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

Samuel J. Spiegel
2017 Geoforum  
Citation for published version: Spiegel, S 2017, 'EIAs, power and political ecology: Situating resource struggles and the techno-politics of small-scale mining ', Geoforum, vol. 87,. https://doi. A B S T R A C T 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
more » ... and imagined as sites of power relations. Drawing on longterm 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 EIAssituated in time and space, amid varying relations of powerand how multiple hegemonic practices are conceptualised and challenged.
doi:10.1016/j.geoforum.2017.10.010 fatcat:rpewwcjxmje4tjuviarnd3yhcq