mining capitalism

University of California Press (2014):

Mining Capitalism: The Relationship between Corporations and their Critics

Corporations are among the most powerful institutions of our time, but they are also responsible for a wide range of harmful social and environmental impacts. Consequently, political movements and nongovernmental organizations increasingly contest the risks that corporations pose to people and nature. Mining Capitalism examines the strategies through which corporations manage their relationships with these critics and adversaries. By focusing on the conflict over the Ok Tedi copper and gold mine in Papua New Guinea, Stuart Kirsch tells the story of a slow-moving environmental disaster and the international network of indigenous peoples, advocacy groups, and lawyers that sought to protect local rivers and rain forests. Along the way, he analyzes how corporations promote their interests by manipulating science and invoking the discourses of sustainability and social responsibility. Based on two decades of anthropological research, this book is comparative in scope, showing readers how similar dynamics operate in other industries around the world.

Mining Capitalism Cover Final


“Mining Capitalism: An Interview with Stuart Kirsch” by Chitra Venkataramani and Chris HebdonEngagement. A blog published by the Anthropology & Environment Society  of the American Anthropological Association, December 2015.

Listen online:  “Mining Science.” (53.5 minutes), Paul Kennedy, IDEAS, CBC Radio Canada, March 2016.

Review and discussion of implications in Canada: “Mining Capitalism and the State of Extractivism,” by Jen Moore (MiningWatch Canada), Simon Fraser University Institute for the Humanities Contours Journal (7), Spring 2016.

Commentary: “Mining Capitalism and Corporate Ethnography.” Organizing Rocks blog, March 2016.


“I just wanted to tell you how much I am enjoying teaching Mining Capitalism, now for the second time, to my Indigenous Peoples and World Politics class.

Mining Capitalism opens students eyes and minds to a world of politics that most were completely unaware of, and forces them to confront difficult questions about our taken for granted development models that cannot just be wished away. This can be frustrating for some, who hold out hopes for a green capitalism, or green mining, but this is a productive frustration. It also shows them ways that they might one day get involved in these issues, as scientists, activists, attorneys, investors, members of a business community, and perhaps even as anthropologists. They are particularly impressed by the decades of advocacy work you have done in PNG and around the world, related to these issues. Of course, the implications extend far beyond the mining industry.

For a generation who come to their social and political consciousness under a dark cloud of seemingly inevitable environmental destruction, war, debt, and corporate hegemony, this book provides a clear introduction to ongoing struggles to create a better world. It also offers a glimmer of hope that there is something still worth fighting for, that we can stop some problems before they start, as an antidote to the all encompassing pessimism.” —Nick Copeland, Asst. Professor of Anthropology at Virginia Tech and co-author of The World of Wal-Mart: Discounting the American Dream.


“Despite the coercive tactics of the mining industry, Kirsch is optimistic about the ability of social movements to challenge the industry in new and creative ways. If you think that large-scale, destructive mining projects are inevitable, this book will make you think twice.”  —Al Gedicks, author of Resource Rebels: Native Challenges to Mining and Oil Corporations.

“Mining Capitalism is an inspiring reading of the conflict between local communities and large mining projects… The personal involvement of Kirsch in the processes he describes is at times very palpable; the reader feels that there are still bills to settle with some opponents, but after the analysis presented here, that is completely understandable.”          —Marjo E. M. de Theije,  Anthropos.

“A fresh, instructive, and often moving account. Throughout the book, Kirsch explains his chosen political and ethical stance and challenges a number of positions with which he disagrees. While I occasionally wished for Kirsch to allow a somewhat wider range of tolerable rapprochements of ethics and pragmatics, I appreciated his willingness to take them on so forthrightly. His ability to tell a highly detailed and technical story in an engaging, at times even gripping way, means that the book will be welcomed not only by scholars of mining and corporations but by undergraduate and non-academic readers as well.”  —Elizabeth Ferry, Journal of Anthropological Research.

“Vividly demonstrate[s] the substantial contribution of ethnography to understanding the nexus of power relations built in and around corporations… [and] provides the theoretical grounds for an analytical and conceptual critique of the ubiquitous place and role of corporations across the world.”  —Filipe Calvão, Political and Legal Anthropology Review.

Kirsch cautions “that ‘conducting ethnographic research within the corporation poses a risk of co-optation, because the tendency of ethnographers to emphasize with the subjects of their research may influence their findings or temper their critical perspectives’. He warns that in order to ‘make constructive interventions into political debates about mining conflicts, scholars must remain clear-eyed about corporate power rather than starry-eyed about the prospects for change’. However, debates over how anthropologists should position themselves vis-à-vis mining capitalism, and the orthodoxies of mining proponents and opponents … should not be adjudicated and closed, in my view, but rather left open and unsettled. There are multiple ethical and political positions from which to study and write about mining. No single one is privileged and none is fully comfortable.” —Marina Welker, Comparative Studies in Society and History

“Taking Kirsch’s claim that the ‘fundamental dilemmas of contemporary capitalism cannot be resolved’, we might be led to the conclusion that his is a totalizing analysis devoid of hope. That would, however, be a misplaced assessment of Mining Capitalism. Kirsch’s decision to ‘study up’ by examining the ‘dialectical relationship between corporations and their critics’ reveals not only ‘incremental progress’, but also ‘new forms of contestation’ that emerge at every such encounter. Kirsch [offers a] dialectical, skeptical (and slightly cynical) template for ethnographic engagement.”  􏰙—Paul Gilbert, Social Anthropology. 􏰤􏰜

“A very encompassing book. Kirsch outlines two different strategies, the politics of space and the politics of time. The politics of space is used to deal with how indigenous people and NGOs organize in ‘transnational action networks’ and how this enables them to ‘replicate the geographic distribution of capital by putting pressure on the corporation wherever it operates’. Global, boundary-crossing corporations are today matched by global, boundary-crossing NGOs. The politics of time is used to deal with ‘the means by which elites extend their power over the body politic through their control over the social construction of time’. We think particularly of the sunk costs and inertia permeating mining projects. Once started, they are usually very difficult to challenge; talk about a rock solid path dependency! This makes Kirsch conclude that focusing on the time before a mine is opened is a more hopeful strategy when aiming to prevent environmental harm. This is also a debate that has emerged in Sweden rather recently. A very rich and thought-provoking book.” 􏰙— 􏰤􏰜Johan Sandström and Tommy Jensen, coordinators Organizing Rocks  (

“A must read for those interested in PNG’s future, activists, researchers and anyone on either side of the dialectical” relationship between extractive industry and “impacts on communities, especially in developing countries.”  —Charles Roche, Mining Monitor, December 2014.

“Kirsch proposes ‘the politics of time’ as a new set of activist strategies… Instead of waiting several years to observe, document and prosecute a mine for its harmful effects, Kirsch proposes early intervention. The politics of time is designed ‘not to stop all new mining permanently but rather to compel the industry to improve its practices.’”  —Shaun Gessler, Asia-Pacific Viewpoint.􏰜

“􏰓Mining Capitalism reminds us of how corporations’ response to their critics both reinforce corporate power amid neoliberal capitalism and create new oppositional strategies for social movement actors. Kirsch has written a laudable book at a time when the combination of intrusive extractive industries and creative neoliberal corporate maneuvering is in full swing on a global scale.”  Peter C. Little, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute.

“Vividly exposes the strategy developed by mine-affected communities… to build alliances with activists, environmental nongovernmental organizations, and lawyers and to unfold networks beyond the limits of the local. The methodological choices made by Kirsch… are consistent with his positioning as ‘participant observer’ within the networks actively engaged in claims against the corporation, and the result gives room for a rich, insider’s account and analysis. It might have been useful to broaden the scope to encompass the relationship of corporations not only with their critics but also their supporters [given that] symmetry as an anthropological principle—studying all the stakeholders on an equal methodological footing—is also a sign of commitment to the politics and ethics of ethnography. However… the account delivered by Kirsch and the clarity of his positioning make this book a fascinating piece of work, well worth reading.” —Pierre-Yves Le Meur, The Contemporary Pacific.

“In a multi-sited ethnography that takes him from Dome village to Melbourne, London, and beyond, Kirsch examines Yonggom efforts, with which he actively collaborated, to seek redress in the courts for environmental damages. He stuck with the Yonggom, negotiating a role as anthropologist/activist that respected their ability to speak for themselves on an international stage, yet articulating their story in other places to which he had access. Mining Capitalism should be read with interest by university students and general readers seeking to understand global corporations and their operations.” —Patricia Townsend, Pacific Affairs.

A “scholarly adventure.” —David Walker and Fern Brunger, Canadian Journal of Native Studies.

“Kirsch writes from a position of deep ethnographic integrity and clear expertise. Mining Capitalism‘s tone is calm and considered, not argumentative or one sided. Kirsch is broadly skeptical of corporate capitalism, but he is clear-eyed in his assessment of the limits and challenges of activism and never seems partial or tendentious. The style is uncluttered rather than inflammatory. Yet the book never drags􏰤… and will doubtless be central to future literature on mining and capitalism.” American Ethnologist. 

“Riveting, original and important… Well-written and intimate account of what has been a deeply complex social and legal issue… Kirsch’s polemic is convincing and damning.”            The Australian Journal of Anthropology.

from the back cover of Mining Capitalism 

“A much-needed contribution to understanding our contemporary historical moment. Kirsch adeptly moves his focus between close-to-the-ground descriptions of corporate practices and persuasive claims about the ways corporations work to control meaning and money.”      —Kim Fortun, author of Advocacy after Bhopal.

“Mining Capitalism takes us from the devastation of a river to the courtrooms and commissions where activists and thieves reimagine its truth and consequences. This is a thrilling story, and everyone should read it. As both participant and perceptive observer, Kirsch offers us engaged anthropology at its very best.”  —Anna Tsing, author of The Mushroom at the End of the World.

“A richly detailed study of corporate attitudes towards natural resources and the politics that inform indigenous movements facing capitalist interests. This is a vivid account of how the globalization of nature affects societies that have vastly different understandings of what natural resources mean.”  —Arjun Appadurai, author of Modernity at Large.

alternative covers by

mc cover 7b ring and dozer

mc cover 4c fish both ways

mc cover 3a ghost & machine name down

%d bloggers like this: