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The birth of the flexible mine: Changing geographies of mining and the e-waste commodity frontier


  • Freyja L Knapp


Mining companies, in recent decades, have been changing how they source and refine ores by seeking metal-bearing wastes to be smelted alongside “traditional†mining concentrates. I propose the term “flexible mine†to describe this expansion of ore supply chains, and I demonstrate how it operates through multiple registers of flexibility: spatial, temporal, and interpretational. The flexible mine is both a “widening†and a “deepening†commodity frontier for the mining industry promising a disarticulation from geophysical processes and, by extension, mining country geopolitics. The organizational and technical changes associated with mining above-ground ores seem to suggest a new phenomenon, wholly different than traditional mining and refining. Instead, however, the mining of waste streams blurs the boundaries between extraction, production, manufacturing, consumption, and disposal. Further, the flexible mine challenges the distinction between urban and non, arguing against relying on too-familiar binaries in geographic scholarship. I highlight how these registers of flexibility address three problems in below-ground mining (geospatial fixity, resource scarcity, and environmental effects) and also create new governance challenges in regulating extractive industries.

Suggested Citation

  • Freyja L Knapp, 2016. "The birth of the flexible mine: Changing geographies of mining and the e-waste commodity frontier," Environment and Planning A, , vol. 48(10), pages 1889-1909, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:envira:v:48:y:2016:i:10:p:1889-1909
    DOI: 10.1177/0308518X16652398

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