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Embedding the atom: Pro-neoliberal activism, Polanyi, and sites of acceptance in American uranium communities

Malin, Stephanie A and Alexis-Martin, Becky (2019) Embedding the atom: Pro-neoliberal activism, Polanyi, and sites of acceptance in American uranium communities. The Extractive Industries and Society. ISSN 2214-790X

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Abstract

In North America, uranium workers are fighting for their right to participate in a free-market system that provides them with small personal benefits. These workers experience powerlessness, instability, and unpredictability – or social dislocation – by living amidst capitalism’s polluted ecosystems, unstable economies, and disintegrating communities. However, they feel reliant on uranium for their livelihoods and strongly support the industry’s renewal and form sites of acceptance to support industry renewal. Here, we explore the phenomenon of pro-neoliberal activism emerging in communities that identify with uranium markets and that trust in corporate self-regulation, private transparency, and the perceived benefits of potential economic development. Polanyian theory helps us analyze these curious socio-environmental outcomes. While social movements might be ‘progressive,’ ‘regressive,’ or otherwise diverge, Polanyi consistently characterized double movement activists as protecting communities and ecosystems from unstable, self-regulating market systems. But here we see something different and ask: First, how does pro-neoliberal activism contribute to the embedding and institutionalization of neoliberal regimes in uranium mining communities? Second, what structural mechanisms precede and help to facilitate socio-cultural support for free markets and corporate self-regulation, as opposed to support for re-embedding markets in local, public social protections for the US uranium industry?

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