Martín Arboleda

The ‘commodity super-cycle’, considered one of the most persistent and wide-ranging resource extraction booms in modern history, signals two distinct, yet overlapping epoch-making shifts: the end of the Western phase of capitalism, on the one hand, and the rise of intelligent machines, on the other. As East Asian economies underwent dynamic processes of industrial upgrading and urbanization after the 1990s, Latin American resource peripheries –for centuries the ‘backyard’ of Western empires- became gradually entangled in a complex infrastructural corridor of supply chains and ‘maritime silk roads’ that repositioned the gravitational center of the world economy towards the Pacific Ocean. Moreover, a recent leap forward in the computerization and robotization of the labor process has allowed the mining industry to boost efficiency by rolling out remote sensing technologies, autonomous trucks, drills, shovels, smelters, and control systems. As a result, mines have expanded in both scale and numbers, opening the door onto a new phase of primitive accumulation, labor degradation, and ecological plunder whose full extent we are only beginning to understand. This research project intends to shed light into the reorganization of the mining industry into transnational supply chains, especially as capital sheds its Western skin and escalates into a genuinely global socionatural system. It explores the ways in which the Atacama Desert –the driest in the world-, became ensnared in a global logistical apparatus that connected mining sites in the Andean plateaus of Chile with an expanding constellation of megacities, factories, and stock exchanges in Asia and other parts of the world.

Projected outcome: Book publication (under contract with Verso).

Autonomous shoveling and haulage machinery in a mine in Chile. Credit: Codelco