Interview with Ph.D. Candidate Marianna Fernandes who shares some insights on her research and her latest fieldwork.
You are currently a Ph.D. Candidate in the Centre for International Environmental Studies (CIES). Can you tell us what your research topic is and how you came to choose it?
My research is about the use of 4.0 technologies in the mining industry, mainly in the extraction of minerals that are considered strategic for energy transition and de-carbonization initiatives. I am particularly interested in the socio-ecological and labour dynamics that underpin automation as well as the generation and use of digital data in the sector.
I have been investigating mineral extraction since 2014, and prior to joining CIES, I got involved in multiple research initiatives about digital economies as well as the energy transition. I realized that these topics are all interconnected. However, their intersection is rather under-investigated. So, it seemed to me that it would be a relevant topic for a Ph.D. project.
You are going to be joining the team on the project SYNTHETIC LIVES: THE FUTURES OF MINING, funded by ERC. What will you contribute to it? And how is your Ph.D. related to it?
Synthetic Lives aims to address critical transformations taking place in extractive industries at the global level today. The introduction of 4.0 technologies in the mining industry is a crucial part of this. Through my Ph.D., I will contribute to the project by bringing an ethnographically grounded perspective on how these changes are taking place in key case studies in Argentina and Chile. I chose these countries because while both have important mineral reserves, they also have very different policy initiatives, regulatory frameworks, and economic contexts. Comparing the two will illuminate their shared patterns as well as particularities.
I plan to conduct in-depth participant observation in mineral extraction contexts, and interview policymakers, local authorities, representatives of the companies as well as community members. By doing so, I will gather diverse perspectives and vantage points from which to understand and analyse the complex and rapid changes being introduced by digital technologies in the sector.
You recently did some fieldwork in Argentina for the SYNTHETIC LIVES project. Can you tell us more about the work you have been doing there?
I was in Northern Argentina conducting fieldwork in high-altitude territories where the extraction of minerals such as gold, copper, and lithium is either already taking place or soon going to start. There, I discussed with people living nearby extraction sites, state authorities, and company representatives. Our conversations were mainly about their concerns and expectations regarding mining, as well as about their views on the challenges and opportunities that mineral extraction combined with digital technologies can create for local livelihoods, economies, and the environment.
It was very enriching to conduct multi-sited fieldwork in several villages and learn about their different trajectories with mining projects. I found it particularly interesting to conduct fieldwork in one village that has only recently started mining lithium. There are many infrastructural projects that are planned for the near future there, and the village is going to change a lot. I am curious to follow those changes as they take place and analyse them considering the broader, global framework of the Synthetic Lives project. .
Read more about the SYNTHETIC LIVES project