Troubling the idealised pageantry of extractive conflicts: Comparative insights on authority and claim-making from Papua New Guinea, Mongolia and El Salvador

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This article challenges simplified and idealised representation of conflicts between corporations, states and impacted populations in the context of extractive industries. Through comparative discussion of mineral extraction in Papua New Guinea, Mongolia and El Salvador, we argue that strategies of engagement over the terms of extraction vary significantly as a result of the interaction between relations of authority and recognition in the context of specific projects and the national political economy of mining. As mineral extraction impinges on their lands, livelihoods, territories and senses of the future, affected populations face the uncertain question of how to respond and to whom to direct these responses. Strategies vary widely, and can involve confrontation, litigation, negotiation, resignation, and patronage. These strategies are targeted at companies, investors, the national state, local government, multilateral institutions, and international arbitrators. We argue that the key to understanding how strategies emerge to target different types and scales of authority, lies ultimately with inherited geographies of state presence and strategic absence. This factor shapes the construction of “community” claim-making in relation to state and non-state authorities, and calculations regarding the relative utility of claiming rights or mobilizing relationships as a means of seeking redress, compensation or benefit sharing. In the context of plural opportunities for claim-making, we query whether plurality is more emancipatory or, ironically, more constricting for impacted populations. In response to this question, we argue that “community” strategies tend to be more effective where they remain linked in some way to the territorial and legislative structure of the national state.

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World Development

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