Extractive Frontiers


This research group is concerned with the way in which capitalist extraction - excavating economic value from geo­graphically situated entities like the earth's soil and underground - is funda­mentally changing relations of authority, of markets and of societies across the globe. The focus of our research is double:

1.    We ask questions about the changing geographic connections of extractive frontiers and the ways in which relations of production, of market exchange and of capital accumulation are in turn inscribed into variegated, differentiated (and often segregated) spaces based on categories of ethnicity, of race, of property and of citizenship. These investigations involve an interest in dynamics of urbanization and marginalization of displacement and enclosures and how they form part of the increasingly complex topologies of global extraction.   
2.    We investigate the relation between power and space and the ways in which political geographies are transforming in contemporary extractive frontiers. We conceive extractive frontiers as environments where relations of sovereignty and authority are not only fundamentally questioned, but also reformulated in important ways. These investigations involve research on the so-called green revolution (in the sphere of fair trade, 'conflict minerals', and global environmental regulation for example), but also more generally on how the boundaries between what is accepted as licit/illicit, legal/illegal economic activity are drawn and implemented in the context of contested capitalist extraction (as in the formalization and certification of extractive economies).

Altogether, this group combines an interdisciplinary methodology, with a dedication to longitudinal ethnographic enquiry and a strong societal engagement in the places in which we work. 

Our research involves projects in Europe, Africa and Latin America.

Group leader

Dr. Timonthy Raeymaekers

Group members

Christoph Kaufmann
Muriel Côte (University of Lund)

Belongs to the organizational unit

Political Geography

Ongoing projects

Mercury governance in 'post-conflict' gold mining in Northeastern Antioquia, Colombia

This project uses the changing regulatory landscape of artisanal and small-scale gold mining practices in Colombia as the empirical starting point to explore the interrelatedness of international frameworks on hazardous chemicals and their national and regional adaptation, the territorialization of state control over gold extraction and commercialization, and the renegotiation of the boundaries between legitimacy and criminality and its effects on political mining subjectivities in a context of macro-political transition. 

The black Mediterranean: Archaeology of a frontier (with MIC|C)

The 'Black Mediterranean' has recently emerged as a terminology to highlight the rootedness of current patterns of migration in the Mediterranean within a long history of racial and colonial subordination. In collaboration with the arts collective MIC|C, this project highlights more specifically the profound transformations that Black African mobility generates on both sides of the Mediterranean in the aftermath of the Arab Springs and the outbreak of war in Libya, specifically focusing on agrarian transformation in these areas.


Past projects

New plantations: migrant mobility, 'illegality' and racialisation in European agricultural labour

This project engages in a comparative enquiry into the triple dynamics of race, space and "illegality" in the reproduction of migrant precarious labour conditions in European agro-industrial labour markets. What are the mechanisms of differential inclusion and segregation of migrant workers in the agro-industrial labour markets? We try to answer this question through a systematic comparison of five original case studies that are currently almost uncovered by research on migrant labour in Italian, Swiss and Belgian horticulture.

Funding: Swiss Network for International Studies, 2016-2017


The impact of mineral governance on miners' property rights: a comparative case study from the Democratic Republic of Congo

The project aims to test the validity of the 'resource curse' paradigm through a comparative case study analysis of transnational mineral governance in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It specifically concentrates on the transformation of the rights of use and access to natural resources enacted through the classification, standardization and formalization of these rights in selected mining enclaves in Katanga and South Kivu (Eastern DRC). The focus of the project will be on one specific set of minerals (tantalite, tin ore and tungsten - the three T's) and their regulation through the ITRI Tin Supply Chain Initiative (iTSCi). In doing so it assesses the way this reform process impacts on the performance of mineral markets in both mining areas, and what impact this has on the institutional choice patterns of mine workers. In sum the study aims to provide more insights into the political ecology of natural resource markets in countries emerging from protracted armed conflict, specifically detailing (1) the transnational dimension of economic regulation and (2) its impact on the institutional choice patterns of direct natural users of natural resources in the specific case of the DRC.

Funding: Swiss National Science Foundation, 2013-2016

PhD dissertations


Kaufmann, Christoph, Mercury governance in 'post-conflict' gold mining in Northeastern Antioquia, Colombia (working title) 


Christoph Vogel, Conflict Minerals Inc.: Transnational Regulation, Fragmented Authority and Violent Resource Networks in Eastern Congo, Zürich, 2018

Rony Emmenegger, Writing Space and Time: An Ethnography of State Sedimentation in the Ethiopian Somali Frontier, Zürich, 2017

Stephan Hochleithner, Violent Transformations: Nature Conservation, Forced Displacement, and Capitalist Expansion in North Kivu, DRC, Zürich, 2016

Lotje De Vries, Facing frontiers: Everyday practice of state-building in South Sudan, Wageningen 2012