The School of Geography, Politics and Sociology

Student Profiles

Ursula Balderson

Project title: Environmental injustice and social conflict: social movements against mining pollution and over-extraction of water sources in the Andes 

Supervisors: Prof Esteban Castro, Prof Peter Phillimore and Dr Jaime Amezaga

Latin America is currently experiencing a ‘boom’ in mining activities. Although proponents of mining claim that it brings wealth, jobs and infrastructure to economically deprived areas, it can also threaten already existing livelihoods which depend on the availability of clean soil, water or undisturbed landscapes. Conflict between mining companies and host communities are common across Latin America. According to the Observatory of Latin American Mining Conflicts there are 77 mining conflicts ongoing in Peru, Bolivia and Chile alone. Conflicts can develop for a variety of reasons including; pollution issues, competition for natural resources, dissatisfaction with the way decisions about mining are made or how the revenues are spent.

My research intends to examine social movements which have developed around mining activity or the threat of it (mining exploration). It will focus on instances where anti-mining groups have built their resistance around issues of water availability or contamination. The research will pay close attention to the role national activist networks (NANs) play in improving visibility and providing expertise and resources for the struggle. It will look at how NANs interact with local and international organisations to help produce alternative discourses to those espoused by mining companies and the state.

I will also consider how different types of knowledge (anecdotal/technical/expert/indigenous etc.) are deployed by different actors in their attempt to gain control of how the mine and mining developments more generally are perceived and understood. The role of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIA) in producing environmental knowledge will be given particular prominence due to its pivotal role in determining the future of a proposed mining development and how its likely impact on the host community and their environment is interpreted by the mining company and those that support it.

The fieldwork for this project will be carried out using two case studies of conflicts, one or both of which will be in Peru. These will be examined in detail in order to understand the different contexts in which conflict takes place. Factors both internal and external to the movement will be considered in order to hopefully better understand the interrelation of factors influencing how a contested mining project and associated conflict proceeds.