Screen Shot 2014-12-16 at 12.23.30 AM<<< This is a piece of mine that was published in the Nov/Dec issue of Canada’s Briarpatch Magazine >>>

The controversy around the temporary foreign worker program (TFWP) hit in late spring while I was doing fieldwork for research on Canadian mining in West Mindanao, Philippines. My mind quickly became entangled in the systemic knots that lock together seemingly disparate issues.

At what locals call Ground Zero in Zamboanga City – where urban warfare between Muslim separatists and the army one year ago claimed lives, destroyed a neighbourhood, and has left tens of thousands homeless – there hung fresh ads in the streets about finding work abroad.

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ABSTRACT:  In late 2012 the small-scale miners (SSM) of Mt. Balabag in Zamboanga Peninsula (Mindanao, Philippines) were forcibly displaced to make way for a large-scale Canadian mine. In operation since 1995, their workers were earning relatively high incomes. For the SSM elite they saw their industry as an economic and cultural boon for the impoverished local population. Yet, in reality, the educational achievements of the youth, investments in land and/or homes, and monetary savings remained low for the majority of the SSM workers.

While it is a fact that the entry of the foreign mine was detrimental to their socioeconomic futures, a question remains: Why didn’t their previously high incomes have a positive influence on their overall socioeconomic status?  Or more simply: Why aren’t they ‘better off’ after small-scale mining than before?  In fact, there is indication that the opposite may be true; that their experience with mining actually resulted in a downturn especially in a cultural sense as reports of community issues with social vice and domestic violence have have increased.

My presentation, based on early examination of my fieldwork findings from the summer of 2014, will examine these issues through the lens of Henri Lefebvre’s dialectics of space (seen as a component of the relations of production—simultaneously social and spatial) and how they impact everyday life.  The physical space of Balabag and the surrounding region, contrasted with the imagined space produced through the experience with mining, and as represented in the lives of the workers created a social reality quite different from expectations.

The ramifications of this study go further than simply one mine site, but inform the struggle towards development for the Global South and beyond.  The roots of poverty will be seen in dialectical relation to qualitative changes in space itself.