Transforming Kiruna : Producing Space, Society, and Legacies of Inequality in the Swedish Ore Fields

Sammanfattning: Extractive resources industries are irreversibly transforming land, air, water, life and society around the world at an unprecedented rate, and Sweden is no exception. This anthropological study analyzes acute issues related to this transformation:  the resettlement of six thousand residents of the city of Kiruna due to ground deformations caused by large-scale iron mining by the Swedish state-owned company LKAB (Luossavaara-Kiirunavaara AB). The thesis explains how mining, the dominant mode of production in the Ore Fields (Malmfälten) region, establishes particular social relations, structures of power, and conceptual models of space, nature, and society. I approach these relations and ideas through the perspective of space, and show how space in Kiruna is produced through social processes, material infrastructures, symbols and meaning-making in support of extractivism, the political and economic prioritization of resource extraction. The empirical basis of the work is fifteen months of ethnographic field research in Kiruna between 2012 and 2015. The analysis relies on theories of space in Anthropology and Geography, as well as ideas from settler colonial studies. A central argument in the study is that despite official representations of the city move as a “social transformation”, the physical, conceptual, and social production of space extends material and social inequalities integral to extractivism. While all city residents are affected by the insecurity and risks of extractivism, which the city move revealed, the Indigenous Sámi community is uniquely affected. Sámi from the Kiruna area have historically been subjected to colonial policy, limits on their subsistence economy, displacement from land, and harmful stereotypes. However, Sámi have also continually resisted such limitations and stereotypes, adopting diverse forms of work to support reindeer herding (including mine work), establishing urban community spaces, and documenting and preserving local cultural landscapes. The move of the city reveals that such legacies of social inequality, which have been a part of the establishment of mining, persevere in social relations, ideas, and material architectures that form space in and around Kiruna. Providing ethnographic detail and analysis of the reproduction of extractivism and its inherent inequalities in spatial practices, this study contributes to the anthropological literature on space, resource extraction, and social inequality.