Imagining and Transforming the Underground: Towards a Cultural History of the Mine

Страна: Канада

Город: Toronto

Дедлайн: 30.12.2016

Даты: 05.06.17 — 05.06.17

Е-мейл Оргкомитета: [email protected]

Организаторы: York University


From carceral underworld to proletarian vanguard, the unique status of the mine as a site of labour and social upheaval transcends centuries and cultures. Whether directed towards the extraction of precious metals for growing Nation States, or coal for the surging energy demands of the Industrial Age, the mine has always been a space of political and social significance. Not only miners and engineers, but writers, philosophers and artists, have all contributed to the history of the mine as an eminently cultural space. Over the long term, profound transformations are visible, from the social structures of slavery and imprisonment to the recognition of labour rights and our own impact on the environment. As the techniques of energy production have changed, how do the discourses around mining relate to the current debates around pipelines, fracking and corporate social responsibility?

Indeed, the mine is a space that concentrates humanity’s struggle and will to exploit. In its early days, mineralogy was an imperfect science, rife with myth, supernatural entities and amateur methods of extraction. Mines were part of the “secrets of nature”, both physically dangerous for the labourers below and morally dangerous for the societies above. In more modern times, industrialisation meant the expansion of mining and the rationalisation of exploitation practices. Mining adds an engineering of social hierarchies to our already fraught relationship with the environment. Complicated interactions between communities, landowners, mining companies and the State emerge, including paternalist practices, from housing to urban development and education. How is the mine imagined as a space of social and political relationships? What were the narratives that contributed to the reimagining of the mine as a space of innovation, transformation and empowerment?

This conference will focus on mining as a crossroads of disciplines, whose discourses and patterns of sociability shaped its cultural significance throughout history. Our attempts at understanding the mysteries of mining are more often than not informal, often resorting to analogy and anecdote. What are the approximations that change our perceptions of mining and attribute a voice to its victims or mythologize its heroes? How were the injustices buried below used to parallel those above? If the mysterious language of alchemy was, in the early modern period, a way in which mineralogists shared their knowledge while keeping important trade secrets, how did this tradition of self-preservation and self-fashioning grow to incorporate less esoteric appeals for the valorization of miners? And how does the miner compare with other forms of economic exploitation? If mineral resources motivated colonial conquest, which was in turn fuelled by the human exploitation on the plantations, how does the representation of mining relate to slavery? Here are some potential lines of inquiry to which participants, from diverse backgrounds (historical, literary, political, sociological, anthropological, etc.) and who study any area of the globe may respond.

 Proposals may focus on one or more of the following:

●      Danger, fear and emotion in cultural representations of mining;

●      Property claims, royal privileges, legal rights, indigeneity;

●      Perceptions of the mine over technological change and innovation;

●      Mines within folklore, superstition and wider belief systems;

●      Deindustrialisation, decay and the recoding of mineral zones;

●      The mine as imagined in the long term, with regards to sustainability, depletion and the environment.

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