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Water Cultures in Conflict at Pebble Mine, Bristol Bay, Alaska


Department of History

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About the Project

We welcome applications for funded 4-year PhD studentships to start in September 2021. This is an exciting opportunity for an ambitious, talented and enthusiastic researcher to conduct interdisciplinary research in order to advance thinking within the area of blue-green humanities through researching one of the world’s primary sites of contemporary water cultures in profound conflict – at Pebble Mine, Bristol Bay, Alaska.

This project aims to significantly advance thinking within the frontier interdisciplinary research area of blue-green humanities through researching one of the world’s primary sites of contemporary water cultures in profound conflict – at Pebble Mine, Bristol Bay, Alaska.

Pebble Mine is the second-largest gold deposit in the world and if exploited, will yield up to $500 billion. However, it is also at the headwaters of two of the five major river drainages that supply the salmon runs of Bristol Bay, the world’s largest salmon run. Salmon underpin around 75% of all local jobs and the subsistence lifestyles of many Alaskan indigenous peoples. The United Tribes of Bristol Bay strongly oppose the 10 billion tons of toxic waste they say the mine will generate. More is available via this video: https://www.worldwildlife.org/stories/developers-say-pebble-mine-won-t-hurt-alaska-s-bristol-bay.

This interdisciplinary PhD project will explore the extent to which Pebble Mine is emblematic of a new, global dependence on rare metals and of a race for access to them capable of shaping the environmental agenda of the future. The student selected will have the chance to shape their own research, but the following research questions are central:

  • How do canvassed and crowd-sourced interviews, corporate, state, federal, NGO data as well as tribal documents held at the University of Juneau bring debates, histories, and approaches surrounding Pebble Mine into critical and creative tension? 
  • Can the world’s most emblematic water and environmental conflict provide an index to inform future debate and decision-making?
  • How significant are “portfolio effects” in relation to species diversity and the viability of salmon industry at Bristol Bay?
  • How have cultural representation, treaty rights and the history of colonisation impacted debate?
  • How significant has development theory been in North American resource-use contexts since the Brundtland report of 1987?
  • How does analysis of Pebble Mine inform thinking on “delocalised pollution”, as exemplified in recent books such as Guillaume Pitron’s, The Rare Metals War (Scribe, 2020)?

The project offers opportunities to work with the Treatied Spaces Research Cluster, its British Academy Global Professor Greg Smithers, the Department of Geography, Geology & Environment and the Energy and Environment Institute. They will be encouraged to disseminate their findings using kinetic mapping techniques. 

Contact for enquiries

[Email Address Removed]

Find out more through our webinar

Watch this recording of our webinar, to help you find out more about the Leverhulme Doctoral Scholarships Centre for Water Cultures. Hear from programme leaders, project supervisors and researchers, including answers to questions posted in the Q&A. Watch here

If you just want to find out more about this research proposal, watch the presentation by the Lead Supervisor here


Funding Notes

Doctoral scholars appointed to interdisciplinary projects within the Centre for Water Cultures will be supported by PhD scholarships, funded for 48 months. These cover fees at the UK rate, a maintenance grant of £15609 per year, and a generous research and training support grant.
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