POLLEN18 CfP – Mobilization against resource extraction and political (re)actions ‘from above’

*** Forwarded via Judith Verweijen & Alexander Dunlap ***

Call for Papers Political Ecology Network (POLLEN) bi-annual conference, Oslo, 20–22 June 2018

Mobilization against resource extraction and political (re)actions ‘from above’

Organizers: Judith Verweijen (Ghent University) & Alexander Dunlap (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)

Recent scholarship on extractivist projects and land grabbing highlights the need to look beyond ‘resistance’ and study the entire spectrum of ‘political reactions “from below”’ (Li, 2011; Borras & Franco, 2013; Hall et al., 2015). To understand this spectrum, however, it is crucial to also study political (re)actions ‘from above’ (Geenen & Verweijen, 2017). This means examining the ways in which governments, extractive companies and other public and private actors try to influence, manage and engineer political reactions ‘from below’. While relational approaches to social mobilization emphasize the need to study ‘counter-mobilization’ (Tarrow, 1994; Diani & McAdam, 2003), the latter has been unevenly examined in relation to recent waves of mobilization against resource extraction and land grabbing, including ‘green grabbing’ (Fairhead et al., 2012). In particular, it is not always studied how (re)actions ‘from above’ and ‘from below’ mutually shape each other. Furthermore, few studies address the entire spectrum of political (re)actions ‘from above’, which covers variegated efforts not only to ‘manage’ dissent and ‘manufacture’ consent (Bernays, 1947; Herman & Chomsky, 1989), but also to prevent opposition to extractive interventions from emerging in the first place.

Research into political reactions ‘from above’ attempts to understand the strategies and tactics employed by governments, corporations and allied elites to make their operations politically and socially feasible. These strategies and techniques do not only relate to overtly violent police, military and paramilitary action (Lasslett, 2014; Dunlap, 2017a; Verweijen, 2017), but also include subtle forms of coercion such as spying on activists and creating informant networks (Churchill & Vander Wall, 2002[1984]; Williams, 2007; Lubbers, 2012; Williams et al., 2013). Furthermore, they encompass multipronged efforts to ‘divide and conquer’ opposition, such as through the co-optation of local politicians, elites and community leaders (Welker, 2014; Brock & Dunlap, forthcoming); the creation of astroturf groups or proxy NGOs, including online communities (Austin, 2002; Kraemer et al., 2013; Bsumek et al., 2014); and harnessing journalists and social scientific knowledge production, including to understand ‘local opinion’ and the ‘human terrain’ (Dinan & Miller, 2007; Price, 2011, 2014; Dunlap, 2017a) Political (re)actions from above also incorporate initiatives to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of ‘target populations’, for instance, through Public Relations campaigns and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities to ‘pacify’ dissent and legitimize land control and extractive projects (Rogers, 2012; McQueen, 2015; Brock & Dunlap, forthcoming).

This broad repertoire indicates that the study of political (re)actions ‘from above’ requires interdisciplinary and multi-sited research efforts, focusing on, inter alia, corporate activities in boardrooms and informal settings; online propaganda and discussions; the actions of security actors in headquarters and around extractive projects; and the practices of protest groups, who are the primary ‘target’ of counter-mobilization. This research endeavor is of both theoretical and practical importance, helping to understand the evolution and effects of mobilization against extractivist projects, in particular in the face of the growing convergence of counterterrorism and counterinsurgency techniques employed across different settings to ‘engineer’ the political terrain (Dunlap & Fairhead, 2014; Dunlap, 2017a; Brown et al., 2017).

To enrich the study of political reactions ‘from above’ in relation to extractivist projects and land grabbing—‘green’ or otherwise—conceptually, theoretically and empirically, we invite contributions covering one or more of the themes elaborated below, or other dimensions of the problematic of corporate and state-led counter-mobilization:

  • The role of CSR, certification processes and Free, Prior and Informed Consent within processes of the legitimization of extractive operations, ‘social pacification’, and the pre-emption and management of dissent (McQueen, 2015; Dunlap, 2017b)
  • The neoliberalization of counter-mobilization; for instance, the commercialization of militarized approaches (cf. Marijnen & Verweijen, 2016) or the role of ‘spectacle’ (cf. Igoe et al., 2010) and entertainment in manufacturing consent, including mining tourism or other dimensions of the ‘ecotourism-extraction nexus’ (Büscher & Davidov, 2013)
  • Mapping elite networks and (security) assemblages around extractive industries and projects, while examining the formal and informal ways in which different private, public and extra-judicial actors liaise to undermine social movements and protest groups (Abrahamsen & Williams, 2009; de Graaff, 2013)
  • The securitization and militarization of counter-mobilization, including ‘corporate counterinsurgency’ (Rosenau et al., 2009), ‘militarization beyond the battlefield’ and the transnational diffusion of repressive techniques through security assistance and counter-terrorism programs (Dunlap, 2017b)
  • The multifaceted approaches of extractive companies to legitimize their projects, including through ‘greening’ (Brock & Dunlap, forthcoming) and ‘counter-framing’ (Benford & Snow, 2000) and the role of online strategies therein, such as counter-webtivism (cf. Büscher et al., 2017)
  • The methodological challenges of studying political reactions ‘from above’, including researching elite practices, dealing with security risks, and reflections on researchers’ positionality and relations to activists, corporate and state actors (Ballard & Banks, 2003; Price, 2011; Welker, 2016)

Please send abstracts of no more than 300 words to both Alexander Dunlap (a.d.dunlap@vu.nl) and Judith Verweijen (judith.verweijen@ugent.be) before 1 December 2017. Applicants will be notified whether their paper has been accepted or not by 5 December 2017.

We encourage (but do not oblige) the submission of full papers before the conference, as we intend to select papers for a special issue on political reactions ‘from above’ in relation to extractivist projects and land grabbing. If you are not able to attend the conference, but are interested in participating in the special issue, do not hesitate to get in touch as well.


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