Bioethics Blogs

Extractivism, Refusals, and the Mining of Failure by Teresa Velasquez

Is ethnographic research analogous to a gold mine project, an extractive industry that makes a social and material landscape knowable, and hence governable? Is knowledge construction a veil for narrative extraction, where knowledge is a commodity to be reassembled for productive gain? I ask these questions as a way to tease out the tensions experienced between me and my collaborators that occurred during field research.

In July 2013, I returned to the Southern Ecuadorian Andes to conduct research return: the sharing of findings with participants to seek their critical feedback. Having conducted fieldwork between 2008 and 2010 among anti-mining activists, my impressions were messy: scientific studies of water pollution sparked a local movement against a proposed Canadian-backed gold mine, but gender and racial/ethnic differences divided the movement in antagonistic ways.

After having agreed to participate in my earlier fieldwork, Rosita—one of my closest collaborators—refused to participate in the research return workshop. In this essay, I take the case of Rosita’s refusal as a multi-layered feminist practice. In focusing on an act of refusal, I show how my failure to conduct research return among a group of women anti-mining activists is a story of the political conditions that entangle ethnographic research with processes of extraction, i.e. extractivism.

In 2013, I visited some of my closest informants—Doña Patricia, her two daughters and their neighbor Rosita—all of whom form a women’s anti-mining group, to seek their participation in a research return workshop. Doña Patricia’s home is a modest two-room house nestled in a flat valley surrounded by rolling hills.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.