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Risk and Resource Materialities: Coal Extraction in Wyoming | Engaging Resources
New Anthropological Perspectives on Natural Resource Environments

Risk and Resource Materialities: Coal Extraction in Wyoming

Jessica Smith Rolston, University of Colorado

The commoditization of coal depends on its ability to be made generic. Ethnographic research in Wyoming mines, however, reveals the heterogeneous materiality of coal as employees engage with it. By analyzing the distinct patterns of human movement and interaction engendered by this variegated materiality, the paper traces an uneven geography of risk in the mine workscape. Keenly aware of these links, miners critique the particular modes of engagement that present the most harm to their bodies, psyches, and social relationships. In analyzing encounters of humans, machines, and material substances that produce these harms, they critique the claims by corporate personnel that risk is a natural and unavoidable feature of mining. The resolutely material emergence of risk in this resource environment offers a corrective to theories of neoliberal governance that posit risk as all-pervasive yet nowhere grounded in the substance of everyday life.