Mining: Industry, Ecology, and Capitalism
An underground industry, mining is never entirely out of sight. Literally explosive, it’s produced some of the most violent conflicts in the history of labor. The environmental devastation wrought by mining is undeniable; its relationship to colonial and imperial state building explicit; and the destruction it visits on the communities that make its operations possible is wide-ranging and immense. Yet the industry has significant political and psychic purchase in the United States. Actual coal miners are a formidable political force, and the idea of the coal miner has served various and contradictory political functions for both the Left and the Right. Our cities are built with iron and steel; copper is the conduit for all electronic processes; and lithium, cobalt, nickel, manganese, and graphite are the battery minerals that energize our phones and cars (and the dreams of climate techno-optimists). A history of mining is simultaneously a history of labor, supply chains, environmentalism, state power, federal agencies, party politics, the immiseration of indigenous communities, and the creation of local cultures. It is also the history of modern, urban life. How should we understand mining’s centrality to the structures of everyday life? As a destructive practice that provides the literal foundations of modern life, what does mining reveal about the fatal contradictions produced by capitalism?
In this course, we will examine mining through a range of disciplines and consider its effects at different geographical scales. We will ask: Why are mines so frequently sites of labor violence; and how do they figure in the historic relation of capital to labor? In what ways is mining bound up with settler colonialism and imperialism abroad, and how does it continue to work as a fulcrum for the relationship of the core to the periphery? What is mining’s cultural status and how have its political uses changed as the industry develops and declines? Is mining essential not only to industrial capitalism, but also to any post-industrial future? We will read Thomas Andrews, Martin Arboleda, Megan Black, Elizabeth Catte, James Green, Alex Lichtenstein, Andreas Malm, David Montgomery, Michael Taussig, Emile Zola, and primary sources such as the United Mine Workers Journal.
Course ScheduleTuesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
October 17 — November 07, 2023