This thesis traces the dual process of ‘making’ space and ‘rendering invisible’ the political and economic arms of extractive industry. By tracing a historical trajectory of the gold mining industry in British colonial India, I seek to uncover the contradictions in spatial and infrastructural development and its implications for labour and society writ large. I will focus on the Kolar Gold Fields of India in the state of Mysore, one of the few, if not the only successful gold extraction industry in India, a space ripe with contradiction. Here, invisibility takes on multiple appropriations - in its most obvious sense, deep sunk excavation pits hid large scale extractive processes from sight, unlike most popular, contemporary imagery of open pit excavation that draws attention to the marred landscape. A second referent of the term invisible is the immensity of unacknowledged networks of political will, governance and flow of capital that allowed the creation of these mines, and indeed, sustained its sprawl, both laterally, and vertically- deeper into the recesses of the earth and over-ground, remained hidden while it stemmed a new set of sociopolitical and cultural complications.
My sense of puzzlement with the colonial and postcolonial mining activities at Kolar stemmed from the complexities of these ‘invisible’ processes, that had very material effects, and was further fuelled by the fact that these mines but were a result of decades of governmental intervention, survey and policy. While development discourse has been extremely successful in exploring the deep and durable relationship between government, capital and subjecthood through an analysis of practice, such a discursive framework often elides the spatial consequences and the spatial tools used to implement industrial development. My thesis attempts to fill this gap. By exploring the curious entanglements of colonial governance, the creation of an extractive industry and consequently, the emergence of a ‘mine’ subject, I show how state led cultural improvement and regulatory strategies, industrial technical interventions and the flow of capital allowed a spatial invisibility to permeate the landscape, and conversely, how this invisibility sustained socio-political forces.
My period of study covers roughly seventy years, beginning with the first issue of mining licenses in 1873 to a few years after independence in 1947. This project is fuelled by an interest in what I regard as a wider practice of contemporary industrial spatial production and labour practices. By historicising the extractive industry in colonial India, I hope to draw attention to the prehistory of modern neoliberal industry. Shaped by a literature of development critique, the overall approach taken in my study can be described as an attempt to understand the dynamics of power instituted by industrial practices to ensure efficient administration, discipline of the population and profitability of industry. Through a close reading of photographic images, drawings and maps undertaken by the Geological Survey Department, mine concessionaires and bureaucratic officials to lay forth and document these curious spatial formations, my arguments are bolstered by a detailed examination of survey reports, mining legislation, technical drawings, and travel accounts of visitors to the mines, and documents from the ILO giving an account of the governmental apparatus that contributed to the way space, and its inhabitants, were seen, ordered, remade and rendered invisible in the creation of subterranean infrastructures.