Land as material, knowledge and relationships: Resource extraction and subsistence imaginaries in Bristol Bay, Alaska

Panikkar, B. and Tollefson, J.

Social Studies of Science 48(5) | PDF

Abstract This article examines the social, historical and political constitution of land and resource imaginaries in Bristol Bay, Alaska. We compare the dynamics of these different imaginaries in the region within the early permitting debates concerning the proposed Pebble Mine to understand the contemporary politics of defining and constructing ideologies of extractive resource use. We show that the civic epistemologies and ontologies embedded in different social, scientific and political practices help explain environmental actions and outcomes. We demonstrate that the contested fields of social imagination allow for resource exploitation – commodification, extraction and profit – that endangers nature, but also allow for building alternative imaginaries and constructions of land and value as key components of environmental justice and land sovereignty initiatives. Contestations can also highlight problematic and unjust resource practices that disenfranchise and destabilize subordinate industries, poor communities, indigenous lands and subsistence or renewable resource use. These divergent discourses, and the deliberative valuations of alternative futures that they contribute to, are not effectively considered in Alaska’s large mine permitting process.