to our energy sources but also to the relations we build and maintain with and through them. The workshop concluded with the consolidation of the Archives of the Planetary Mine Collective. We are planning on meeting again for more collaborative work. In the meantime, we are drafting an edited volume proposal with the workshop’s presentations. More to come!

The Archives of the Planetary Mine Collective
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