Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Extracting the violence from rural extraction economies

One of the most common industries in rural areas nationally as well as globally is the extraction industry. The extraction industry includes any industry involving the removal of raw resources from the land. Farming doesn't traditionally fall into this category however; as small family farming economies transition into large corporate agricultural industries, some kinds of farming now may be considered extraction industries.

Typically, the actions involved in extraction industries can have a violent affect on the land being used. Imagine clear cut forests or open pit strip mines. Both harshly change the habitats and landscapes around them in a jarring and destructive manner. Can such environmental degradation occur without any social internalization of that violence? Ecofeminism as well as trends in rural violence suggest that rural residents do in fact internalize this degradation and suffer more violence right along side their exploited natural resources.

In Challenges for Rural America in the 21st Century, Daniel Brown asserts that a key element of extraction industries is that the communities, regions and peoples living near one are all living with exploitation because of the industry presence. Extraction industries imply exploitation simply by the nature of their existence in a rural area. But does the exploitation of the land correlate with social violence?

Rural social and domestic violence has received little academic attention, especially when considering the relationship between extraction industries and violence. Much of current work focuses on the special needs of rural persons relative to spatiality and seperation from services, not the relationship between local violence and local industry. One recent Austrailian study, "Globalization, Frontier Masculinities and Violence," from the British Journal of Criminology focused on the violence among rural Austrailian extraction industry workers.

This study showed that the more remote or rural an extraction industry man was, the more likely he was to be involved in violence, both self inflicted or against other persons. This study focused on man to man violence in social settings and did not specifically address domestic violence. But if social violence amongst males is increased, it follows that intimate partner violence is likely also heightened because of these circumstances.

Ecofeminism has long related the destruction of the environment to violence against women. In her article "Eco-cide: Thinking Ecologically and Globally about Women and Violence" Robyn Lynn explains this increase in social violence as related to the destruction of the local environment:
Violence also becomes manifest more broadly in...'the violation of the integrity of organic interconnected and interdependent systems, that sets in a motion a process of exploitation, inequality, injustice and violence' (Shiva 1989,5)-the killing of people, their culture and lifestyle by the murder of nature.

When we normalize to exploiting and violating the rural lands around us, it becomes easier to internalize such violence amongst each other socially. Extraction economies are possibly essential to rural livlihoods on a global scale. How can we continue operating such exploitative industries but mitigate how the workers of those industries internalize and take home these ethics of abuse and destruction?


Chez Marta said...

Dusty, you are spot on: many studies have demonstrated and Rudy Giuliani's term as Mayor of New York showed that seemingly small changes in one's environment affect one's attitude towards crime and violence. Repairing broken windows, painting over graffiti tags, and keeping the sidewalks clean can do as much crime prevention as an hourly pass-by of a police vehicle. It is unsurprising that the degradation of both urban slums and abandoned rural mines has a profound effect on the livelihoods of the residents of these locales.

Jon di Cristina said...

This seems like a bit of a Catch 22 to me. If we need to improve the physical environment, how can we do that when the extraction industry is the economic lifeblood of the area? Certainly it is worthwhile to avoid activities that encourage violent behavior, but I imagine there would be a lot of resistance from the very people reform was meant to benefit. Whether validly or not, people would view it as killing the community in order to save it. I wish I had something more productive to add, but this was my initial thought.