The University of Arizona

A study in dispossession: the political ecology of phosphate in Tunisia

Mathieu Rousselin

Abstract


This article seeks to evidence the social, environmental and political repercussions of phosphate extraction and transformation on two peripheral Tunisian cities (Gabes and Gafsa). After positing the difference between class environmentalism and political ecology, it addresses the harmful effects of phosphate transformation on the world's last coastal oasis and on various cities of the Gulf of Gabes. It then sheds light on the gross social, environmental and health inequalities brought about by phosphate extraction in the mining region of Gafsa. The confiscatory practices of the phosphate industry are subsequently linked with global production and distribution chains at the international level as well as with centralized and authoritarian forms of government at the national and local level. Dispossessed local communities have few alternatives other than violent protest movements and emigration towards urban centers of wealth. Using the recent experience in self-government in the Jemna palm grove, the article ends with a reflection on the possible forms of subaltern resistance to transnational extractivism and highlights the ambiguous role of the new "democratic state" as a power structure reproducing patterns of domination and repression inherited from the colonial period and cemented under the dictatorship of Ben Ali.

Keywords: political ecology, transnational extractivism, phosphate, Tunisia. 


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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2458/v25i1.22006

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