ENTANGLEMENTS: Iva Peša, “Understanding Environmentalism in Africa”

Iva Peša,Beyond Resistance and Resignation: Understanding Environmentalism in Africa

Thursday 28 October 2021, 16:00hrs CEST, on Zoom

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The Anthropocene presents itself as a turning point in human history: if current fossil fuel dependency is not reversed and if economic thought is not reconceptualised to question the logic of growth models, the earth’s future will be imperiled. Viewing the Anthropocene from the perspective of sub-Saharan Africa shows the need to ask different questions, which challenge the singular and universal nature of the Anthropocene.

Based on three empirical case studies of localities of resource extraction in the twentieth century (gold mining in Johannesburg, copper mining on the Central African Copperbelt and oil drilling in the Niger Delta), I wish to highlight lived experiences of historical environmental change. In particular, responses to environmental transformation will be interrogated, to go beyond binary categories of either resistance or resignation towards industry and pollution.

Environmentalism could be expressed in numerous ways, not just through protest movements. Moreover, in certain cases resource extraction – despite its environmentally destructive characteristics – could feed into positive values of national sovereignty, economic independence and industrial development. Being attentive to the plural meanings of resource extraction offers a more complicated story of the Anthropocene. Whilst on a planetary level, access to copper and oil will remain crucial to envisaging Anthropocene futures, it is important to pay attention to the unequal histories which have brought about our current predicament.

Iva Peša is an Assistant Professor in Contemporary History at the University of Groningen. Her most recent research project was an environmental history of the Zambian and Congolese Copperbelt, a copper mining region in Central Africa. Her work has appeared in journals such as The Extractive Industries and Society, Environment and History and The Journal of Southern African Studies. She is currently preparing a research project in which she will compare the environmental histories of different African localities of resource extraction.

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