Julie Klinger

Julie Klinger smiles at the camera.
Julie Michelle Klinger, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Geography and Spatial Sciences at the University of Delaware and faculty in the Minerals, Materials, and Society Program. Photograph by Jonathan Kannair for Boston University.

Julie Klinger (she/her), Assistant Professor, Department of Geography and Spatial Sciences

Julie Michelle Klinger holds a PhD in Geography from the University of California, Berkeley. She is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography and Spatial Sciences at the University of Delaware and faculty in the Minerals, Materials, and Society Program.

Dr. Klinger’s research focuses on the dynamics of global resource frontiers and space-based technologies with particular emphases in China, Brazil, and the United States, where she has conducted extensive ethnographic, qualitative, and quantitative fieldwork over the past 15 years. Her research examines how diverse forms of violence and strategies for survival shape land use, environmental conservation, and livelihood security. She has published numerous articles on rare earth elements, natural resource use, environmental politics, and outer space. Her 2017 Book Rare Earth Frontiers: From Terrestrial Subsoils to Lunar Landscapes was awarded the Meridian Book Prize for its “unusually important contribution to the art and science of geography.”

Klinger Book Cover Image for "Rare Earth Frontiers
Published by Cornell University Press (2017)

In this book, Dr. Klinger examines the global geography of rare earth prospecting and mining, with a special emphasis on the development and geopolitics of resource frontiers in Brazil, China, and Outer Space. China currently accounts for 80% of global rare earth production, but that is changing. Much of the literature suggests that China’s virtual monopoly is the outcome of geological determinism, and the quest to mine these resources in the Brazilian Amazon and on the Moon is due to their absolute rarity. But contrary to much of the conventional wisdom underpinning contemporary global rare earth politics, these elements are neither rare, nor so dispersed that they can only be found on the Mongolian steppe, the Brazilian Amazon, or indeed, on ‘Earth’s offshore island.’

Since completing the book, Dr. Klinger has built her global research agenda in three thematic areas: critical Minerals supply chains, global space politics, and community survival strategies. Dr. Klinger publishes, advises students, and conducts fieldwork in each of these research areas.

The first research and writing initiative is situated at the intersection of Energy-Critical Minerals, Environment, and Society. Working with diverse stakeholders, Dr. Klinger’s current work is focused on characterizing the environmental, social, and climate impacts of rare earth and other ‘Critical Mineral’  supply chains, from extraction to disposal to support the national and global effort to create sustainable, just, and functionally renewable critical materials supply chains.

The second initiative has followed rare earth elements from their frontiers of extraction to the satellite and satellite-linked technologies for which they are crucial, with particular attention to the use of these technologies by developing countries in the Global South and Indigenous communities living on the front lines of global change. This informs Dr. Klinger’s current book project, Capitalizing the Cosmos, which examines the resurgent space race built around reconfiguring outer space as a site of exclusive power, militarization, and extractive accumulation.  Contrary to robust international treaties that designate outer space as the common heritage of all humankind, states and private sector actors began in late 2015 to assert private property rights in an effort to enclose the final frontier.  This set of research projects investigates the ongoing struggles to remake outer space either as a site of cowboy capitalism, a militarized high-ground, or an arena in which the most advanced and progressive of collectively held human values can be realized.  In these struggles, unequal relations among states in terms of access to orbital space, historical responsibility for polluting near-earth environs, and South-South alliances against the hegemony of the global north are manifest, particularly in joint satellite initiatives among developing countries to democratize the eye in the sky.  Rather than viewing outer space as too remote for daily concern, Klinger’s research illuminates how the high-stakes debates over ways of being here on Earth are crucial to the evolving policy and practice defining outer space.

KlinKlinger with Yanomami Indigenous partners, student research assistants, and Brazilian collaborators following a successful summiting of Pico da Neblina, Brazil's highest mountain.
Klinger with Yanomami Indigenous partners, student research assistants, and Brazilian collaborators following a successful summiting of Pico da Neblina, Brazil’s highest mountain.

The third project is informed by Dr. Klinger’s observation that, on every inhabited continent, large-scale resource extraction has proceeded at the expense of Indigenous communities, often costing them their lives and ancestral lands.  This centerpiece of this initiative on Collaborative Survival (a term coined by Anna Tsing) is an ongoing partnership with the community associations of the Yanomami Indigenous Community in the northern Brazilian Amazon since 2016, but encompasses communities living in the shadow of current and former mining sites as well as those wrestling with critical questions of land use and livelihood security. In this mutual learning initiative, Dr. Klinger and her students collaborate with Indigenous counterparts and allied organizations as they articulate their future as protagonists in sustainable development , global capitalism, national development, and climate science and policy. Drawing together the worlds of remote sensing, community GIS, artisanal and small-scale mining, and Indigenous survival strategies, this project documents Indigenous land use change practices in a time of tremendous global instability. In-person activities have been suspended indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic in order to prioritize community support and fund-raising to protect Indigenous peoples in the Amazon and across the Americas from this existential threat: everywhere in the Americas, the death toll of COVID-19 is much higher among native and Indigenous populations as compared to national averages. Learn more and help out here.

Donations to Pan-Amazonian relief organizations can be made here: https://www.amazonemergencyfund.org.

The First Nations’ COVID relief fund: https://www.fnch.org/tribal-covid-19-relief-fund.aspx

Organizations helping Native Americans in the US: https://foodtank.com/news/2020/05/17-organizations-providing-emergency-food-relief-to-native-communities-during-covid-19/ ]

Trucks stuck in mud as onlookers assess the situation
Trucks stuck in the mud during fieldwork in 2017.

Dr. Klinger’s research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the Irmgard Coninx Stiftung, the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies China-Africa Research Initiative, and the Boston University East Asian Career Development Professorship. She previously served as the co-director of the Land Use and Livelihoods Initiative at the Global Development Policy Center at Boston University.

Her work has been published in The Extractive Industries and Society, Journal of Chinese Political Science, Nikkei Asian Review, Dialogo Chino, Sustainability, NACLA, and The Political Economy of Rare Earth Elements. She is the guest editor of special issues published in Geopolitics, The Extractive Industries and Society, Journal of Latin American Geography, and Territory, Politics, Governance. Dr. Klinger regularly writes and comments on these research areas for popular media outlets.


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