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Lisbon workshop on “Resources, Infrastructures and the Anthropocene”

September 21, 2019

This week I went to Portugal to participate in an ambitious workshop on the combined historical-present-day theme “Resources, Infrastructures and the Anthropocene: Dialogues between the Global North and the Global South“. The event was organized by one of my fellow authors in the Making Europe book series, Maria Paula Diogo, and her colleague Luísa Sousa, both at the NOVA University of Lisbon, in close cooperation with two new research networks linked to the Tensions of Europe community of historians of technology: “Challenging Europe: Technology, Environment and the Quest for Resource Security” (EurReS), led by Matthias Heymann at Århus University, and “Global Resources and Sustainability of European Modernization” (GREASE), coordinated by Erik van der Vleuten and Frank Veraart at Eindhoven University of Technology.

Several earlier workshops on the resource theme have been organized in the past couple of years in St. Petersburg, Århus and Stockholm, but the Lisbon workshop was special in its emphasis on North-South relations as its main theme and in an unusual range of participants from the Global South, including India, Egypt, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Chile, Argentina and Brazil. The interests of the 40 participants also comprised a healthy diversity of natural resources, ranging from water, fisheries and land to minerals and fossil fuels.

But the greatest diversity of all was clearly that of the group’s combined theoretical and methodological approaches to the study of resources and infrastructures in past and present. A nice reminder that things CAN always be studied in alternative ways! Mineral frontiers, extractive capitalism, resource geopolitics, transformation of empires, transboundary river basins, legal regulations, business history, sociotechnical regimes, cosmopolitan commons, agricultural visions, North-South dependencies, anarchist geography, colonial imaginaries, social construction of natural resources, international technology transfer, sustainability histories – there was somehow room for it all!

But when I set out to present my own approach to North-South resource relations, in what I suggest to call “Resource Transnationalism“, I was severely criticized, especially from scholars with roots in the Global South. My basic point was that there is a heavy bias in the social and historical study of resource extraction: it is almost always much too gloomy and pessimistic. I suggested that we must study much more the mechanisms that have produced happy outcomes in North-South extractive relations, but many of my fellow workshop participants did not agree. There followed a lengthy and useful discussion. I will obviously have to rethink a number of things in my emerging approach.

Lisbon workshop

From → Energy

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