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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7XMMyyv_bSQ
“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 https://ejatlas.org/
“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.
“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”