Resisting Extractivism in Border Zones: Art and Protest from the Arctic North to the Global South

Justin Parks's picture
Call for Papers
April 15, 2018
Subject Fields: 
Environmental History / Studies, Human Rights, Immigration & Migration History / Studies, Literature, Philosophy

Conference on borders, extractivism, and representation

Abstracts due: April 15, 2018 

This event will combine academic conference panel presentations, public lectures, film, and media installations. Panels will consist of 20-minute presentations.

Recent decades have witnessed the colossal social, economic, and environmental impacts of an ever-expanding human need to manage, commodify, and harness the latent energies of a wide variety of resources. Grouped under the label of extractivism, the practices arising from this need have been tied to both global climate change and massive migrations, and their effects have been disproportionately severe in areas recent scholars have identified as “border zones”: liminal, ambivalent, or “in-between” spaces marginalized by the demarcation of nation-states and global flows of capital and information. Artists, filmmakers, fiction writers and poets have been vocal about extractivist exploitation affecting border zones throughout the globe, blurring the lines between artistic representation and activist engagement.


The unevenly felt impact of extractivism on border zones has begun to be acknowledged. For instance, indigenous communities from North and South America to arctic northern Europe have seen their land-based rights to self-determination disrupted by strip mining, unconventional oil and gas production, and rare earth extraction. Similar processes have further impoverished already marginalized rural populations from China to the Niger Delta, and have left vast sacrifice zones in East and West alike, and desertification and rising sea levels throughout the globe have already begun to create displaced populations. Yet far from being limited to the recent past, such situations have important historical precedents including (to name just two pertinent examples) rubber production in the colonial Belgian Congo and the beginnings of large-scale mining, clear-cut logging, and hydroelectric operations in the rural United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Nor is there any end in sight in the shift to a postindustrial economy: we can see the legacy of such practices and their effects in the vast mining operations supplying the rapidly growing digital economy of the early twenty-first century with rare earths and other minerals underpinning its operations and constant expansion.


Extractivism is a term most often understood in relation to large-scale, profit-driven operations for the removal of natural resources such as petroleum, minerals, lumber, and other commodities. In an extended sense, the term refers more generally to an attitude or habitus in which the resources of the earth—natural, human, informational—serve a means-ends function, in which they stand as commodities to be extrapolated and turned to profit. Despite the proximity between extractivist practices and border zones, however, these two concepts have rarely been addressed in conjunction, and the issue of aesthetics and representation as sites of potential opposition has often been missing from the discussion entirely.


We acknowledge that “border zones” are best thought of as places of hybridization, negotiations, and creative human activity, and we are interested in locating practices that scrutinize and reveal the depredations of extractivist logic and aim at dislodging its hegemony. We seek papers that examine the effects of “extractivism” in either a narrow or a broader sense on border zones/marginalized areas. In particular, we are interested in papers examining the ways in which writers and artists have engaged creatively with extractivism-related issues in their work, and the ways in which cultural practices have emerged to confront such issues.


This event will be sponsored by the Border Poetics/Border Culture research group at the Universitet i Tromsø – Arctic University of Norway. The event will combine academic conference panels with public lectures, films, and exhibitions, and will take place against the backdrop of the Norwegian Arctic, a location with close proximity to fragile arctic landscapes and threatened indigenous populations. We seek in particular to create dialogues between the Arctic North and the Global South surrounding issues that resonate throughout border zones dispersed around the globe.

Questions we hope to address include (but are not limited to) the following:
  • How have writers, filmmakers, and artists past and present responded to extractivism-related issues and their effects on marginalized communities and environments? What is the relationship between artistic representation and political protest? 
  • How do notions from the environmental humanities such as “slow violence,” “environmental justice,” and “the Anthropocene” inform our understanding of extractivism-related issues in border zones and marginalized communities?
  • How are extractivist practices environmentally, socially, and culturally damaging? How do such practices perpetuate pre-existing colonial structures in the Global South? How have such practices impacted indigenous groups such as the Sámi of Northern Europe, the Inuit of Greenland, the First Nations of Canada, and the Native Americans of the United States? How have dialogues concerning extractivism-related issues been created and maintained between affected groups and individuals from the Arctic North to the Global South?
  • How do current practices of digital extractivism relate to preceding forms? How do cultural expressions and artistic practices reflect and refract the transition to an apparently borderless digital capitalism based on rare earth minerals rather than coal, oil, and gas? Can an ideology of the virtual be identified that consistently hides and veils the palpable material aspects of the digital economy and the various borders this materiality shapes and reifies? And how do artists and activists engage with and resist such frames?
  • Can focus on data mining help to identify a new, and genuinely digital, form of extractivism? Is data mining a truly de-bordered activity, or do such practices redraw borders and boundaries along both familiar and unprecedented lines?

Please submit 200-300 word abstracts to Justin Parks, Border Poetics/Border Culture research group coordinator ( by April 15. Artists wishing to have their work considered for the exhibition should send descriptions and images to the same email address.

Contact Info: 

Justin Parks

Associate Professor, Arctic University of Norway

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