Society for Economic Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Since the 1990s, mining corporations have responded to denunciations of the detrimental environmental impacts of their operations by rebranding themselves as practitioners of “sustainable development”. Early versions of the corporate oxymoron “sustainable mining” only included the economic, not the ecological aspects, of sustainable development’s definition. More recent claims of “sustainable mining”, however, include them both, with corporate discourses surrounding the reclamation of closing mine sites playing a key role in integrating them. As “former assets” that produced marketable value, mine sites are not only to be given back to locals as “properties” to continue to be used productively;they are also to be cleaned up in order to return them “back to nature”. In this paper, I will critically examine corporate discourses and practices of reclamation. As we will see, capitalistic valuations of land are creatively reconciled to environmentalist ones through mobilizing the neoliberal language of entrepreneurship, and its associated concepts of self-realization, flexibility, and open-ended potentialities. Drawing on fieldwork conducted in partnership with a Guatemalan Indigenous organization who is negotiating the terms of the reclamation process of the Marlin Mine, I will highlight the colonial, paternalistic, and capitalist frontiers logics that corporate, entrepreneurship-focused reclamation perspectives remain fundamentally embedded in. From a corporate point of view, the “locals” are essentially backward-looking “Indians” in dire need to be instructed about how to “properly” care for, and exploit the unlimited potential of, their lands –obscuring in this way, if not neutralizing it, the irreparable environmental contamination that the mine is now leaving behind.