Anthropology and Environment Society
Oral Presentation Session
Engineering consultants make possible the everyday activities of mining and oil and gas production, yet those I came to know through my research expressed an ethical ambivalence about those industries and their own contributions to them. In this paper, I show that through their personal attachments to “nature” – which exceeded the resource ontologies required by their work – the consultants carved out professional spaces that (mostly) satisfied their personal senses of environmental responsibility while simultaneously enabling extractive activity to proceed. Creating these professional spaces over the course of their careers generated a temporal rhythm of attachment and detachment from corporate forms. Working from contract to contract allowed successful consultants to strategically choose which projects they would work on and which companies they would work for. They sought for the knowledge they produced to become materialized in the infrastructure, processes, and discourses attributed to projects and corporations they respected. Yet they remained keenly aware that they needed to please their clients and felt hamstrung by their position “recommending” courses of action to corporate employees who then had the power to act – or not – on their work. This bind served as a source of value and legitimacy for their corporate clients: consultants – especially those with professed love of the outdoors – were widely perceived as being more independent and trustworthy than company employees, even though in practice they remained financially dependent on those companies for their livelihood and did not retain control over the implementation of their work.