I'm an Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology at the University of Calgary. My research focuses on the anthropology and history of resource extraction, and the history of scientific knowledge and its relationship to governance.
I am particularly interested in the role of industrial scientific expertise in governance and conflict, as well as the participation of scientists in radical politics. These issues are the centre of both my previous research in southeastern Europe and my new field sites in northern Canada.
Industry: Roots, Routes and Research
For me, home is the wind-blown, barren rocky coast of the northern Adriatic Sea. My hometown, Rijeka, is a pipeline terminus and has a major container and deep water tanker port, as well as a passenger ferry terminal. The city is dotted with shipyards and oil refineries. It is the birthplace of the torpedo and home to the first torpedo factory in the world. A new floating LNG terminal is planned just off the shore in the bay of Kvarner.
Families are full of welders, engineers, truck drivers, port workers, sailors, captains and off-shore oil labourers that work shifts across the globe, from the Russian Arctic, to the oil fields of Nigeria, to installations in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Brazil. For all of us, this overwhelming industrial presence is multivalent: it is our inescapable reality, our economic fabric, a source of history and pride, and an ecological nightmare. This port city has given rise to a population of cosmopolitan polyglots, multigenerational mariners, but also environmental activists and striking labourers.
Much of my research emerges from this experience. I want to understand how industrial and extractive activity, as well as science and new industrial technologies, have shaped places like Rijeka, and people like me. But I also want to know where this industrial activity will take us in an era of climate change, political agitation and increasing global energy interdependence. I do my research in both southeastern Europe and the Canadian Arctic and Subarctic because both are resource peripheries - places where resources are taken from, and processed to serve populations living mostly outside of these areas (western Europe and southern Canada, amongst others). Yet, resource peripheries are also places where environmental degradation and industrial politics are most deeply felt.
Reading, Radicalism and Paramilitarism in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 1932-1942
While radicalization today is spoken of as a new phenomenon, the integration of youth and disenfranchised citizens into larger political projects deemed ‘radical’ or ‘extreme’ has long sustained paramilitary activity around the world. In order to understand the questions surrounding radicalization posed above, I am studying a historical case of radicalization: the rise of Communist Party youth in the 1930s Kingdom of Yugoslavia and their subsequent transformation, in the early 1940s, into Yugoslav Partisan paramilitary units, and eventually the National Liberation Army of Yugoslavia (NOV). This project will ask: how did ordinary civilians ally themselves with Communist politics and become members of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (KPJ) in the 1930s? And, furthermore, how did these Communist Party members organize themselves from local KPJ committees into paramilitary units during World War II? This project, in particular, plays close attention to the role of engineers, scientists and miners from Bosnia and Herzegovina's resource industry in the rise of Communist politics. I am especially interested in the cultural tactics used by these industrial elites in promoting new ideas, such as literacy campaigns, reading circles and informal libraries. I argue that we need to engage in a broader discussion of the usage of cultural forms and cultural objects in non-state violence and paramilitary organizations.
Photo: Sabrina Perić
The Pipeline Inquiry
Expertise and Decision-Making on the Arctic Hydrocarbon Frontier
Pipeline building is no simply task. As the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline and Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain Pipeline demonstrated, pipeline proposals have an incredible ability to engage and politically mobilize people from a wide cross-section of society both in support of energy infrastructure expansion, and against it. But these protests are not a new phenomenon. Rather they index a much longer history of public engagement in and resistance to energy infrastructure. Pipeline building has been especially challenging in the circumpolar world. The pipeline approval process has been fraught with concerns over the contrasting demands of states, corporations and citizens, as well as concern over the future of sensitive Arctic ecosystems. This project aims to understand how decisions are made within the format of a pipeline inquiry - one of the most important parts of the approval process. I want to understand 1) how the decision to build or reject an Arctic pipeline actually occurs; 2) what kind of knowledge and expertise is necessary to pipeline approval process; and 3) the role of affect and testimony in the pipeline approval process. I will be examining three proposed northern pipelines: the Trans Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS), the Mackenzie Valley Gas (MVG) Pipeline and the Alaska Highway (Alcan) Pipeline. All three were proposed in the 60s and 70s, but only TAPS was built. All of these pipeline approval processes were deeply marked by a dynamic knowledge exchange between politicians, corporate officials, Indigenous people, scientists and environmental activists. While contemporary concerns are different from those of the 1970s, many of the environmental and political issues that marker the pipeline inquiry process now for the basis of the regulatory and consultation approval processes in North America.
Photo above: Sabrina Perić
Petroscience, Climate History and the Permafrost Archive
In the history of northern science and industry, permafrost has been understood primarily as a civil engineering problem: the annual thawing and refreezing of its active top layer posed problems of durability and stability for any infrastructural project, especially northern pipelines. During the Cold War, the understanding of permafrost and its possibilities changed. Cold War scientists, petroleum microbiologists and geologists, working together under the auspices of and through the infrastructure of Imperial Oil, transformed the role of permafrost in the Canadian North. Rather than seeing it as a hindrance to northern expansion and resource exploitation, they began to turn to permafrost sampling for information, understanding the analysis of its substrate materials (which include sediment, organic matter and water/ice) as a way to reconstruct the complex history, geography and geology of of an area. This historical and ethnographic project examines how scientists collaborate to construct permafrost as an archive through which radically changing notions of time and space not only come to shape current oil and gas projects, but also emphasize permafrost's place as a repository of climate history. I suggest that scientists' participation in both large-scale extractive projects, as well as climate science, have had critical implications for 20th and 21 century global politics.
This is the first part of a larger multi-year project, Deep Ice: Understanding Climate Histories, Politics and Futures.
Photo above: sampling a permafrost core in the Lanoil Lab, Edmonton, AB. Photo: Brian Lanoil
Silver Bosnia: Precious Metals and Society in the Western Balkans
In 1992, several thousand residents from northern Bosnia’s Prijedor region were detained in the Omarska concentration camp, which was created and run on the site of an iron mine by the mine’s own engineers, labourers and management. Often overlooked in discussions about the ethnoreligious nature of the Balkan conflict is the fact that Omarska’s workers relied heavily on their technical knowledge (of organic compounds, geology and terrain, machinery) to generate new ways of concentrating and executing prisoners. Based on twenty-three months of ethnographic fieldwork and concurrent archival research in seven languages, Silver Bosnia: Precious Metals and Society in the Western Balkans examines how Omarska’s extractive labourers defined and invented military ends for their expert industrial knowledge. I locate miners’ participation in wartime violence within the daily materiality of mining labour – that is, within a ‘technical pragmatics’ that arises amongst those who have attained high levels of expertise and can put routine tasks to new uses. The technical pragmatics exercised by these miners was certainly the product of socialist science education, mandatory military service and masculine ideals of soldiering engrained in post-World War II Yugoslavia. However, the usage of older mining knowledge and well-established genealogical and social networks to sustain violence suggests that workers’ militarization must also be understood within a longer regional history of creating and reproducing industrial structures and classes within the possibilities and constraints of early modern and modern technologies of rule.
This project is currently wrapping up, and is in the publication phase.
Photo: Arcelor Mittal's Omarska mine site. Photo: Sabrina Perić
Opportunities for MA, PhD and Post-Doctoral Projects
If you are interested in graduate studies at the University of Calgary in the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, please drop me a line! I am willing to supervise students in the broad areas of environmental and historical anthropology, science and technology studies, as well as political economy, and violence and militarization. Students may develop their own research projects, or may work under the auspices of one of the projects listed above. For more information on the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, click here.
If you are interested in doing a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Calgary, please drop me a line! I am currently only accepting post-docs in the area of energy transitions and energy futures. Your research interests should align with the research priorities of the Energy In Society research group, as you will be working with EIS primarily. For more information on EIS, please click here.
Alison Fraser, MA Candidate
Up the Garden Path: Urban Farming and Sustainability in the City of Calgary
John Reyes, MSS Candidate
Countering Radicalization in Calgary using Community-Based Policing
Emily Boak, MA Candidate
Michele Bianchi, PhD Candidate
Old Memories, New Stories: Political Extremism and Identity in Post-War Bosnian Youth
Galina Belolyubskaya, PhD Candidate
Stephanie Maitland, MSS
Riley Collins, MSS
Conventions of Innovation: Narratives of Defence Professionals and Civilian Scientists
Angie Tucker, MA
Awana niyanaan? Who are we? Diasporic Métis Communities and Identity
Megan Ng, MA
Petrofied: Oil Town Uncertainty and Undefined Futures in Fort McMurray
Current Post-Doctoral Fellows:
Dr. Sarah Blacker, SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow, 2018 - 2020
The Science of Contamination: How Water Becomes Political in Alberta's Oil Sands
Research Assistantships and Independent Projects
In the past, I have often hired 1-2 undergraduate research assistants to work with me on the projects listed above during the summer. Please contact me about any upcoming opportunities with a cover letter, a CV, and a note if any of the above projects are especially interesting to you!
I really enjoy mentoring undergraduate students in the pursuit of their own research projects and interests. If you have an idea for a project, and would like to apply for a PURE (Program for Undergraduate Research Experience) Award, send me an email. The PURE Award is a wonderful opportunity for undergraduates to design and execute research independently, and contribute to scholarly and public knowledge. For more information on the PURE Award, click here.
Below is a list of PURE projects I have supervised:
Peter Friedrichsen (U of C Class of 2017): Barriers and Strategies to Sustainable Waste Disposal on the Calgary - Tsuu T'ina Nation Border.
Peter is currently pursuing his MA at the University of Saskatchewan.
Sarah Horsfall (U of C Class of 2014): From Grave to Courtroom: The Social Life of Evidence in Post Civil War Guatemala.
Sarah is currently pursuing her law degree at the University of Windsor.
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