Corporate security practices in extractive spaces: The case of coal in Colombia

Publikation: Bog/antologi/afhandling/rapportPh.d.-afhandling

Abstract

This thesis is an ethnographic exploration of the security practices used by a large multinational coal-mining company, and of how such practices influence subjectivities of those who are affected by the operation. It takes its point of departure in open-pit
industrial coal-mining in northern Colombia, where ten months of fieldwork during 2018 and 2019 were carried out.
In contributing to the emerging fields of the political ecology of the company and of corporate security, the study perceives corporate security practices as building on both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ technologies. Hard security covers the physical presence of security actors such as the military, police and privately contracted security guards, as well as more informal, illegal and hidden actors such as paramilitary groups and unidentifiable ‘third parties.’ It also extends to surveillance infrastructure and technology, fences and threats. The soft versions of security technologies can be welfare provision, compensation payments, processes of dialogue, the different elements of corporate social responsibility (CSR), communication, and building partnerships. These diverse practices are understood as technologies of power in the Foucauldian sense. Related to that, the thesis also explores how such technologies
are used to secure investments in coal by governing the lives and deaths and co-producing subjectivities in extractive spaces. Based on four research publications, this dissertation contributes four different perspectives to the overall research question. First, by providing a historical perspective, it shows how the company prepared land and people in La Guajira for coal-mining and how historical practices relate to today’s hard and soft security practices. Secondly, it directs a specific lens on to the security around the coal railway, an essential part of the mine’s infrastructure and the company’s weak point in its security, not least because local indigenous people and their animals are frequently hit and killed by the coal train. The argument here is that we should acknowledge not only how the governance of death is part and parcel of
corporate security technologies, but also that this can be productive of further extractivism, as it justifies strengthened population control and security in affected zones. Thirdly, the thesis studies how consultations and compensation payments work as corporate social technologies to normalize corporate extractivism and the harms caused by it. It shows how compensation payments are not commensurate with the damage from coal-mining that they are supposed to make up for. Lastly, the research shows how corporate power, which relies to a great extent on biopolitical technologies of governing populations, also involves constant negotiations, arguing that extractive relationships are assembled through multiple ambiguities and constant adjustments, both for companies and for communities.

Empirically, this thesis contributes to academic debates on security in extractive spaces by being the first to explore these features in a Colombian context. Theoretically it contributes with an expanded conceptualization of corporate security practices (CSP).
It argues that such practices build on the negotiated and strategic use of hard and soft technologies, which work in a paradoxical relationship between entanglement and disentanglement, enticement and force, responsibility and responsibilization. Although these technologies have the ability to govern the lives and deaths of people and to produce extractive subjectivities, this form of governance can always be contested, being forced to readjust itself constantly in order to maintain its power.
OriginalsprogEngelsk
ForlagRoskilde University
Antal sider308
StatusUdgivet - jan. 2021

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