19.10.2023 | 16:00 – 18:00

ETROD: "Swiss extractivism"

Rita Kesselring


Speaker’s Abstract:
Switzerland is usually not looked upon as a substantial economic actor in Africa. Taking Zambian copper as a case study, we show how important Swiss companies have become in the global commodities trade and the services it depends on. While big Swiss trading firms such as Glencore and Trafigura have generated increasing scholarly and public interest, a multitude of Swiss companies is involved in logistics and transport of Zambian copper. Swiss extractivism, we argue, is a model case for trends in today’s global capitalism. We highlight that servicification, a crucial element of African mining regimes today, creates new and more flexible opportunities for international companies to capture value in global production networks. These opportunities partly rely on business-friendly regulation and tax regimes in Northern countries, a fact which makes companies potentially vulnerable to reputation risks and offers opportunities to civil society actors criticising their role. New and different Swiss–Zambian connections emerge from civil society networks organising around companies’ economic activities.

About the speaker:
Rita Kesselring is a social anthropologist and Associate Professor of Urban Studies at the SHSS since August 2022. She works at the intersection of political, economic, legal and urban anthropology. Her main interest are global asymmetrical interdependencies, their consequences for the global South, and the conditions for the possibility of change. Her doctoral work examined the legal route as a possibility for repairing the past at the example of apartheid victims and their class action suits against Western corporations. It is published as Bodies of Truth: law, memory and emancipation in post-Apartheid South Africa (2017) with Stanford University Press. Her second book project describes life in a new mining town in Zambia and its connections to the Swiss commodity trading hub. These two worlds are as strongly separated conceptually as they are connected functionally. The book project attempts a symmetrical ethnography which understands Zambia and Switzerland as part of one single world, thereby taking seriously local, urban dynamics as much as the consequences of global labor divisions.

Before coming to St Gall, Kesselring was a fellow at the University of Cape Town, University of Connecticut, Princeton University and the University of the Copperbelt, and assistant at the chair of social anthropology, University of Basel.