EIAs, power and political ecology: Situating resource struggles and the techno-politics of small-scale mining

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Academics across disciplines are increasingly employing political ecology lenses to unpack conflicts related to resource extraction. Yet, an area that remains under-researched and under-theorised is how environmental impact assessments (EIAs) are embedded in politics and imagined as sites of power relations. Drawing on long-term fieldwork in Zimbabwe engaging small-scale gold miners, EIA consultants and government officials, this article examines the changing social significance of EIAs during and after a nationwide police operation that was framed by authorities as targeting non-compliance with environmental policy, illegal mining and illicit trading. Among other articulations of dissent, small-scale miners associations protested that EIA enforcement rhetoric served unjustly as a rationale for halting livelihoods and extracting rent from miners in times of economic difficulty. The article challenges EIA narratives that focus narrowly on risk management or governance failure, exploring technocratic obfuscations and how enforcement rhetoric was perceived in relation to criminalisation and coercion, expert environmental consultancy cultures and adapted legacies of colonial practice in contemporary dynamics of rule. Heavy-handed policing under the banner of enforcing order impinged on livelihoods and had counterproductive effects in addressing environmental problems, while complying with expensive EIA report-producing requirements was far beyond the means of most small-scale miners. The article rethinks how technical EIA rhetoric becomes entangled in spaces of contentious politics, the perils of looking only at particular scales of relations to the exclusion of others, and what it means to re-engage Donald Moore’s notion of “shifting alignments and contingent constellations of power.” Suggesting future directions in political ecology theorising in relation to extractive sectors, it calls for careful attention to the situated politics of EIAs – situated in time and space, amid varying relations of power – and how multiple hegemonic practices are conceptualised and challenged.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)95-107
Number of pages13
Early online date3 Nov 2017
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2017

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • political ecology
  • resource conflict
  • environmental impact assessment
  • mining
  • small-scale mining
  • artisanal gold mining
  • resource geography
  • power relations
  • techno-politics
  • hegemony


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