Office for Environmental Programs - Theses

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    Mining the rural: a Foucaultian exploration of power, identity and transition in south-central Queensland
    Arnaud, Lisa ( 2019)
    Over the last decade, mining and energy development in Queensland rapidly increased, spreading into regions previously dominated by agriculture. This process has had uneven effects on local communities and has provoked widely varying responses, including political struggles, conflicts, business relationships and political alliances. Guided by Michel Foucault’s genealogical strategy and concept of governmentality, this thesis investigates how local responses to mining have been influenced by culturally embedded knowledge and taken-for-granted understandings or truths that emerged from a variety of governing practices, technologies and strategies in the past. The essence of this study is to understand how power functions through knowledge, which shapes and structures the field of possibilities, i.e. what can be thought, said and done at a particular time and place. This research project takes a qualitative case study approach. The case is a small rural district in the Darling Downs, south-central Queensland, which has been substantially affected by coal and gas development activity in recent years. Consistent with a case study approach, I used multiple methods of data collection, namely, semi-structured and life history interviews, informal group discussions, observation and a wide range of documents. By using these methods, I acquired detailed experiential knowledge about the case, while also gaining an understanding of how it connects with and has been affected by wider systems (social, political, economic, environmental) over time. Data was collected over 5 periods of fieldwork, which was undertaken during the period from 2014 to 2016. In total, I interviewed 45 inhabitants; the majority (41) were permanent residents and four were temporary residents. The findings of this investigation demonstrate the legacy effects of practices of governing, including colonial-agrarian, Fordist and neo-liberal, which reorganized the landscape - altering its meaning and functioning and the identities and mentalities of inhabitants - according to particular logics. These logics continue to shape and constrain social practices in the present, including how people make sense of and respond to mining interventions. Although responses are inevitability diverse and include some forms of resistance, they have the same political impact, which is to reify the current configuration of power and enable (not disrupt) the State Government’s development policy agenda. This finding demonstrates the inexorable link between rural identities and the State, where maintaining identity (which offers recognition and power) is contingent on submitting to and performing consistently with the interests of the State. The paradoxical (empowering and subordinating) character of identity has been reinforced over time, through multiple technologies that have cultivated enabling capacities and enhanced status of rural people, while also rendering their positions increasingly precarious. Precarity, like hardship and trauma, is tolerated and normalised through habitual practices that reinforce rural subjection. Recent mining activity has contributed to rural precarity and repeats the subjection of local inhabitants, by offering them some power, while at the same time, diluting their autonomy and control of the land. They are therefore in a double bind: in order to maintain positions of power in the landscape they must participate in a development process that renders their positions more vulnerable to exclusion.