Natural Resources and Social Conflict:
Explaining Anti-Mining Protests in Brazil
(with Johannes Urpelainen)
Due to the potential for mining’s negative externalities to spark new grievances, the literature on social conflict and resource extraction assumes a causal link between mining and social protest. However, theory on social movements and conflicts cautions that protest events are the result of complex interactions between strategic actors, and therefore endogenous to local political contexts. Therefore, evidence on this specific causal relationship has been elusive. We adopt a new empirical approach to uncover causal evidence by exploiting exogenous variation in international commodity prices and geospatial data on pre-existing mineral deposits. We examine the specific case of Brazil, which has an active mining industry but only recently has experienced a nascent anti-mining movement. Our results support a causal relationship between mining and protest—a causal effect that has been long assumed but never properly identified in the literature. We also find that this relationship is strongly moderated by local mobilization capacity. Contrary to other studies, we find little evidence that local political opportunity structures influence the emergence of protests.
Keywords: protests; contentious politics; social conflict; social movements; natural resources; Brazil; resource mobilization