What does it mean to be a non|citizen in our current era of unbridled extractivism?

How are the rights of access to the world’s so-called ‘natural resources’ (including land, and minerals) negotiated? How are the boundaries between legitimate or il|legitimate extraction, production and exchange drawn, reproduced and maintained in today’s increasingly globalized spaces of resource commodification?

Who is included?

Who is excluded?

What kinds of politics are involved?

What kinds of spatial connections and disconnections do we see emerging?

My research focuses on the geographies of so-called Resource Frontiers: environments where public authority over nature and its underground are fundamentally being questioned, reconfigured and reformulated.

My interest has brought me, amongst others, to study the political ecologies of minerals and agricultural commodity markets and their violent reconfigurations in Central Africa (Democratic republic of Congo) as well as in Southern Europe (Italy). These engagements have enabled me to raise wider questions about the limits of sovereign power, both in a geographical and anthropological sense. In all these cases, I regard the boundary between legitimate or il|legitimate authority as a liminal zone, a grey space where regulations and norms are fundamentally reformulated.

These personal pictures above refer to my research in commodity frontiers in Central Africa -particularly minerals extraction in Eastern DRC- and in Southern Europe -particularly agro-food production (in Puglia’s and Basilicata’s industrialised tomato fields). In this research I continue to combine my theoretical interests with a dedication to in-depth longitudinal ethnographic study among the people involved in such commodity production as well as a strong public engagement.

I am currently employed as permanent research associate and lecturer at the University of Zurich. I am a member of Osservatorio Migranti Basilicata, and I serve on several editorial boards. For contact details please go to my university web page.

Recent Posts

COVID19 and digital extractivism

Following up my earlier posts on COVID I’d like share a long interview (in Chinese and Italian) with Zheng Ningyuan on the website sconessione precarie, a web platform of precarious workers based in Italy. Ningyuan is a Chinese artist and co-founded founder of the WUXU group. During the current crisis he founded the 4xDecameron project to share reflections and thoughts on the quarantine between Italy and China.

Ningyuan’s interview offers a spectrum of how COVID may transform people’s lives fundamentally in the shadow of currently adopted containment measures. One important aspect concerns what Biao Xiang, in another article, calls the deep transformations to our current “mobility economy“. In line with previous observations about the rising oligopoly of retail businesses and the current global re-dimensioning of commodity trade (particularly of food products), Ningyuan reveals a few rarely highlighted aspects of the Chinese crisis response. Rising difficulties in the food supply chain during the lockdown have inspired the Chinese government to stimulate digitalised buying platforms like (Alipay) e Tencent (WeChatpay), for example. On the one hand, such online distribution has compensated the perceived inefficiency of physical retail shops and centralised logistics. But it also generates an acceleration of control mechanisms over people’s everyday mobilities through increased web surveillance. Finally, it leaves millions of non-resident citizens such as informal migrant workers and homeless people, literally, off the grid. During this current epidemic, for example, the Chinese government has strengthened the so-called “health code (健康 码)” system in order to monitor the biological status of individual citizens in order to avoid possible threats to public health. This system can directly limit our very sense of being mobile, Ningyuan concludes, because it further blurs the boundary of who and what is determined a risk to the preservation of biological life as an object of government intervention.

One of the major challenges ahead is exactly to foresee how the biological governance of post-COVID life will further enhance this digital extractivism of our everyday mobilities – in which China is observed to be prime developer and commercial leader. In line with Ningyuan’s interview, Biao Xiang writes how the COVID-19 epidemic and the subsequent responses are particularly impactful because they abruptly halt what we may call a “mobility economy” -while also transforming it in different ways. Comparing the Chinese government reaction to the 2003 Sars crisis and the current COVID epidemic, he concludes that that the control of mobility is no longer specific to controlling the chain-like mobility of rural-urban migrants and the way they are presumed a risk to society. Today, the government is consolidating what Xiang calls a serious of grid reactions: residential communities, districts, cities and even entire provinces act as grids to impose blanket surveillance over all the residents, minimise mobilities, and enforce isolation. Such reactions are following a trend of proliferating labour mobilities, whereby people are constantly moving between homes and jobs -a situation that is pushing this differentiation, rhyzomatic government response. Several autocratic governments are already experimenting with social network technologies today to control mobility in the post-COVID phase. it remains an open question how these technologies will also include the “off the grid” informal workers and non-residents who remain or do not remain valued as key assets to maintain current levels of welfare.

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