In my research I look at  how (activism towards) mega projects of natural resource extraction and energy production transform practices and meanings of citizenship and democracy. The research is rooted in the observation that the properties of resources (and how they are extracted) shape the ways people organize around them and (re)negotiate their relation with the state on the one hand, and that democratic institutions inform the ways that power relations transform in the field of energy production and subsoil natural resource extraction on the other. To get grip on the ways individuals and organized groups contest and reproduce categories of in- and exclusion at this extraction-energy production/democracy-citizenship nexus, I use engaged ethnographic research methods and thematic analysis. In addition, close collaboration with civil society organizations and activists is central to my research approach. I also find it important to look for alternative ways to disseminate research findings and establishing a platform for interchange between academia and civil society organizations.

From this starting point, I have developed two main research lines. My work in Guatemala focuses on the ways indigenous peoples organize against open pit mining, with a special focus on gender. In 2010-12 I researched how community consultations against mining and how this engendered new forms of participation, which resulted in the article ‘Transformations in Citizenship’, among others. A brief  comparative fieldwork trip in the Philippines resulted in several publications about micropolitics and social movements in anti-mining resistance in the Philippines, among which a comparative paper in Society and Natural Resources together with Michiel Köhne. Following up on recent developments in Guatemala, this research now focuses on how criminalization of activists involved in anti-mining resistance limits the scope and impact of their activism, and how this relates to ideas and practices of citizenship and democracy. Another important element of this research line is gender; (indigenous) women are often on the frontlines of anti-extraction activism, but their role in these processes remains understudied. This has resulted in several papers, among which an article with a former MSc student in the Forum for Interamerican Research  and a Spanish chapter in the edited volume Gobierno, gobernabilidad, poder local y recursos naturales.

The second line of research focuses on citizenship and energy production in the Netherlands. Together with my SDC colleague Michiel Köhne, I looked into new forms of (local) political participation and activism in reaction to future shale gas developments in the Noordoostpolder, which resulted in, among others, an article in  Energy Research and Social Sciences about how residents engaged in diverse acts of citizenship. We also have explored how such acts of citizenship are rooted in and structured by local and historical ‘belonging’ in an article, which has been published in Sociologia Ruralis. In line with a local focus on renewable energy production as an answer to future shale gas extraction, we now focus on practices and imaginations of renewable energy production as a way of renegotiating citizen-state relations. We look into how local ‘energy practices’ not only contribute to new normativities of ‘just’ energy production, but also how we can consider reclaiming and appropriating energy production as a way of transforming power relations. We explore this thematic in an article, which has been published in Energy Policy.

In both research domains, the collaboration with, and facilitating dialogue between, activists, civil society organizations, scholars, students and research participants is a key element. This has resulted in several activities with a different outlook. I have been involved in hosting the visits of several human rights and environmental activists to our group in collaboration with CATAPA (NGO working with anti-mining activists), Otherwise (NGO working with several grassroots initiatives) and Peace Brigades International. During these visits we have brought students, activists and scholars together to discuss issues on human rights and natural resources. In 2015 I organized a mixed activist-student-scholar-NGO panel on the ABv (Antropologen Beroepen vereniging – Anthropologists Professional Association) day. It also works the other way around; I find it important to share my findings in talks for a non-academic public.

Both research lines have contributed to a broader  understanding of the social and political dynamics at the extraction-energy production/democracy-citizenship nexus.  This has resulted in a theoretical article the ERLACS on how to understand criminalization and human rights violations in natural resource conflicts. In another theoretical paper I aim to explore the intersection of resource materialities on the one hand and democracy and resistance on the other. Parallel to these theoretical explorations, I have also written about more methodological issues related to my work. One of these methodological explorations discusses research identity as a methodological ‘tool’. In another article I explore, together with 3 co-authors, the intersections of teaching fieldwork methods and doing ethnographic research. A more personal account on the engaged character of our Noordoostpolder fieldwork, has been published in Practicing Anthropology.

The coming years I will build on the work done so far, focusing on four core themes:

1) Indigenous women and environmental justice
Although women in Latin America have been at the centre of resistance against large-scale resource extraction, their contributions and different roles are currently under-recognized. Struggles around the access of natural resources and the negative effects of mining are ‘gendered’, meaning that they have disproportionate impacts on (poor, indigenous, rural) women, and the ways they experience environmental degradation, increasing violence, health issues and human rights violations (Jenkins 2014, 2015). Properties of extraction processes inform gender relations and the impact that extraction has on women. Important questions within this research domain are: How are extraction processes in themselves gendered? How are women affected by natural resource extraction? How do they organize and why? How do natural resource projects reproduce and transform gender relations?
2) Resource materiality and the meaning of natural resources
The way people organize themselves against massive resource extraction is often shaped by the materialities of what will be extracted and the involved extraction methods, as well as by the way people give meaning to and interact with their environment/natural resources (Mitchell 2011, Kaup 2008). In case of gas, oil, gold nickel – underground resources – the fact that these are subsoil resources, mediate the way that people organize around them. At the same time, spiritual meanings of land for indigenous peoples and social values shape the way people organise against extractive industries. This raises questions about different meanings of natural resources that deserve further exploration: How do the ways that people relate to the environment shape the ways they enact themselves protestors or citizens? How do different valuations of natural resources inform how people see large scale extraction projects? Which meanings of natural resources (economic, symbolic, social) are considered the most powerful in the political debate?
3) Violence and human rights violations in natural resource conflicts
In Latin America grassroots organizing against open pit mining and oil extraction goes hand in hand with increased criminalization of social protest and violations of the human rights of activists. Citizens not only face foreign companies, but are also caught in the middle of former paramilitaries, armed security guards, assassins that (are hired to) contest the same territory and its natural resources. National governments and transnational companies consider resistance as a threat to internal security; citizens are increasingly viewed as criminals. Such violence, human rights violations and criminalization mostly occur in natural resource conflicts that involve large vested economic interests because of the properties of the extracted resources (Sibrian and Van der Borgh 2014). Research that is located at the nexus of local resistance towards megaprojects and the increase of violations of human rights in natural resource conflicts would look into questions such as: How do activists experience violence and human rights violations and how does it hamper their work as activists? How do these issues relate to sovereignty and experiences democracy?
4) Renewable energy and democracy
Fossil fuel extraction, as well as renewable energy projects, such as wind farms, are often resisted by residents that fear the impacts of such developments for their living environment. They often distrust the involved companies and politicians, as well as the political process. At the same time, initiatives of renewable energy use and production are developed at a local or even individual level (Jenkins et al 2014, Rasch and Köhne). The properties of small-scale energy production make it possible to claim power over energy systems by way of renewable energy practices (small wind turbines, solar panels, insulation). Local practices and imaginations of renewable energy then become ‘development alternatives’ that shape the way citizens negotiate their relation to national governments and its energy policies. Local practices and imaginations of renewable energy then become ‘development alternatives’ that shape the way citizens negotiate their relation to national governments and its energy policies. This raises questions about what people consider as just energy solutions, how sustainable energy relates to democracy, how power relations are related to and reproduce, and how people create their own forms of energy justice from below.