In the past four decades, natural resource extraction has significantly accelerated and expanded in response to historically high commodity prices. The increase in commodity prices has served to increase the global demand for industrial raw materials. However, many of the existing and accessible resource locations have already been exhausted. This means that corporations and governments have needed to expand their search for raw materials to support the increased demand. These new areas of extraction, which can be thought of as “resource frontiers” are often in peripheral areas in the Global South, which are often already inhabited by Indigenous people or other traditional populations, which disrupts their ways of life. While extractive industries have been able to gain ground in these new territories, there has also been a surprisingly strong backlash from the local populations who will not allow their homelands to be used for this destructive extraction.
In order to deepen our understanding of the role of grassroots resistance in the politics of natural resources, Academy of Finland research fellow and associate professor of Global Development Studies at University of Helsinki, Markus Kröger has recently published an open-access book with University of Michigan Press called Iron Will: Global Extractivism and Mining Resistance in Brazil and India. Iron Will is an ethnographic study of armed resistance and peaceful resistance movements against iron ore mining. This book explores the ways in which Brazilian and Indian social movements, including non-governmental organisations and civil society organisations, resist the undesired extraction of iron ore. Kröger tracks how grassroots resistance strategies have been successful and unsuccessful, and how these activities influence the economy and politics of natural resources as a whole. The steel–iron ore complex is an extremely polluting and impactful sector with ramifications related to global warming, climate change, and socio-environmental disasters. However, this sector is an essential ingredient to build nations and shape them into global powers. Kröger calls Brazil and India the “underresearched centers of new investment and conflict that illustrate unexplored dimensions and new actors in the global political economy and world-ecology” (p.7).
During field research in India (Markus Kröger)
According to Kröger the capacities of resistance will become even more visible in the future, as environmental limits become increasingly more tangible. In the past decade Brazil and India have been high on the list for the most lethal countries for environmental and land rights activists, which makes the research of social movements in the areas all the more pressing. In researching this book, Kröger studied all the major iron ore projects in India and Brazil. He came to the conclusion that in India iron ore mining discontinued and major economic and political outcomes were most likely when resistance used specific strategies in combination and did not appease private actors. These strategies can be distilled into five key strategies:
- organizing and politicizing a grassroots mass social movement
- campaigning by nonmodernist framing
- protesting peacefully and physically in a notable way, for example by blocking important resource export routes
- (co)producing the state while retaining autonomy
Kröger notes that while it is difficult to universalize causalities between strategies and outcomes, the research indicated that ‘upstream strategies’ are more useful than ‘downstream strategies’. This means trying it halt or regulate access to minerals and other resources before they are extracted was more effective than strategies which focused on consumption and/or regulation of active sites of extraction. Using the 5 key strategies in combination, India has had a dramatic slow down of its iron ore production since 2012. The book explains how the five key strategies played a large role in this outcome. The use of the five key strategies was not as successful in Brazil as in India, which suggests that the political context for resistance was more challenging.
It should be noted that the resistance strategies described above might not bring about identical outcomes in other parts of the World, especially in established Western industrial democracies. Yet, similar studies on strategies used by local resistances in other political contexts would bring a better understanding of the global environmental governance and local reactions to the practices of extractive industries on a global scale. This is vitally important as global extractivism is likely to become increasingly present and pressing around the world. This short piece hardly scratches the surface of the rich multi-sited political ethnography in Iron Will. To learn more about extractivisms and resistances in Brazil and India check out the open access book at the University of Michigan Press.
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Markus Kröger is an Associate Professor of Global Development Studies at the University of Helsinki and a research fellow at the Academy of Finland. Professor Kröger is one of the founding members of The Global Extractivisms and Alternatives research initiative (EXALT) and a member of the Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science (HELSUS). He has written extensively on global natural resource politics, conflicts, and social resistance movements and the economic outcomes, especially in relation to iron ore mining and forestry. He is also an expert in political economy, development, and globalization in Latin America, India, and the Arctic.