Mark Gardiner

Teaching Fellow, Anthropology

Award Information

2011 IDRF Program

AnthropologyStanford University

Enriching Uranium: Technocrats and the Management of Namibia's Uranium Rush

Nuclear power is back on the energy policy agenda, thanks to concerns about carbon emissions and rising oil prices. For Namibia, this has meant massive new uranium mines funded by foreign investors: a uranium rush that has demanded expert technical management in order to ensure “good governance.” This ethnographic project will investigate how varied technocratic dispositions join with post-apartheid processes of state-building, discourses of “good governance” and the “resource curse” in Africa, and the particular nature of uranium to shape the management of Namibia’s “uranium rush.” The ethnographic object of analysis is therefore both Namibia’s technocratic community and the technical processes that they engage in while managing the uranium industry. The project will be based on 12 months of fieldwork in three key institutions involved in the uranium rush—the Ministry of Mines and Energy (6 months), Namibia’s Uranium Institute (3 months), and Rössing Uranium Mine (3 months)—as well as other sites of technocratic activity. The primary method will be participant observation at these sites, combined with in-depth interviewing (including life histories) and content and textual analysis of relevant documents and reports. These qualitative methods will be supplemented by cultural domain analysis and social network analysis. Combining these methods will allow me to fully characterize the different human and nonhuman actors and relations involved in the “social drama” of the management process. This research will contribute to the limited literature on what African states “actually are” and to anthropological understandings of technocracy, building on literature from science and technology studies on materiality and from anthropology on the production of expert subjects. It will do so by approaching “good governance” critically, examining the historically, culturally, and socially situated relations through which it is constructed.