CFP: The Politics of Underground Extraction and Contamination

Edward Burtynsky, SOCAR Oil Fields #4, Baku, Azerbaijan, 2006

Edward Burtynsky, SOCAR Oil Fields #4, Baku, Azerbaijan, 2006

CFP : The Politics of Underground Extraction and Contamination
American Anthropological Association
Washington DC, December 3–7, 2014
Panel organizers: Mark Gardiner and Sarah Ives (Stanford University); Shannon Cram (UC Berkeley)
Discussant: Kim Fortun (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute)

Tap water catches fire in West Virginia; residents blame earthquakes on fracking in Oklahoma; hydrologists, miners, and activists argue about whether radioactive mining waste threatens groundwater in Namibia. The world’s thirst for energy has meant that more capital, more intellectual effort, and more political attention is being drawn towards the underground extraction of resources and disposal of waste. Some environmental groups describe these activities as threats to the health of people, animals, and ecosystems, while some governments and energy companies describe underground minerals as “buried treasure” capable of creating vast fortunes, long-term jobs, and energy independence.

Anthropologists and geographers, too, have turned towards the distinctive politics of the underground. This panel will bring together papers that explore connections between energy, resource extraction, and contamination in relation to understandings of territory, knowledge, and temporality. We aim to explore contrasting views of the underground at the confluence of biopolitics and geopolitics: a space with conflicting specters of poisoned bodies and enriched populations, of foreign exploitation and national patrimony.

We invite submissions that explore some of the following questions: what different temporalities are evoked by underground extraction and contamination? How do states, corporations, communities, and scholars deal with underground contamination when potential problems will only become known and seeable at some unpredictable point in the future? How is the underground made visible through different representative practices, discourses of expertise, and novel scientific techniques? In situations of sometimes radical unknowability and uncertainty, how do parties to controversies about underground contamination stake out their positions? How is risk conceptualized, highlighted, mitigated, and dismissed?

Papers that have already been accepted on this panel address these questions with reference to uranium mining in Namibia, nuclear waste in the United States, and debates around hydraulic fracturing in South Africa. We welcome further submissions from any region, any point in the energy cycle (e.g. extraction, energy production, waste disposal), and from a range of theoretical approaches.

Interested panelists should submit abstracts (no more than 250 words), paper title, keywords, and contact information to Sarah Ives ( and Mark Gardiner (, by *April 5, 2014.* Once accepted, please keep in mind that organizers are NOT able to upload individual abstracts on behalf of presenters on the panel. Presenters must be current members of the AAA unless eligible for a membership exemption (anthropologists living outside of the US/Canada or non-anthropologists) and have paid registration for the 2014 Annual Meeting in order to upload abstract information.