05 From Relajo to Refusal: Resisting Extractivism, Performing Opposition


This interdisciplinary work group invites activists, scholars, artists, community organizers, and cultural workers to explore collective strategies of resistance to extractivism. While extractivism commonly refers the logic of reducing nature to commodities, and the resultant hyper-exploitation1 of the mining, oil, and gas industries, we follow Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg scholar Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s assertion that it is, in fact, ideologically fundamental to colonialism and capitalism at their most endemic.2

1 Gómez-Barris, Macarena. The Extractive Zone: Social Ecologies and Decolonial Perspectives. Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2017. 29.

2 http://www.yesmagazine.org/peace-justice/dancing-the-world-into-being-a-conversation-with-idle-no-more-leanne- simpson

Narrative, performance, and visual culture are equally vital to both the perpetuation of extractivist ideologies and their resistance. From the stories of ‘corporate social responsibility’ told by mining industry elites to assuage company shareholders, to performatic mobilizations of protest, this work group will examine how (anti)extractivism is narrated, enacted, and represented. In doing so, we aim to increase our understanding of extractivism’s representational tactics—and to expand our capacities to resist them—through various means, from the performatic acting-out of relajo3 to acts of refusal. By attending to ways in which the logics of extractivism have been disrupted and contested through satire, mockery, and jubilant denunciation, we aim to fortify our capabilities to creatively refuse, resist and reimagine this paradigm.

Format and Structure:

This work group will be centred upon collaborative methods, exploring both the theme of (anti)extractivism and how we might work together in resistance. Taking inspiration from consultas comunitarias, or community referenda, we will highlight the idea of community consultation. In regions affected by resource extraction projects, there are frequently consultas comunitarias in which every member community is entitled to vote on whether to allow the project to operate. This consensus decision-making is enshrined in the UNDRIP4 and has been successful in certain contexts. All too often, though, it is seen as unbinding, and multinational extraction companies continue to operate with impunity and without social license.

In our initial sessions we will look at several case studies, examining various ways in which (anti)extractivism is performed. We will then work collaboratively to create a public site-specific intervention determined by work group participants, experimenting first-hand with the participation of nonstate actors and the role of creative interventions in contesting the power of the extractive industry. Our readings and discussions will also consider the extractive aspects of research itself, as we explore news ways of working together in resistance to extractivism in all of its guises, from the mine to the university.

Languages spoken/understood by conveners:

Spanish, English, Portuguese, French

3 Portilla, Jorge. Fenomenología del Relajo. Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1986.

4 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples https://www.un.org/development/desa/indigenouspeoples/declaration-on-the-rights-of-indigenous-peoples.html


Merle Davis is a settler scholar on the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit River, Petun, Huron-Wendat, and Seneca nations. They organize with the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network. Their MA research at York University in Science and Technology Studies focuses on resource extraction and the extractive paradigm. Merle is currently exploring research methods that resist the extractive paradigm in the academy.

Zoë Heyn-Jones is a researcher, artist, educator and cultural worker of European and unknown heritage, who grew up on Saugeen Ojibway land in Ontario (Canada) and on Tz’utujil/Kaqchikel Maya land in Guatemala. Zoë is a PhD candidate in Visual Arts at York University and a graduate fellow at CERLAC (the Centre for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean), researching the performance of solidarity activism in Guatemala and Canada. She will be expanding upon this work as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Canadian Consortium on Performance and Politics in the Americas in 2018-19.

Laura Levin is a settler artist-scholar and Associate Professor of Theatre & Performance Studies at York University. She is editor of Theatre and Performance in Toronto and Conversations Across Borders (with Guillermo Gómez-Peña); co-editor of Performance Studies in Canada (with Marlis Schweitzer); and author of Performing Ground: Space, Camouflage, and the Art of Blending In. Laura’s current research focuses on performance and political culture; site-specific and urban intervention; and performance and digital media. She is a Co-Investigator for the Canadian Consortium on Performance and Politics in the Americas.

Kimberly Richards is a settler scholar from the traditional territories of the Blackfoot Confederacy. She is currently a PhD Candidate in Performance Studies at the University of California-Berkeley and an Edward Hildebrand Graduate Fellow in Canadian Studies. Her research examines a range of performance practices on oil frontiers in which petro-politics are negotiated, extractive ideologies are staged, and theatrical tactics are deployed to impede the expansion of petro-imperialism. She is co-editing a forthcoming edition of Canadian Theatre Review on extractivism in canadian performance cultures.

Kate Klein is an educator and activist on the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit River, Petun, Huron-Wendat, and Seneca nations. In her work organizing with the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network (MISN), she uses theatre and popular education as tools to explore issues of power, place, and the performance of corporate “morality.”


  • Alana Dunlop
  • Dana Prieto
  • Cordelia Istel
  • Gabriela Jimenez
  • Helene Vosters
  • Jarvis Brownlie
  • Roewan Crowe
  • Selena Couture
  • Syndey Lang
  • Valerie Frappier