Governing Extractive Industries | spotlight

NEC Lead Convener and Associate Research Professor, Denise Humphreys Bebbington co-authored a book (first published in English and Spanish, 2019) that has recently been translated into Chinese by Weijun Xie and published by the University of International Business and Economics Press in China.

The book, entitled Governing Extractive Industries: History, Ideas, Politics, is co-authored by Anthony Bebbington (GSG,Clark University), Abdul-Gafaru Abdulai (University of Ghana), Marja Hinfelaar (Southern African Institute for Policy and Research, Zambia), Denise Humphreys Bebbington (IDCE, Clark University) and Cynthia Sanborn (Universidad del Pacífico, Peru)

Professor Bebbington writes: “The significance of the book being published in Chinese reflects the increased presence and role of Chinese financing agencies and companies in natural resource extraction and infrastructure development in both Latin America and Africa.”


Professor Anthony Bebbington from the Graduate School of Geography was interviewed in 2019 upon its initial release:

Please briefly describe the book, as well as larger thematic meanings.

This book is a joint authored collaboration with our colleagues Abdul-Gafaru Abdulai of the University of Ghana, Marja Hinfelaar of the Southern African Institute for Policy and Research in Zambia, and Cynthia Sanborn of the Universidad del Pacífico in Peru.

The book compares the governance of extractive industries – mining and hydrocarbons – across Bolivia, Ghana, Peru and Zambia, and does so over what we call the “longue durée”, from the end of the 19th century to the present. It attempts to see overarching patterns in these different experiences, with a particular focus on the ways in which political relationships affect extractive industry governance and also how in turn natural resources influence politics. On that basis, we also try to contribute to theories of the politics of development. We pay particular attention to the political settlements that are crafted among national elites and how these have influenced the core principles underlying mineral policy and the use of natural resource “rents” (the sometimes super-profits that derive from controlling mining, oil and gas production).  Drawing comparisons over such long periods and across Africa and Latin America is not common in such work, and we were each surprised, I think, by how much similarity there was among countries, and how much global histories also affected these patterns.

Discuss your motives for writing this book.  What is the most important message you are seeking to broadcast?

At one level the message is an obvious one, but sometimes one that I (at least) can lose sight of in my work on social movements, rural livelihood strategies and civil society organizations: namely that the structure and maneuvers of elite politics are really important for setting the stage on which conflicts over natural resources unfold. We would argue that one needs more than good political economy analysis to understand these elite politics, and also – on a much more practical level – that efforts by activists, international donor agencies,  philanthropy and others to influence natural resource governance must work from an understanding of these elite politics (in order to identify strategies more likely to succeed), and ideally engage directly with these elite politics, risky as that can be.

My motives were fourfold. First, this was a new theoretical approach and a new literature for me, and that was challenging. Second, I believe the topic is important for approaches to social justice work, even if the theory can feel abstracted from grant-making and activism. Third, it was a chance to collaborate with some wonderful colleagues. Fourth, I value my relationship with colleagues at the University of Manchester’s Global Development Institute, and this was a chance to continue that relationship as we won research resources from their Effective States and Inclusive Development program to support the work.

Who is your ideal audience for it?

Inevitably a book like this will be read primarily by students and researchers.  However, we believe that the theme and conclusions have significance for those aid, philanthropic and social change organizations that take the politics of development seriously. Colleagues at the Ford Foundation have, for instance, already commented on pre-published versions of the text.

The book, which is under translation in Spanish, makes an important contribution to debates about the politics of natural resource extraction in Andean countries and more generally in Latin America.  It will be helpful to students and researchers but also to those working in international development organizations, non governmental organizations and government officials who are actively engaged with natural resource governance issues.

Did you do many site visits for your research? Can you describe these trips?

For all five of us, this was a book that was about stepping back from site visits and the details of local research and, instead, trying to interpret the more opaque and structural politics the drive natural resource governance.  We each did interviews with key informants, of course, and read a lot of material. But more importantly this was an attempt to step back and ask, beyond the noise of particular conflicts, investment projects and policy debates, “what is really going on here”?

What kind of research did you do, and how long did you spend researching before beginning the book?

I have been involved in work on natural resource governance in the Andean countries since 1986, and on mining and hydrocarbons since 2004.  Denise’s history is similar, but she has worked on extractive industries and socio-environmental movements and social justice for longer, since 2001 through her work as Latin American Coordinator for Global Greengrants Fund.  Cynthia’s involvement in Peru stretches back even longer (she is now Peruvian) and also combines social justice and academic rsearch. and Marja’s research in Zambia stretches back for a similar period, Abdul-Gafaru’s in Ghana a little less (he is the young one among us!). In some sense, all this history of research and grant-making (for Denise and Cynthia) feeds into this book.

What is your next project?  How does this publication tie into your research goals?

As we were writing this book, Denise and I, together with Professor John Rogan, PhD student Laura Sauls, and master’s and undergraduate students at Clark, as well as colleagues in Central America, Brazil, Peru and Indonesia were involved in a study of the role of extractive industry and large-scale infrastructure development in processes of forest loss, forest degradation, and violation of the rights of forest dependent communities. That project has been at least as overwhelming as this book, and Denise has done an incredible amount of work bringing it to a close. Putting both projects to bed at the same time took an unreasonable toll on family life.  So, the next project needs to be more modest.

That said, I am getting involved in work on the relationships among mining, water governance and development disputes under conditions of climate change in Latin America and SE Asia. A critical sub-question in that research is that of coal mining in Indonesia and Colombia. Coal is such a difficult question, but it is often so clearly linked to forest loss, rights abuses, corruption and greenhouse gas emissions that, in many locations, neither it, nor investment in it, can possibly be justified. And related to this is the plan to establish a new center for work on extractive industries, society and environment which can help give greater profile to faculty and student work on these issues and serve to link this work more organically with the sorts of organizations with whom we have been collaborating over the years. That is exciting, and challenging too.

We have been able to make this book open access, thanks to support from the UK Department for International Development, via the Effective States and Inclusive Development program at the University of Manchester.

That same support has also made it possible for us to produce a Spanish language version of the book, to be published the University Press of the Universidad del Pacífico in Peru.  This will also be open access. Though it implies a lot of extra time, we take Spanish language publication of our research very seriously and it is always satisfying to see our Spanish language work on university syllabi in Latin America.