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Research article2024Peer reviewedOpen access

The micropolitics of coal in India: understanding resource politics from the ground up through a materiality lens

Oskarsson, Patrik; Lahiri-Dutt, Kuntala; Kindo, Nikas


Coal in India carries different values and meanings for different actors. Consequently, the politics of this resource is manifested in multiple forms at multiple levels. Whereas the extraction of coal is accomplished by a larger resource politics involving an energy crisis narrative and a need to ensure national resource security, people at the grassroots level - workers, security forces, the displaced, administrators, mine planners, and a wide range of other actors - engage primarily with the micropolitics of coal. In this paper, we draw on new materialities literature in human geography to demonstrate that the everyday micropolitics of coal in the eastern Indian state Jharkhand is more than a subset of national or regional resource politics. In doing so, we analyse four vignettes through a materiality lens based on the land use, weight, pollution, and heat of coal. We use ethnographic methods to untangle everyday and long-term micropolitical trajectories related to coal extraction. We show the fluid and often interchangeable and overlapping roles of actors at the coal face: revolutionary groups striving to become mining contractors, contractors working as politicians to mediate claims, and politicians assuming the role of revolutionaries. Meanwhile coalfield residents make moral claims of indigeneity to gain a share of the resource, or eke out informal, coal-based livelihoods. In this fluid setting, the actors in the micropolitics of coal are influenced by outside forces to varying degrees, and are yet able to reimagine resource politics to their own advantage.


Micropolitics; political ecology; resource politics; materiality; coal; India

Published in

Local Environment
2024, Volume: 29, number: 4, pages: 524-539

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Political Science (excluding Public Administration Studies and Globalization Studies)
    Human Geography

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