Linked Literature: Land Use Conflicts, Risk Perception and Place Identity and the rural Queensland anti-CSG movement


Source: Doug Beckers

Wester-Herber, M., 2004. Underlying concerns in land-use conflicts—the role of place-identity in risk perception. Environmental Science & Policy, 7(2), pp.109–116.

Discussions about land-use conflicts have a high capacity for becoming entrenched in polarising caricatures: with the landowners and community being portrayed as NIMBYists whose concerns are both illogical (not based in an appropriate understanding of the scientific risks) and selfish, as their opposition may prevent wider non-localised benefit (i.e. royalties, jobs). Misse Wester-Herber’s work on the role of place identity in risk perception provides a useful lens for considering the growth of the anti-coal seam gas (CSG) movement in rural farming communities in Queensland.


Wester-Herber begins by noting that land-use conflicts often take place within the arena of risk communication,

“where…[the agent responsible for change] involves parts of the affected public or stakeholders and exchanges information about health, safety or environmental risks or information concerning decisions or policies aimed at controlling these risks” (Wester-Herber 2004, p.109).

These exchanges are built on the notion that “if only the public were given the right information, conflicts over risk could be resolved” (Wester-Herber 2004, p.109). However, this approach has not succeeded in reducing land-use conflicts; Wester-Herber argues that it is because risk perception, particularly around environmental change, is a far more complex process that involves more than perceived risks to health and safety (2004, p. 110).

Risk Perception – background

Theories around risk perception attempt to consider why risks are perceived differently by different groups. Wester-Herber focuses first on how the presence of ‘dread’ and the ‘unknown’ increase the perception of risk (2004, p. 110). At a basic level, these factors apply well to community fears around CSG:

  • Dread: the perceived possibility of contamination of the Great Artesian Basin, which would result in catastrophic (widespread and significant) consequences for water resources in Queensland
  • ‘The Unknown’: this dread is amplified by the:
    • Perceived lack of data that disproves the possibility of the above outcome
    • The refusal to disclose the formula of chemical formulas involved in CSG operations

On a deeper level, risk can be considered to be constructed of two parts: hazard and outrage. Hazard refers to the technical probabilities and magnitude of a risk, while outrage refers to non-technical factors, such as fairness, whether the risk is voluntary, or if the risk is seen to be unnatural (manufactured – man-made) (Wester-Herber 2004, p.110). Again, the debate around CSG, particularly for farmers, aligns well with the non-technical factors raised:

  • Fairness: farmers and the community are seen to bear a higher level of risk and impacts; the risk of water contamination risks their very livelihood and in the case of widespread contamination the region’s food security, while the installation of wells disrupts their livelihood.
  • Voluntariness: a considerable portion of the movement has focused on how CSG exploration and extraction on farmer’s land is ultimately an involuntary process.
  • Unnatural: CSG extraction is seen to be invasive and ultimately unnatural – it involves complex processes and chemicals (technologies) that are injected into a natural (literally and symbolically) environment.

Stigma and Risk Perception

According to Wester-Herber,

stigmatisation describes the process where “something is considered to be a risk or hazard turns into… ‘something to be shunned or avoided not just because it is hazardous, but because it overturns or destroys a position condition’ (Wester-Herber 2004, p.111).  Further stigma can be carried over to an individual, where ‘people can suffer damage to their identity just by being associated with a place (Wester-Herber 2004, p.111).

In this way, stigma acts similarly to Mary Douglas’ theory of purity and pollution, whereby contact with the polluted object in turn has the potential to pollute the contactee.  Wester-Herber goes on to note that places are symbolic and the product of individual experience and ongoing social interpretation – often facilitated through media and secondary information (Weter-Herber, p111).

Wester-Herber’s discussion of stigmatisation is of considerable relevance to understanding anti-CSG sentiment in rural areas. CSG extraction is a polluted activity through:

  • The risk of contamination of water resources
  • The crossing of boundaries – the injection urban industrialised symbols into the rural landscape.

Further, considering how people can become contaminated through contact with stigmatised sources has significance for establishing positive relationships with resource actors. Widespread community anti-CSG activity is likely to create social capital based on a joined resistance to this intrusion. This draws important questions of the social repercussions for people who chose to form beneficial relationships with resource actors, such as farmers. In these instances, do they then become ‘polluted’ through their non-adversarial contact with resource actors in the eyes of the broader (but often small) rural communities? Further, does the threat of social exclusion and personal revilement at becoming contaminated through contact present additional barriers to creating mutually beneficial relationships with resource actors? Finally, as Wester-Herber notes, stigmatisation has a continued impact on environments, even after the removal of the source of contamination. This raises the question of how to effectively compensate landowners for the use of surface land for CSG activities.

Place identity

The crux of Wester-Herber’s argument focuses on how place plays an important role for identity creation, and therefore how changes to the physical environment affect ‘place’. The following table aligns a high level view of rural farming identities with anti-CSG rhetoric (where applicable) against three of Wester-Herber’s place driven identity formation principles


“Being unique or distinguishing us from others. The importance of place for the distinctiveness of an individual provides…membership to a particular group that provides positive reinforcements” (Wester-Herber 2004, p.112).

A common heurism in anti-CSG rhetoric in Queensland centres around how the area is ‘prime agricultural land’ as opposed to other areas that are affected by mineral and energy resource development.

Further, farming identity is often strongly linked to anti-CSG rhetoric. For example, in my last post about the CSG rally, many speakers introduced themselves as farmers. Here, a farming identity can be seen as a motivation and qualifier for anti-CSG activity.


Places can act as a link to the self-identity, and maintenance of this link can provide a sense of continuity to identity…this becomes important in communities where on lives and works on the same land that one’s parents or grandparents did (Wester-Herber 2004, p.112)..

Similarly, many farmers affected by CSG often refer to their continuity with the land. For example, one farmer reacted as follows when he was told there would CSG activity on his land “

I put my head in my hands and I cried. Thirty-five years of Lighthouse, 35 years that I’ve devoted every extra penny that I earn, and it was all coming tumbling down around my ears” (Courtney 2010).


The belief of having the ability to respond to different situations. The environment should not prevent but instead facilitate a person’s lifestyle.

That farmer’s identity is strongly related to the self-efficacy of land. For farmers, the land is the ultimate facilitator of their lifestyle – it is often both home and employer/ee – it provides and is ruled over. A common discussion in anti-CSG rhetoric centres on how CSG activity on farming land disrupts and threatens farming activity.

Given the above, anti-CSG activity in rural Queensland is hardly surprising. Further, that scientific discussions are viewed with suspicion or dismissed may not only be related to traditional risk concerns around the unknown and dread, but also be borne from the perceived risks and impacts on rural place based identity.


Courtney, P., 2010. Pipe Dreams. Landline. Available at: [Accessed September 2, 2012].

Wester-Herber, M., 2004. Underlying concerns in land-use conflicts—the role of place-identity in risk perception. Environmental Science & Policy, 7(2), pp.109–116.

What attending an anti-CSG rally taught me – communities now expect Generation 3 engagement processes

Organised by Lock the Gate alliance and GetUp and chaired by Alan Jones, the recent Food Security Forum contained rhetoric and attendance from both sides of the political sphere. While this movement’s blend of environmentalists and farmers appear to be strange bedfellows, many of the issues raised by the speakers should come with little shock to community engagement practitioners with experience in the resources industry.

While the four speakers, all women located throughout the State, spoke to localised concerns, there was an overwhelming thread that appeared in all speeches: the desire for a transparent, two-way engagement process. From Ruth Armstrong, who spoke about having to “take the responsibility to push DERM to take action” around dust and noise complaints to Heidi Ross who criticised a perceived lack of transparency and demanded proper consultation, the Forum demonstrated how communities have come to expect and now demand Generation 3 engagement practices.

Indeed, having attended the Forum and returned home to review the Generational framework, I was struck how the heurisms of various speakers reflected the framework so succinctly. People now want transparent and open access to information that assesses the risks and impacts to their community. The desire for transparency goes beyond the need for access to the often substantial (1000s of pages) EIAs replete with inaccessible and alienating language and diagrams. Rather, people want to be provided with an understanding of the possible impacts on their community and environment in a way that is direct and easily consumed. Similarly, speakers demanded ‘real’ consultation –  where they are listened to and their concerns acted upon.

Obviously, it is hard to assess the on-ground work of various resources companies through the narrative of protest speakers.  However, it appears that the present anti-CSG/mining activity is as much concerned with not just what companies are doing, but how they are going about it.

Land acquisition and resettlement

One of the well known and criticised impacts of mines is that of land acquisition and involuntary resettlement. Mines, like other large development projects (particularly dams) often involve the assumption of large tracts of land.

Resettlement (whether it is involuntary or not) is an issue that affects millions worldwide. For example, in India alone, more than twenty million people were displaced between 1950-1980, while between 40-45 million were resettled in China between 1950 and 2000 (Cernea 2003, 6). While the majority of these displacements were a result of hydro-power generation projects, extractive projects have certainly been a contributor. Further, some commentators suggest that resettlement as a result of mining will expand in the future, due to the growth in open-cast mining based on the exploitation of larger tonnage, lower grade deposits.

Resettlement – problematic outcomes

Based on past studies, it would be easy to assume that resettlement is inherently linked to further impoverishment. Evidence has found the resettlement is associated with the following fundamental and recurrent risks:

    • Landlessness
    • Joblessness
    • Homelessness
    • Marginalisation
    • Increased morbidity and mortality
    • Educational losses
    • Food insecurity
    • Loss of common property

(Cernea 1997, 2000, 2003 16).

Many commentators on these outcomes may argue that these outcomes are of governmental concern and responsibility. However, despite the truth in this, ensuring that appropriate resettlement practice is adhered to is increasingly becoming a concern and indeed a responsibility of the private sector.

The reasons for this are twofold:

  • The private sector is often in a position where the acting government has ineffective systems in place in relation to resettlement. This inadequacy ranges right from the beginning of the process, with ineffective (or non-existent) land titling and property ownership systems through to the ‘end game’ of resettlement.
  • As a result of governmental inadequacy, companies often assume a quasi-governmental role, in essence becoming the agent of land tenure change. Consequentially, the company then inherits the responsibilities associated with resettlement in the eyes of local and international stakeholders. Further, this responsibility in enhanced through the concept of CSR, whereby companies are considered responsible for the social outcomes of projects.

Indeed, issues surrounding land resettlement have at times assumed a key role in company-community conflict in the mining sector. The now (in)famous company-community conflict at Minera Yanacocha South America (MYSA) remains a case in point.

The Minera Yanacocha South America (MYSA) is the largest gold producer in South America and was the first foreign-owned mine in Peru (Newmont Mining Corporation 2011). MYSA has been the subject of an intense amount of conflict and criticism over the majority of the mine’s life, despite the vast amount of wealth it has generated for the region and the government.

Amongst other issues, resettlement and land acquisition have been a driving force of the conflict from the onset (Bebbington et al. 2008, 19). The early land acquisition process is widely acknowledged as flawed: MYSA virtually acted as the agent of land tenure change, rushing communities through the process and resorting to expropriation and evictions in instances of community resistance (Bury 2005, 231–232). These practices (which have since been changed)[1] resulted in several lawsuits and were responsible for a number of the early eruptions of violence (Bury 2002, 12–13). The complaints around resettlement also argue that land holders have not been able to replace their previous land, due to a reduction in land availability and the resultant inflation of land values in the region (Bury 2002, 12–13)[2].

The complaints noted above point to a recurring issue noted in the literature on resettlement: that cash based compensation at its best does not genuinely compensate land holders and at its worst results in increased impoverishment (Cernea 2003; Maldonado 2009). Indeed as Cernea notes:

Evidence demonstrates irrefutably that the purchasing power of cash compensation typically ends up being less than necessary to repurchase the assets lost (even if compensation is paid at replacement costs).

The transaction costs, production time wasted, start-up costs etc all eat at compensation value. Further, various cultural pressures and immediate needs often divert compensation proceeds away from asset replacement. Land markets are limited, prices go up, worth of compensation goes down.

At the end of the day, the need to resettle populations for infrastructure, hydro, and mining project is not going to diminish. However, ineffective and flawed resettlement practices and the resultant (and costly) company-community conflicts need not.

Got ideas on best practice for resettlement? Comment and share your thoughts.

Bebbington, Anthony, Denise Humphreys Bebbington, Jeffrey Bury, Jeannet Lingan, Juan Pablo Muñoz, and Martin Scurrah. 2008. ‘Mining and Social Movements: Struggles Over Livelihood and Rural Territorial Development in the Andes’. World Development 36 (12). World Development: 2888–2905.

Bury, Jeff. 2002. ‘Livelihoods, Mining and Peasant Protests in the Peruvian Andes’. Journal of Latin American Geography 1: 1–19.

Bury, Jeffrey. 2005. ‘Mining Mountains: Neoliberalism, Land Tenure, Livelihoods, and the New Peruvian Mining Industry in Cajamarca’. Environment and Planning A 37 (2): 221 – 239. doi:10.1068/a371.

Cernea, M M. 2003. ‘For a New Economics of Resettlement: a Sociological Critique of the Compensation Principle’. International Social Science Journal 55 (175): 1–2. doi:10.1111/1468-2451.5501019_3.

Downing, Theodore. 2002. Avoiding New Poverty: Mining-Induced Displacement and Resettlement. Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development & The International Institute for Environment and Development.

Environmentally and Socially Sustainable Development Department – Latin America and Caribbean Region. 2006. Republic of Peru – Wealth and Sustainability: The Environmental and Social Dimensions of the Mining Sector in Peru. The World Bank.

Maldonado, Julie Koppel. 2009. ‘Putting a Price-Tag on Humanity: Development-Forced Displaced Communities’ Fight for More Than Just Compensation’. Hydro Nepal Journal of Water Energy and Environment 4 (4): 18–20. doi:10.3126/hn.v4i0.1817.

Newmont Mining Corporation. 2011. ‘The South America Region’. Newmont Mining.

Quiroz-Onate, Diego. 2008. ‘Newmont Mining Corporation: Embedding Human Rights Through the Five Star Management Program’. United Kingdom: The Robert Gordon University.

Whellams, Melissa. 2007. ‘The Role of CSR in Development: a Case Study Involving the Mining Industry in South America’. Masters, Nova Scotia: Saint Mary’s University.

[1] MYSA established an ‘Original Landowners Program’ in 2001 that was designed to assist resettled families (Whellams 2007, 57).

[2] It should also be noted that land acquisition in Peru is complicated by a complex and often poor legal framework; land is often owned communally in rural areas and despite the introduction of titling for these areas decades ago, many communities do not currently have the titles to their land (Environmentally and Socially Sustainable Development Department – Latin America and Caribbean Region 2006, 106)