Cultures of extraction: From the lunar commons to refugees and tourism

A High-Tech Appetite for Extraction: Mining the Lunar Commons 

Katarina Damjanov and David Crouch

University of Western Australia

Cultures of Extraction: frontiers of value

Graeme MacRae

Massey University

From phosphate to refugee extractivism: The offshore refugee industry in the Republic of Nauru

(please email for the password)

Julia Morris

University of North Carolina Wilmington

Disappearing landscapes: Theorizing ‘last-chance’ tourism and media discourses

Doug Tewksbury, Christine Quail, Liam Cuddy, Michel DePietro, Brittany Rosso and Claire Wander

Niagara University

Airbnb: Extracting the ‘social’ from the lives of Airbnb hosts

Stella Pennell

Massey University

Comments 7

  1. Hi Graeme,
    thanks for your presentation – I really enjoyed the opportunity to reflect on our own research practices as extractivism – It occurred to me that often, as researchers, we critique the extraction processes of the groups or organizations that are the focus of our particular research, without giving much thought to the idea that the very thing we are doing ourselves, is just that.

  2. Kia ora kotou, and Welcome to the Cultures of Extraction panel,

    My name is Nicholas Holm, and I’ll be acting as the virtual chair for this panel. I’m a Senior Lecturer in Media Studies, and quite some time ago I was one of the co-founders of the Political Ecology Research Centre (PERC).

    I’d like to begin by thanking all the presenters for their thoughtful and fascinating presentations. Thanks also for taking the time to engage with the online conference format. I know that making videos can be a departure from our regular skill sets as academics, though possibly an area where we will all be investing more time in the short term.

    We have five diverse presentations on this panel. The first by Katarina Damjanov and David Crouch explores how capitalist notions of terrestrial extraction increasingly threaten to determine our relationship to Earth’s moon; Graeme MacRae then discusses how the concept of ‘extractionism’ can help articulate connections between sand-mining in Bali and forms of academic practice. In the third presentation, Julia Morris discusses the continuities between Nauru’s historical role as a site of phosphate extraction and its more recent role in Australia’s asylum-seeker policy as a way to illuminate the broader political economics of refugee flows; and Doug Tewksbury and his students consider the fundamental paradoxes at the heart of “last chance” tourism (lovely to see a Hamilton backyard Doug! I lived in the Hammer for eight years). Finally, Stella Pennell explores how AirBnB extracts economic value from the social life of its hosts.

    One thing that unites all these presentations across their diversity is a willingness to take up extraction as a metaphor for social and cultural processes that seek to capture private wealth from larger scale processes and flows: from the figurative extraction at play in AirBnB’s commercial practices to the extractive dreams that threaten to over-determine our relation to lunar spaces. My first question for everyone, then, is if you could please reflect on what the metaphor of extraction allows you to do in your argument and what it means to figure these diverse practices and systems as forms of extraction?

    As a follow up, the metaphor of extraction seems to lend itself to a rejection of certain practices, especially from an assumed environmentalist framework, but is it possible to imagine a non-extractive culture or way-of-life? For Marx, it was the extraction of surplus labour, in particular, that marked the fundamental problem with capitalism, rather than the broader concept of extraction, which appears in his writing as an inherent part of human labour. Is it possible to imagine the possibility of a positive or generative form of extraction? What would that look like?

    Other folks, please feel free to ask your own, hopefully less opaque, questions and comments!


  3. Kia ora Nick,
    thanks for this thoughtful intro. Your question on what the metaphor of extraction allows us to do in our work followed by the discussion of surplus really resonates with me.
    One of the arguments that I make in my research is that the extractive processes of digital capitalism produces surplus in the form of surplus meaning that creates unresolvable contradictions for Airbnb hosts . These contradictions between the expectations of the platform and the lived experiences of the hosts themselves paradoxically creates opportunity to escape the forms of enclosure that digital or platform capitalism constructs for their populations of users.

    As an example, Airbnb’s appropriation of the social for capitalist gain changes the purposes of home spaces as sites of social reproduction into sites of capitalist extraction. But the contradictions between home-as-business and home-as-sites -of- social- and- personal- practice creates contradictions in meanings that become ultimately too difficult to maintain.
    A number of participants in my research who had reached this point of contradiction were actively looking to push back against the platform in ways that enabled them to regain authorship and authority over their own spaces . What the future looks like for these people is at least enlarged by the possibilities that emerge from thinking differently about how they can engage with digital technologies.

    Ngā mihi

  4. Thanks Nick and Stella,
    Apologies for my minimal engagement to date – I’m also in the thick of another online workshop I’m organising myself (=steep learning curve) + developing online teaching of semester 2 classes (another learning curve).
    But yes – “extraction” does seem to me to be a useful metaphor for a lot that goes on in capitalist economies, even down to the level of personal relations but, moving from metaphors to Marx, is it more useful to remind ourselves of the ways in which cultural superstructures feed back into modes of production and all the way back up through social relations and cultural structure? Is an ideology of extraction so deeply built into our way of meeting our material “needs” that whenever we have a problem, we reach for an extractive solution?
    Is, for example shopping (or tourism) an extractive knee-jerk reaction to material and/or emotional wants disguised as needs?
    And could the old-school anthropologists among us arrange cultures along a continuum (or perhaps a triangle) between extractivist – productivist – and conservationist?

  5. Thanks for this far-reaching panel. Yes, extractive thinking as the engine behind capital’s ‘surplus’ is very much the point here, from pre-corpse travel and lugging sand, to lunar mapping and the bullying of small islands. To the question of how such machinations might be subverted, Stella, your comment about the hosts pushing back, could that be widened to include the guest? They too are embroiled in the specific behavioural extractions made from this form of ‘platform capitalism’ (are the guests part of the broader reaches of your research Stella, can they also be radicalised)? Along with probably many of us at this conference, I am an occasional airBNB guest, I eat with metal forks, I access non-renewable electricity to fire up this computer (but as David Singh points out, renewables also come with a tarnished halo) and yes, I walk on concrete. Humanist embrace of a naturalised status quo will have to be released (thank you COVID-19, as Graham says?) before the logic of extractionist thinking can change. This conference offers the important step of revealing the extractive apparatus, but triggering ‘ungrowth’ will take a whole lot of small fractures to create a global shift from colonialist extraction. Localised resistance and recovery, as modelled by Indigenous communities, show that this is possible. Thank you for spearheading a free and virtual conference, organisers. A strong axe blow to the ice.

  6. Kia ora Sue, and thanks for your thoughtful engagement.
    My research focused specifically on the host side of the market because I was interested in how engagement with Airbnb altered the social landscape in terms of social reproduction of personal relationships, familial relationships and community relationships – what happens when your living room becomes your business? When your neighbour becomes your competitor?
    But yes, certainly guests can be part of the solution as well. There is a push for less corrosive, more socially aware and less extractive forms of short term accommodation, one that comes to mind is an organization called Fairbnb. Whether they or other similar models can disrupt the particular form of platform capitalism that Airbnb uses for mass extraction remains to be seen, though. Or do they simply repeat the problem? Airbnb itself couches its operations in rhetoric of ‘sharing’, ‘democracy’, ‘sustainability’ and ‘social justice’.
    Many places are now responding to over-tourism by implementing policies of de-growth. And who knows- perhaps COVID has dealt the death-blow to mass-tourism? Certainly the presentation on Last Chance tourism puts forward the notion that climate change and environmental degradation will hasten the end. But capitalism is nothing, if not on the move ( to paraphrase David Harvey) and I think that the presentation on Last Chance tourism really nicely puts this into perspective; particularly with the Maldives example where the consequences of capitalist extraction /climate change are destroying areas , and this fact itself becomes a further ‘opportunity’ for extraction… I do agree that change is possible by multitudes of small ruptures, and that growing localized push-backs can gather the necessary traction, but sometimes I despair as the juggernaut of capitalism marches on

    Ngā mihi (thankyou)

  7. Dear Doug Tewksbury, Christine Quail, Liam Cuddy, Michel DePietro, Brittany Rosso and Claire Wander!
    Thank you very much for your presentation, I found it really interesting to reflect about it and of course rethink once again my own travel habits and what I am attracted to. I think it is also great that you’re doing this presentation together, that is what teaching and academia should look like.
    I was wondering if we could also draw a connection between resource and tourism extraction. In many cases tourism is understood as an alternative income for people in regions with natural resources (Amazonas region, Atacama Desert…), ranging from these extractive tourisms to eco-tourism. Have you also analysed one of these cases or can you see similar patterns?

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