PhD Project: The other side of electric (auto-)mobility: actors, practises, and structures of the internalisation society of Chile’s lithium sector
Nina Schlosser (PhD candidate University of Vienna, HWR Berlin)
Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Markus Wissen, HWR Berlin; Prof. Dr. Ulrich Brand, University of Vienna
For centuries, the modernisation of the capitalist centre depends on the imports of primary raw materials from the resource-rich (semi-)periphery and the externalisation of social-ecological costs thither. Based on a “commodity consensus” (Svampa 2015), Latin American governments conversely pledge wealth and development by the extraction and export of metals to the world market. This interdependency enables both the “peripheral imperial mode of living” (Landherr/Graf 2019) of the “internalisation societies” (ibid.) and the “imperial mode of living” (Brand/Wissen 2017) of the “externalisation societies” (Lessenich 2016) and hence perpetuates exploitation, social-ecological injustice, un(der)development, first and foremost, of the (semi-)periphery.
Against this background, electric automobility is considered as a suitable means for Europe’s ecological modernisation and mitigation of the global climate crisis. However, the extraction of the necessary light metal lithium is associated with detrimental consequences for man and nature. Chile possesses the largest lithium reserves worldwide and (thus) represents one of the Latin American countries with the most social-ecological conflicts in the mining sector. Whilst Chile’s internalisation society benefits from the extractivist “development” model, real development becomes circumvented but the fragile ecosystem around the extraction site destroyed, and hence the (yet) self-determined mode of living of the indigenous and local people nearby threatened (Schlosser 2020).
Given the gap in the academic debate, I try to understand to what extent a "lithium consensus" in Chile, as a consequence of Europe’s lithium demand for battery electric vehicles, emerges nonetheless and why and how it becomes (re-)produced by Chile’s internalisation society. First, I portray Chile’s century-old path dependence on metal extraction (salpetre, copper) and corresponding exports to the world market to then embed the current lithium boom, resulting from the electrification of automobility in Europe. Second, I identify the actors of the internalisation society of Chile’s lithium sector, try to recognise the inner relationship and possible struggles. Third, I intend to comprehend how the ruling class communicates its interests in lithium extraction so that they become “common sense” (GH 1991ff., Hall 2012) to, fourth, identify who is (in-)voluntarily excluded from the concomitant peripheral imperial mode of living with what consequences. Finally, I try to recognise what counter-hegemonic actor’s groups contest the extractivist development model, why (not), and how. The research findings might be applied to other resource-rich countries of the Global South without being limited to lithium, metals in general, or Latin America.
The predominantly empirical research project bases on a multi-methodological approach of qualitative social research, consisting of document analysis, guided and narrative interviews as well as participatory observation.
- Brand, Ulrich/Wissen, Markus (2017): Imperiale Lebensweise. Zur Ausbeutung von Mensch und Natur im globalen Kapitalismus. München
- Gramsci, Antonio (1991ff.): Gefängnishefte (Hrsg.) Bochmann, K; Haug, W.-F.. Hamburg/Berlin.
- Hall, Stuart (2012): Ideologie, Kultur, Rassismus. Ausgewählte Schriften 1. Hamburg.
- Landherr, Anna/Graf, Jakob (2019): Über uns die Sintflut – Zu Klassenverhältnissen in der Internalisierungsgesellschaft am Beispiel Chiles. In: PROKLA 49(196): 487-493.
- Lessenich, Stephan (2016): Neben uns die Sintflut. Die Externalisierungsgesellschaft und ihr Preis. München.
- Schlosser, Nina (2020): Externalised Costs of Electric Automobility: Social-Ecological Conflicts of Lithium Extraction in Chile. IPE Working Paper, No. 144/2020.
- Svampa, Maristella (2015): Commodities Consensus: Neoextractivism and Enclosure of the Commons in Latin America. In: South Atlantic Quarterly 114: 65-82.