Centre for International Environment Studies
29 September 2020

New European Research Council (ERC) grant at CIES

Filipe Calvao, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Sociology, receives an ERC grant for his project "Synthetic Lives: The Futures of Mining".

Prof. Filipe Calvao

Interview with Prof. Filipe Calvao

You are the seventh Institute professor to have received an ERC grant. Why is it so prestigious?
The European Research Council (ERC) supports ambitious projects in “ground-breaking” or “cutting-edge” fields of research. Part of its prestige may come from the competitive nature of the application process, but it stems largely from the excellent research opportunities it creates. The starting grant I was awarded – for early-career scholars – funds an entire team of researchers with up to EUR 1.5 million. Our positive track-record with ERC grants is a testament to the dynamic exchange of ideas between the Institute’s centres and departments (as well as the excellent support of the Research Office). The awareness that comes from working with colleagues from multiple disciplines at the Institute, and between academia and the policy world in Geneva, may also give us an upper hand. 

Could you explain the focus of your research?
The project takes stock of the future of mining activities to understand the relation between humans and machines, natural and synthetic objects, and digital and material spaces: what is the role of nature, human work or mediation in increasingly synthetic, automated and digital mining economies? We will answer this problem by studying synthetic laboratories (where certain minerals are now produced), automated mines (where extraction is being developed by autonomous and intelligent machines) and digital and data-driven mining processes (which are replacing conventional modes of intermediation and accountability).

How do you plan to bring this project to fruition? 
We’re still ironing out the final details but it’ll be a five-year project starting next summer with a small team based in Geneva. Research will largely have an ethnographic component (participant observation, in-situethnography, interviews) across a series of different sites including synthetic laboratories, fully automated mines and mining sites deploying blockchain-enabled and other digital technologies. These are emergent but fairly widespread transformations taking place across the world, which will take the research team to South America, Africa, Southeast Asia, as well as Europe and North America.


This interview was published in the Graduate Institute internal newsletter "Campus de la paix".