Mining the Skeleton Coast: Nature, Capital and History
Dr Mike Hannis and Professor Sian Sullivan
Weds 14 Nov; 6 – 8 pm (discussion, drinks and snacks after lecture)
Bath Spa University, Newton Park, Commons (NP.CM.24)For two centuries, the so-called Skeleton Coast has been presented as dramatic, inaccessible, dangerous and ‘unspoilt’. In contemporary Namibia this crafted mystique is nurtured as a valuable national asset, and both ‘extreme adventure’ and ‘nature discovery’ activities in remote coastal areas are strongly marketed as parts of a rapidly expanding tourism economy. Yet over the same period, these areas have hosted numerous overlapping episodes of intensive resource extraction. From whales and guano to diamonds and uranium, extractive industries have reshaped landscapes and impacted heavily on both human and non-human populations, while exporting the financial profits along with the material resources. Facilitated by a major expansion of the port of Walvis Bay, current frontiers in this continuing process include marine phosphate mining and offshore oil drilling. Drawing on recent fieldwork undertaken as part of the Future Pasts project (www.futurepasts.net), this paper explores (dis)continuities between historical and current extractive industries. It focuses in particular on parallels between nineteenth-century guano extraction and current proposals to mine phosphate from the seabed. In both cases, precious fertility from this semi-arid region is exported to boost agricultural production in the global north.
Mike Hannis is Senior Lecturer in Environmental Humanities at Bath Spa University, and author of Freedom and Environment: autonomy, human flourishing and the political philosophy of sustainability (Routledge 2016). Recent collaborations with Sian Sullivan include ‘Relationality, reciprocity and flourishing in an African landscape’ in Hartman, L.M, ed. That all may flourish: comparative religious environmental ethics (Oxford University Press 2018).
Sian Sullivan is Professor of Environment and Culture at Bath Spa University, and an Associate of Gobabeb Research and Training Centre, Namibia. She is an environmental anthropologist who has carried out field research in west Namibia since the early 1990s, currently through the AHRC-funded project Future Pasts (www.futurepasts.net). She has published Political Ecology: Science, Myth and Power (2000), Contributions to Law, Philosophy and Ecology: Exploring Re-Embodiments (2016), and Valuing Development, Environment and Conservation: Creating Values that Matter (in press).