Despite Extractivism




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Whereas ‘extraction’ refers to a forceful act of taking, extractivism includes the ways of thinking which underpin this act. Like capitalism, for example,  extractivism can be understood as a set of ideas and related practises. In this exhibition, extractivism usually applies to the logics of natural resource extraction based on the simplification of natural complexity and interrelatedness into extractable ‘resource’, and the accumulation of wealth resulting from the extraction and profitable sale of the resources in (often international) markets. 

Because the extractivist tendency is to accumulate as much wealth as possible, environmental justice is frequently overlooked. For example, local communities (often already socially and politically marginalised) may be forced to move as a direct result of a new mining project, they may be subject to health impacts from air, water or soil contamination, traditional livelihoods may be lost,  traditional or indigenous ways of knowing may be denied or erased, and lives can be lost through industrial accidents and through the targeted attacks on Environmental Defenders who resist destructive projects. As such, it is not just natural resources which are extracted. 

Extractivism is not new, and can be seen throughout historical and ongoing examples of empire and colonialism. However the extent and scale of extractivism globally is unprecedented as resource consumption grows and new ways of extracting and processing resources are developed. The consequences of contemporary extractivism are also unprecedented: extractivism is arguably the root cause of the climate crisis and climate injustices, and of ecological collapse.  

Although extractivism is far-reaching and is part of the everyday in sometimes violent and sometimes subtle ways, it is not totalising. There are other ways of seeing, knowing about and making use of the natural world which do not reduce its complexity and which do not see nature merely as ‘resource’. For many indigenous cultures, these are not ‘alternatives’ to extractivism because they existed before extractivism was introduced and will continue despite extractivism. And even within cultures based on the ideas of modernity, wherever new extractive projects are being built there are people resisting both directly and through carving out more caring and reciprocal ways of relating to nature and to each other. 


Willow, Anna J. Understanding extrACTIVISM: culture and power in natural resource disputes. Routledge, 2018.

In this book, Anna Willow presents a series of case studies which demonstrate how the contemporary extractive industry works, how it is underpinned by the extractive mindset, and how local communities are resisting destructive projects. 

Extractivisms and Alternatives Round Table:

“This Roundtable Discussion was the Opening Plenary session of the EXALT Symposium 2020 organised by the Global Extractivisms and Alternatives Initiative (EXALT) online in October 2020. Though being a concept of our time, extractivism remains elusive of fixed definitions, while research often focuses on individual cases of extractivist practises. The session brought together some of the world’s leading scholars working on extractivisms to discuss, debate, deepen and expand the definitions of extractivism. The session also invited the speakers to discuss their definitions of extractivism, and to explore together different conceptualisations.”

Speakers: Alexander Dunlap (Centre for Development and Environment, University of Oslo) Eduardo Gudynas (Latin American Center on Social Ecology, CLAES) and Anna Willow (University of Ohio)

Discussant: Markus Kröger

Cirefice, V’Cenza, and Lynda Sullivan. 2019. ‘Women on the Frontlines of Resistance to Extractivism.’ Policy and Practice: A Development Education Review, no. 29, 78–99.

As well as exploring the gendered impacts of extractive industries, this paper by V’Cenza Cifefice (Extracting Us and Despite Extractivism contributor) gives an informative  explanation of extractivism following a framework informed by ecofeminism and feminist political ecology. This extends feminist theory concerned with the domination and subjugation of both women and nature as a result of dualistic Enlightenment thinking to also account for the ‘extractivist mindset’ underpinning the contemporary proliferation of extractive industries which has uneven impacts along gender lines. 

Haraway, D. (2015). Anthropocene, capitalocene, plantationocene, chthulucene: Making kin. Environmental humanities, 6(1), 159-165.

Feminist scholar Donna Haraway introduces the idea of the plantationocene as a constructive critique of the ‘anthropocene’ to suggest the defining cause of a new geological epoch could be the simplification of natural diversity into monultures, and the colonisation and enslavement of those outside the mono-culture of western modernity.  These ideas resonate with the key ideas of extractivism; together they emerge as a certain way of seeing the world as a resource to be accumulated without care for that which is ‘Other’. 

The Environmental Justice Atlas

“The environmental justice atlas documents and catalogues social conflict around environmental issues. Across the world communities are struggling to defend their land, air, water, forests and their livelihoods from damaging projects and extractive activities with heavy environmental and social impacts. (..) The EJ Atlas collects these stories of communities struggling for environmental justice from around the world.” The Atlas is directed at ICTA-UAB.

Global Witness

“Since 2012, Global Witness has been gathering data on killings of land and environmental defenders. In that time, a grim picture has come into focus – with the evidence suggesting that as the climate crisis intensifies, violence against those protecting their land and our planet also increases. It has become clear that the unaccountable exploitation and greed driving the climate crisis is also driving violence against land and environmental defenders”


The Extracting Us exhibition and conversation series is co-curated by Siti Maimunah, Elona Hoover, Dian Ekowati, Alice Owen and Rebecca Elmhirst with critical insight and support from independent curator Celina Loh. Online exhibition designed and developed by Celina Loh with the Extracting Us Collective.

This project is made possible by support from 
ONCA Gallery, the Centre for Spatial, Environmental and Cultural Politics at the University of Brighton, the Wellbeing, Ecology, Gender and cOmmunity research network funded by the European Union Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 764908), and collaboration with the Women in Action on Mining in Asia (WAMA) collaborative network and the ‘Sustainable’ Development and Atmospheres of Violence: Experiences of Environmental Defenders project funded by The British Academy.


WEGO-ITN (Wellbeing, Ecology, Gender and cOmmuny International Training Network) is an EU-funded research network contributing to the political ecology, feminist studies, human geography, anthropology, and development studies’ understanding of extractivism, commoning, care, communities, livelihoods, embodied subjectivities and resistance to development. WEGO-ITN is made up of scholar-activists working on feminist political ecology from ten institutions in six European Union countries: Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain, The Netherlands, and the United Kingdom and ten institutions from eight countries for training and secondments: Australia, India, Indonesia, Italy, New Zealand, Portugal, Uruguay and USA.

The Centre for Spatial, Environmental and Cultural Politics (SECP), based at the University of Brighton, undertakes interdisciplinary research to address global and planetary challenges such as climate change, human migration, social inequalities and resource access or depletion. SECP explores the environmental, spatial and cultural dimensions of ecological and social challenges in specific places, to offer new knowledge and practice for the creation of more sustainable and socially just societies.

ONCA logo

ONCA is a Brighton based arts charity that bridges social and environmental justice issues with creativity. ONCA promotes positive change by facilitating inclusive spaces for creative learning, artist support, story-sharing and community solidarity. ONCA Gallery works with artists, educators and organisations to co-deliver exhibitions, events and workshops that explore social and environmental issues.

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About Despite Extractivism

As with the Extracting Us exhibition, we invited the Despite Extractivism contributors to consider how their work can follow our guiding principles:

• The online exhibition brings together artistic and creative contributions that explore everyday community experiences of and responses to extractivism, and/or engage in ongoing conversations around extractivism, communities and care, in its various forms and registers.

• It includes three core aims:
– to challenge ‘north-south’ and ‘producer-consumer’ narratives on extractivism
– to listen to perspectives from those most affected, and develop actions of solidarity and resistance across countries and continents
– to challenge the viewer to make (sometimes unexpected) connections and develop solidarity (e.g, inviting the viewer to take specific actions or connect with the community

• The exhibition thinks about extractivism and care in terms of materials from (and of) the earth, and considers the experiences of humans and the rest of the natural world.

• The exhibition will include narratives of resistance where possible/relevant; and avoid relying on pathos that might develop an ‘us/them’ feeling

• The exhibition will work with quality materials while also challenging ‘professional’ or ‘distanced’ kinds of aesthetics

Despite Extractivism assembles expressions of care, creativity and community from diverse sites of extraction and geographical contexts. Extractivism is characterised by the violent accumulation of resources, which often devastates and disrupts affected communities and the natural world. Collectively, the works in this exhibition illuminate and explore ways of questioning, subverting and resisting the logics and impacts of extractivism.

Despite Extractivism
is part of the ongoing ‘Extracting Us’ collective journey exploring the  diverse, uneven but sometimes connected ways in which resource extraction also extracts from communities. It is an invitation to explore questions around extractivism and its logics, but also to explore the already-existing alternatives.  How do communities and creatives (struggle to) cultivate care for nature and for each other despite extractivism? Can sites of extraction be a fertile ground for alternatives?  Can artistic interventions help foster new sensibilities and solidarities with distanced extractive contexts?

Like weeds growing through the cracks in concrete, and in their flourishing slowly forcing the cracks to widen, the contributors to
Despite Extractivism scatter here their seeds of ways of thinking or being in extractive contexts. 

There are stories of artists who are involved with communities inhabiting landscapes threatened by destructive projects, imagining and practising ways of being which subvert and resist extractivism:  V’Cenza Cirefe’s
Counter-mapping in the Sperrins (resisting gold mining in Northern Ireland), Chesney’s Down The Line (resisting the HS2 railway in England)  and Federico Pardo’s forthcoming contribution (resisting gold mining in Cajamarca, Columbia).

There are illuminations of other tactics of resistance, from the creativity of the Kartini Kendeng women ecological defenders and their portrayals by Dewi Candraningrum (resisting cement mining in Java, Indonesia), to the counter-mapping initiative by the Pari Island community, JKPP and collectives to stop extractive tourism (Seribu Islands, Indonesia).

There are explorations of the uneven geographies of extractivism, with Karin Edstedt’s (Title) embroidery depicting the disproportionate environmental injustices of mining on indigenous communities (copper extraction conflict in Laver, Sápmi; coal mining in Kalimantan, Indonesia), and Sandro Simon’s audiovisual work Bidonmondes drawing attention to the omnipresence of extractivism through the everyday repurposing of imported palm oil canisters in the Sine-Saloum Delta, Senegal (originating from extractive palm oil plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia).

There are intimate accounts of uprooting due to extractive projects, accompanied by the persistent determination to build or rebuild lives in Between Rivers by Daniel Macmillen Voskoboynik (Intergenerational care and multidimensional extractivism, Russian Urals), This is my Home by Maria Rosa Pessoa Piedade & Marilene Ribeiro (dispossession caused by the Belo Monte dam, Brazil) and In the Forest We Believe by Albertus Vembrianto (Covid-19) exacerbates migration from a coastal area affected by gold mining waste, Papua, Indonesia).

Finally, there are invitations to engage with practises and performances which inspire embodied reflection on the destruction and destabilising effects of extractivism in distanced contexts: Arabel Lebrusen’s Toxic Waves II (in response to deadly failure of a dam at the Córrego do Feijão iron ore mine in Minas Gerais, Brazil ) and Choules+Roisner’s
REGOLITHIC (in response to global extraction).

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