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Geopolitics of mining and dispossession: Brazil and Canada

Geopolitics of mining and dispossession: Brazil and Canada

Thaís Henriques Dias

This January, Thaís Henriques Dias, doctoral researcher in Sociology and Law at Fluminense Federal University, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, started her 10-month visiting scholarship at York. EUC work-study student, Xinyu Mei, interviewed her on her plans for engagement and research at EUC.

Why did you decide to pursue a visiting scholarship at York University?

My scholarship is from the Brazilian government, designed for doctoral students who wish to conduct part of their research in another country. This program is called Sandwich PhD Abroad. Since my research focuses on Canadian mining companies in Brazil, we chose Canada as the destination. To do this, I had to reach out to Canadian professors who would be willing to supervise me during this ten-month period in Canada. Through solidarity networks and connections between Brazil and Canada, I met EUC Professor Ellie Perkins, who agreed to supervise me during this period and assisted me in the process of coming to Toronto, where I am conducting my field research. My research has also been guided by Professor Alain Deneault from the Université de Moncton in Shippagan, New Brunswick, and by Dr. Judith Marshall, an associate researcher at the Centre for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean (CERLAC).

Can you tell us more about your doctoral research and how it came about?

My doctoral research, which will eventually become a thesis, is the result of collective work both in Brazil and Canada involving different people and research groups. This research stems from my master's research on mining disasters that occurred in recent decades in Brazil and my desire to look internationally to understand how the geopolitics of mining leads to exorbitant profits on one end and catastrophic socio-environmental crimes on the other.

How does Canada fit into this narrative? Two books were important in this regard: firstly, the case of the book "Noir Canada," written in 2008 by Professor Alain Deneault in collaboration with Delphine Abadie and William Sacher. They were sued by two major Canadian mining companies, Barrick Gold and Banro Corporation, for conducting critical research on Canada's role as a tax and legal haven for mining companies. Their study focused on mining conflicts involving Canadian companies and authorities in Africa, revealing corruption and various forms of violence.

The second book, "Unearthing Justice: How to Protect Your Community from the Mining Industry" by Joan Kuyek, translated into Portuguese in 2022, was also crucial. The Brazilian researchers Bruno Milanez and Luiz Jardim discussed this book in a podcast, drawing attention to the lack of studies in Brazil on the presence of Canadian mining companies compared to other Latin American countries.

From there, my doctoral research began to take shape, revolving around questions about the role of the Canadian mining model in what we are calling the submerged geopolitics of mining. For this work, we began mapping which Canadian mining companies have been operating in Brazil, gathering information about their mining projects and the socio-environmental conflicts in which they are involved. Here in Canada, my field research involves conducting interviews with representatives of these companies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and people affected by mining. It also includes examining how the corporate world of mining operates by attending the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) and related Canadian institutions.

What do you foresee as the major challenges in your research?

I believe the major challenges are generally the same as those in critical research within the social sciences on socio-environmental conflicts, revolving around how to investigate a topic that may generate controversies or make powerful economic agents uncomfortable. At the same time, I am just a graduate student and a researcher in training. Therefore, the collective aspect of this research is crucial because I am not conducting this study alone. This gives me more confidence and motivation to confront these challenges.

What kind of impact do you anticipate your work will have in your field of research?

As one of the few projects on this subject in Brazil, it is likely that it will fill a gap. Also, critically analyzing the Canadian mining model here in Canada with its contradictions and identifying how Brazil draws inspiration from this model, could help enrich Brazilian debates on which mining model is better for the country. Is the Canadian mining model truly the best? Debates on this issue have been conducted by various social movements in Brazil, advocating for a mining model that is democratically constructed by society and, at the very least, should take into account the interests and decision-making power of people and populations regarding the territories where they live.

What other topics are you passionate about researching in the future?

This experience of conducting research in Canada has brought me many opportunities, and one of them was the chance to visit the library at the Centre for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean (CERLAC). They have done wonderful and admirable work with extensive collections on a variety of critical themes, including some materials in Portuguese, dating from the 1970s to the 1990s. One of these catalogs compiles research conducted by some Brazilians who were here in Toronto as exiles in the 1970s, during the military dictatorship in Brazil, focusing on critical corporate research. I would like to explore these solidarity relationships between Brazil and Canada during that time, how they have evolved to the present day, and the paths and themes through which they have developed.


Thaís Henriques Dias is EUC's new visiting scholar through the York International's Visiting Research Trainee (IVRT) program. A doctoral researcher in Sociology and Law in the field of Socio-Environmental Rural and Urban Conflicts at Fluminense Federal University, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, she is working with Professor Ellie Perkins on her comparative research on the Geopolitics of Mining and Dispossession in Brazil and Canada with the aim of studying the Canadian mining model and conflicts related to it as well as the pattern of performance by Canadian mining companies in Brazil. Her research is supported by the Doctoral Study Abroad Program sponsored by the Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel, which is a foundation linked to the Brazilian Ministry of Education that coordinates efforts to improve the quality of Brazil's faculty and staff in higher education through grant programs. She has recently co-published an article titled Apagamento editorial e manipulação epistemológica: um fetiche do capital mineral sobre o livro Noir Canada (2024) and another article on The Rio Doce mining disaster: Legal framing in the Brazilian justice system (2020).