New Anthropological Perspectives on Natural Resource Environments

Volume 87, #1

Winter 2014

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Volume 87, #1 • Winter 2014



New Anthropological Perspectives on Natural Resource Environments


INTRODUCTION — Resource Materialities

Tanya Richardson, Wilfrid Laurier University
Gisa Weszkalnys, London School of Economics


Land, Copper, Flora: Dominant Materialities and the Making of Ecuadorian Resource Environments

Veronica Davidov, Monmouth University

ABSTRACT — This article examines the nuances of different constructions and meanings of “natural resources” in Ecuador. Focusing on the biodiverse and copper-rich region of Intag, I show how once a process of commodification of natural materials is underway—in a place where the biophysical specificities of soil, minerals, and flora map onto extractive, as well as “green” economies of value—there is an emergence of what I call “metonymic materiality,” a discursive frame in which one particular aspect of material resources becomes iconic of the place, assuming dominant significance and value for the actors. Once such “dominant” materialities emerge, they may be contested through counter-discursive strategies, where other constitutive materialities are used to symbolize and promote alternative regimes of value. I present a “resource biography” of Intag, focusing on its emergence as an agricultural frontier, a copper treasury, and, finally, a place of rare and precious biodiversity. I analyze how the resource environments that emerge around these materialities overlap and supplant each other, relationally and dynamically. [Keywords: Ecuador, environmental movements, mining, materialities, resource environments]


Multiple Sea Snails: The Uncertain Becoming of an Alien Species

Ståle Knudsen, University of Bergen

ABSTRACT — It has become common to consider “invasive alien species” one among the five most important “direct drivers” of change in biodiversity and ecosystems worldwide. However, the sea snail Rapana venosa introduced to the Black Sea is not only an “alien” but also a resource and an animal with particular meanings from a Muslim moral standpoint. I employ a relational ontology approach to discuss how the sea snail’s multiplicity interacts with concerns about “biodiversity,” notions of nativeness, and material agency in enacting different sea snails and the relations among them. I demonstrate that the biodiversity perspective has had very little impact on enactments of the sea snail and has not absorbed concerns about “alien species.” [Keywords: Biodiversity, natural resources, fisheries, relational ontology, value, Turkey, Black Sea]


Rumors of Red Mercury: Histories of Materiality and Sociality in the Resources of Kitui, Kenya

Maarten Onneweer, Leiden University

ABSTRACT — The article offers a historical ethnographic analysis of a rumor of a resource in the Kitui district of Kenya that was heard during fieldwork on water development practices and technologies. This rumor dealt with a substance known as red mercury, an elusive material that was said to appear as a resource at particular historical and geographical locations. I unravel the details and complexities of this rumor in order to demonstrate how it signifies a particular reflection on the sociality of resource mobilization in the development encounter. This article elaborates how theories of materiality can help to understand the historical embeddedness and particular material qualities of red mercury. It uses the rumor of resources to differentiate the complexities of value and materiality in resources and commodities. [Keywords: Materiality, sociality, resources, rumor, Kitui, Kenya, red mercury]