Center for Environmental Policy and Administration

Fixed minerals, scalar politics: The weight of scale in conflicts over ‘the 1872 Mining Act’ in the United States.

Author:Matthew Huber with Jody Emel
Date: 2009
Publication:Environment and Planning A 41 (2): 371-88

In this paper, we seek to demonstrate the continued utility of research into the social production of scale in relation to the politics of natural-resource distribution, ownership, and control. While traditionally oriented toward sociospatial theory and urban governance, research has begun to convey the importance of scale as a discursive framing device at the center of multiple kinds of environmental politics. Our approach draws from recent literature to show the material-discursive ‘difference that nature makes’ in constituting the grounds of scalar struggle in mineral development. We argue that the fixity of certain natural-resource deposits and the concomitant local socioecological impact of extraction stands in stark contradiction to the multiscalar forces that vie over their development. Our central argument is that this contradiction ensures that struggles over natural-resource development are necessarily struggles over scale—the scale of ownership and the scale of distributional benefits and costs. The politics of natural resources must be couched in scalar terms and those who gain access to resources must build stable institutional – scalar platforms for the production of resource wealth. We illustrate this through an analysis of US Congressional debate over reform of the infamous ‘1872 Mining Law’ in 1993 as an exemplary moment of scalar politics. In this case, we not only attempt to show how the concept of scale frames these debates, but also how the failure to reform the 19th-century law allowed for the institutional materialization of particular scalar conduits for capital accumulation in the mining sector.


Matthew T Huber
Center for Environmental Policy and Administration
The Maxwell School, Syracuse University
Revised 02/09/2011 19:07:31