“No one can say the Karonsi'e Dongi were not here:”: a photovoice study of gendered resistance to mining in Indonesia

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University of New Brunswick


Resistance to nickel mining in Sorowako, Indonesia has existed since farmers were forced to give up their land for the mine in the 1970s. However, little is known about the gendered nature of resistance to mining in Sorowako, especially women's everyday resistance. Grounding my study in feminist political economy, intersectionality, and theories on everyday resistance, I conducted a photovoice study, in combination with interviews, participation observations and a conjunctural exercise that historically situated the struggles captured in the photo-stories, to gain insights on gendered forms of resistance to resource extraction. Fourteen Karonsi'e Dongi and Sorowako women, seven from each community, affected by Vale's mine produced 75 photo-stories that revealed photovoice to be an effective method for unearthing intent and consciousness in everyday resistance, which some resistance scholars argue cannot be observed. The predominant theme found in the women's photo-stories involved descriptions of how life is a struggle due to mining. The women reveal they are aware of how their oppression is mediated by structures designed to facilitate mining, namely dispossession and exploitation. They also show their knowledge of the intersectional nature of their oppression by telling stories of how different people are affected differently by mining. Another predominant theme uncovered in the photo-stories depicted home as special in terms of its natural and cultural assets. I relate these photo-stories to storied presencing that asserts Indigenous ways of being in the world (Simpson, 2011). In another predominant theme, the women revealed that they are consciously resisting through what Bayat (2000) described as quiet encroachments of the ordinary. The Karonsi'e Dongi women described how they defy authorities and grow crops and forage on land that they are steadily reclaiming. While the Sorowako women are not engaging in such acts of everyday resistance, their photostories reveal they do not fully consent to mining as they empathize with their neighbours who have been harmed due to mining. These photo-stories challenge colonial scripts that bolster extractivism, deny the agency and humanity of Indigenous women, and delay a transition to a post-extractivist future by stating clearly what the Indigenous women desire for their lives and communities.