The University of Arizona

Divergent memories and visions of the future in conflicts over mining development

Erik Kojola


Conflicts over extractive development often center around predicting future profits and economic growth, and estimating industrial pollution. How these projections are understood and seen as legitimate and trustworthy depends on social actors' environmental imaginaries and timescapes. Thus, I examine the temporal and cultural dynamics of natural resource politics, particularly how affective connections to the past and future mobilize support and opposition to new mining. I use the case of proposed copper mines in the rural Minnesota Iron Range region to explore the different environmental imaginaries and timescapes that mining opponents and proponents use to understand the potential socio-environmental impacts, and to legitimate their positions. Proponents, including long-time and working class Iron Range residents and mining corporations, view the region as an industrial landscape built by mining and hope new proposals will renew the past to create a prosperous future. Meanwhile, environmental groups who oppose mining view the region through an environmental imaginary based on outdoor recreation, and draw on collective memories of family and youth trips to understand new extractive projects as a rupture to their vision of the future. I show that resource extraction is understood through temporalities that differ across intersections of class and region, and that emotional meanings of the past and visions of the future animate contemporary political action.

Keywords: Resource extraction, mining, environmental imaginaries, timescapes, collective memory, environmental politics, emotions

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