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Digging deeper: precarious futures in two Australian coal mining towns

Dahlgren, Kari (2019) Digging deeper: precarious futures in two Australian coal mining towns. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This thesis contributes to the anthropological literature on the Anthropocene through an ethnography of coal mining communities directly affected by contemporary changes in the fossil fuel industry. It will argue that coal is a specific material around which historic and future collective imaginations pivot. Therefore, it is central to the theoretical discussion of the Anthropocene as well as national and international political debates. The political discussion around coal in Australia is stuck in a binary ‘jobs versus the environment’ discourse. However, this thesis will show how the issues facing coal communities are significantly more complex. Rather than diametrically opposed, concerns about ‘jobs’ and ‘environment’ are both implicated in questions of precarious livelihoods. This thesis will highlight the lived transition for those whose lives are embedded in an Anthropocenic past and present, but who face increasingly unknown futures. The thesis draws on twenty months of fieldwork within two coal mining communities in Australia: Moranbah in Central Queensland and Singleton in the Upper Hunter Valley of New South Wales. The findings from the first fieldsite describe the many changes to the labour force resulting from a weakening labour unionism, increased labour casualisation, and a growth of fly-in-fly-out workforces. Those from the second fieldsite direct attention to land-use conflicts and the anticipatory practices of the community as people imagine the future of their region beyond coal through the mechanisms of state planning bodies and landscape rehabilitation. The two perspectives illuminate the interplay between precarious lives built around the Australian coal mining industry and complex moral debates about the future of coal in Australia.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2019 Kari Dahlgren
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Sets: Departments > Anthropology
Supervisor: James, Deborah and Weszkalnys, Gisa

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