Worlds of gray and green: mineral extraction as ecological practice

In the second seminar of SEI’s Occasional Talks Series, sociologist and SEI’s 2023 Environmental Humanities Visiting Fellow Sebastián Ureta, explores how the waste produced from mining interacts with human and non-human ecologies.

The Anthropocene has arrived riding a wave of pollution. From ‘forever chemicals’ to oceanic garbage patches, human-made chemical compounds are seemingly everywhere. Concerned about how these compounds disrupt multiple lives and ecologies, environmental scholars, activists and affected communities have sought to curb the causes of pollution, focusing especially on the extractive industries.

In this talk, Sebastián Ureta will draw on his recently published book with Patricio Flores, Worlds of Gray and Green, to challenge us to rethink extraction as ecological practice. Adopting an environmental humanities analytic lens, this book offers a rich ethnographic exploration of the waste produced by Chile’s El Teniente, the world’s largest underground mine. Deposited in a massive dam, the waste — known as tailings — engages with human and non-human entities in multiple ways through a process the authors call geosymbiosis. Some of these geosymbioses result in toxicity and damage, while others become the basis of lively novel ecologies. A particular kind of power emerges in the process, one that is radically indifferent to human beings but that affects them in many ways. Learning to live with geosymbioses offers a tentative path forward amid ongoing environmental devastation.

This event was presented online on 27 July 2022.

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Sebastián Ureta is Associate Professor at Departmento de Sociología, Universidad Alberto Hurtado. Using STS and environmental humanities conceptual frames, he studies the frictions of environmental governance in the Anthropocene. He is the author of Assembling Policy: Transantiago, Human Devices, and the Dream of a World-Class Society (MIT Press 2015) and, along with Patricio Flores, Worlds of Gray and Green: Mineral Extraction as Ecological Practice (UC Press 2022).

Sophie Chao is a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) Fellow and Lecturer in the School of Social Sciences – Anthropology. Sophie’s research thus far has focused on exploring the intersections of capitalism, ecology, and indigeneity in Indonesia, with a specific focus on changing interspecies relations in the context of deforestation and agribusiness development.

Susan Park is a Professor of Global Governance at the University of Sydney. Susan researches how intergovernmental organisations become greener and more accountable and how accountability can be used to improve global environmental governance. Susan is the Research Lead on the Unsettling Resources project.

Thom van Dooren is an Associate Professor in the School of Humanities and Deputy Director – Member Engagement at the Sydney Environment Institute. His research is situated in the broad interdisciplinary field of the environmental humanities and focuses on some of the many philosophical, ethical, cultural, and political issues that arise in the context of species extinctions and human entanglements with threatened species and places.

This event is part of the Sydney Environment Institute’s Occasional Talks Series, which provides a space for a diverse range of international speakers to share their ideas about pressing environmental challenges. This event brings together SEI’s research theme Biocultural Diversities and research project Unsettling Resources.

Header image: Dan Cristian Pădureț via Unsplash