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Neoliberal Modes of Participation in Frontier Settings: Mining, Multilateral Meddling, and Politics in Laos

Pascale Hatcher

Pascale Hatcher, 2 April 2015

After decades promoting highly liberalised mining codes, the World Bank Group has now positioned poverty reduction and environmental sustainability as the fundamental objectives of its involvement in the sector. Within this new approach, local participation occupies a central position, whereby a loosely defined mix of local associations, as well as residents of local communities affected by mining activities, is to have a voice in every stage of a given mining project. Building on the case of Laos, this article investigates both the participatory model promoted by the World Bank and the politics of the model’s implementation. The analysis suggests that the involvement of local communities is ensconced within a framework which conceives participatory schemes as a management tool to, first and foremost, circumscribe the risks faced by mining investors. While this represents a clear attempt to mitigate political risk in order to facilitate the larger project of building new liberal markets, it further raises questions linked to the remodelling of political notions of empowerment and representation.

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