Extractive Bargains: Exploring the State-Society Nexus

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April 5, 2024

Extractive Bargains: Natural Resources and the State-Society Nexus is co-edited by Paul Bowles, Professor Emeritus in Global Studies and Economics at the University of Northern British Columbia and Nathan Andrews, Associate Professor in Political Science at McMaster University.

As the world confronts climate change, environmental degradation, rampant social and economic inequalities, wars, and insecurity, the uncertainty over the future of fossil fuel and mineral extraction has perhaps never been greater. When an increased global recognition of the rights of Indigenous peoples is added, then how extraction takes place has become a source of major contention, with states finding themselves at the centre of conflicting pressures from extractive capital and civil society forces. Our edited collection analyses one state response, namely, that of advancing “extractive bargains.”


Extractive bargains refer to ways in which states seek to construct discourses, political imaginaries even, to convince societal groups about the need to pursue particular policies on resource extraction, whether that be the continuation, expansion, or even reduction of extraction, for “societal good.” Our conceptualization of state-society relations denotes a complex iteration of the broader assemblage of actors, power structures, institutions, and coalitions that contribute to the justification for and material manifestations of resource extraction. Extractive bargains are dynamic and there is a dialectical process between states and social actors as bargains constantly shift in their emphasis and scope.


The book examines case studies from 16 countries from both the Global North and Global South and includes some majority Indigenous states. In selecting countries as case studies, we were conscious of finding countries where bargains may be said to have been offered. In some states, this is demonstrably not the case and the use of state violence is the standard response to civil society opposition. Of course, violence comes in different forms and is often present when examining natural resource extraction. But it is not the only mechanism used and many states seek legitimacy for extractive policies through other mechanisms; it is the efforts of some of these states which are included as case studies.


Underpinning the concept of an “extractive bargain” is the idea that policies concerning natural resource extraction are contestable and negotiable. State responses to extraction take many forms and we examine ‘Varieties of Extractive Bargains’ along two axes. The first is the analytical axis in which the content and social basis for bargains in specific state-level locations are identified, analysed, and categorised. The second is a normative assessment of bargains and their ability to meet the challenges of a world beset with inequality, injustice and environmental crises at multiple scales. 

In terms of analytical types, based on our country case studies, we identify six major state-level bargains. These are: (i) the climate bargain, which entails states justifying their policies and seeking to gain support for extraction by pointing to their climate benefits – including expanded extraction in the context of both fossil fuels (such as natural gas) and the critical minerals needed for a transition to renewable energy; (ii)  the post-extractive bargain which is framed in terms of eschewing extractive activities in order to meet a higher order cause such as climate change. It may also include social justice components such as the support for ‘green jobs’ in order to compensate those who might otherwise lose from the implementation of the bargain; (iii) Indigenous focussed bargains, which are designed to permit extraction to take place on Indigenous territories in return for specific benefits to Indigenous societies and utilise a wide variety of mechanisms designed to offer Indigenous communities sources of income and in some cases forms of political power in exchange for ongoing resource extraction writ large; (iv) social redistribution bargains in which states sought to gain popular support for expanded resource extraction in return for revenues which are used to support pro-poor programs; (v) independence bargains where states appeal for public support for extraction to meet nationalist goals (including energy independence); and (vi) a developmentalist bargain. Here, revenues from extraction are promoted as providing the means to support broad structural change of the economy thereby facilitating the development transition.


A variety of extractive bargains can be identified not only in terms of the analytical ideal types discussed above but also in normative terms and there is a spectrum along which extractive bargains may be found in this regard with bargains which provide for long-term environmental and social justice at one end and bargains which then move through various degrees of incoherence to short-termism and bargains antithetical to long-term solutions at the other end. We define these as moving from the progressive at one end through the constructive and the contradictory to the Faustian at the other.


Our case studies reveal some key messages:

1. Diverse Normative Positions. Bargains of the same analytical type can range significantly in their normative position. An example of this can be found with Indigenous focused bargains. In the Canadian case, it is argued by Atleo and Boron that the extractive bargain offered by the settler colonial state has ambiguous implications for indigenous communities and can, in some circumstances, lead to forms of dispossession. Further along the spectrum, however, Radhuber at el. argue that the constitutionally recognized plural economies approach inspired by Indigenous agendas for plurinational states in Ecuador and Bolivia has the potential to be a progressive bargain.


2. Different Implications for Various Groups.The same bargain can have different normative implications for different groups exposing blind spots or divide-and-rule strategies. In some cases, we may therefore find that the bargain may seem to be at the progressive end of the spectrum when judged by the interests of one set of actors but as closer to Faustian when viewed from another. This is indeed exactly the conclusion reached by Beland Lindahl in her chapter when she argues that the Swedish extractive bargain might be viewed as progressive when examined from the perspective of the working class but is Faustian for the Sami Indigenous population in a political economy which has a blind spot for Indigenous rights.


3. The Complexity of the State. The state is a complex institution and contradictory bargains often reveal different positions within the state apparatus which can be used as leverage. There are several examples which can be used to illustrate this point from Tanzania, Colombia, the Philippines, and Ghana.


4. The Role of Agency. Agency matters and can shift or create bargains in a more progressive direction. For example, the post-extractive bargains analyzed by Greene and Carter reveal how the sources of progressive change have both generalizable and country-specific elements. In Australia, the Philippines, and South Africa, O’Faircheallaigh shows how the different political mobilization capacities of Indigenous communities have led to quite different outcomes.


5. Challenging the Logic of Extractivism. The possibilities for designing extractive bargains which fully meet the goals of social and environmental justice depend critically on being able to challenge the logic of extractivism. This task is much more difficult and, to realize the transformative extractive bargain implied by the progressive end of the normative spectrum, the spectrum poses not just questions of immediate strategy but also of longer-term vision. As Veltmeyer’s chapter shows, there is no consensus here even in the context of Latin America where the continent has long been subject to extractivism.


The book is the first to analyze in detail and in comparative perspective how states have sought to construct discourses and dialogues designed to support particular extractive policies but also to demonstrate that pathways are not pre-determined and that there are possibilities for progressive change.


Chapter 1 of Extractive Bargains: Natural Resources and the State-Society Nexus is available through Open Access.

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