Investigating the Social Beliefs that Attach to Indigenous Mining in New Caledonia


  • Peter Clutterbuck


New Caledonia, nickel mining, critical discourse analysis


Nickel mining commenced in New Caledonia in 1868 and continues to be the major business activity of that region. Traditionally the mining sector has polarized New Caledonian society via a complex mix of economic, cultural and environmental issues. In 1999 the New Caledonian and French governments initiated a future‑focused program of “rééquilibrage” or rebalancing of opportunities for the New Caledonian indigenous Kanak people. “Rééquilibrage” aims to create a new identity for all New Caledonians – an identity that builds upon the multicultural mix of modern New Caledonia. A critical component of this rebalancing is the commencement of a major new world‑class nickel mining venture at Koniambo (in the Kanak Northern Province) in 2014 and this venture is majority Kanak owned and operated. The literature confirms that no published review of how New Caledonians view this venture has been completed since its opening. Such a review is important because New Caledonians must vote on 4/11/2018 on the issue of independence from France. Discourses are ways of representing the world – the processes, relations and structures of the social world, that is, the thoughts, feelings, and beliefs of people. This research centres upon the contemporary social beliefs, i.e. the social discourses that circulate in relation to the Koniambo project. The investigation of these discourses must ensure that all stake‑holder voices are represented accurately, that the investigation is not simply a one‑dimensional “cost/benefit analysis”, and that the amplitude of the voice does not dictate its relative importance within the overall discourse ensemble. This research fits within sociology, and within this domain, the research uses the following empirical investigative approaches: actor‑network theory, historiography and critical discourse analysis (for core data analysis). Actor‑network theory facilitates the identification of stakeholder relationships within New Caledonian society, regardless of how subtle or transient the relationships may be. In this sense, actor‑network theory produces a maximised intersection of the Koniambo project across New Caledonian social life. Historiography provides the vital context that describes the social structures and social practices in which social beliefs are formed and constantly evolve. It is not possible to fully describe these beliefs unless we have a comprehensive, longitudinal appreciation of this overall context. Finally, critical discourse analysis is utilised to unpack fully the beliefs that are identified. Discourse analysis utilises the results from the historiography and actor‑network theory research components to unpack the expressed opinions and beliefs and even policies that link stakeholder entities. In this manner the project results will be most representative of the current discourses concerning a flagship project of “rééquilibrage”.



1 Oct 2018