The research project Submerged Heritage pivots around the Brokopondo water reservoir in Suriname, which was created to power the modern hunger for aluminium. Researchers Daphne Bakker, Miguel Peres dos Santos and Vincent van Velsen talk about the project on stage in Rotterdam, while Mimi Sheller delivers a remote lecture on her book Aluminum Dreams: The Making of Light Modernity.
Aluminium changed mobility and mobilised modern life. It enabled air power, the Space Age and moon landings. Yet despite its contribution to 20th-century technology, innovation, architecture and design, it also underpinned global military power and uneven development and has caused crucial environmental and health concerns. The unintended consequences of aluminium’s widespread use include struggles for sovereignty and resource control in Africa, India and the Caribbean; the unleashing of multinational corporations; and the pollution of the Earth through mining and smelting.
Using a single material as an entry point to understanding a global history of modernisation and its implications for the future, the event Aluminium Dreams forces us to ask: How do we assemble the material culture of modernity, and what are its environmental consequences?
This lecture takes place in the context of Submerged Heritage, a research project that pivots around the Brokopondo water reservoir in Suriname by Daphne Bakker, Miguel Peres dos Santos and Vincent van Velsen. Officially named by Dutch colonial rulers as the Professor Doctor Ingenieur W. J. van Blommestein Meer, the 1560-m2 water reservoir, which flooded one-third of the Brokopondo province, is the result of the construction of the Afobaka Dam (1961-1964). The construction of this hydraulic power plant, meant to power one single aluminium smelter of Alcoa Corporation, resulted in the flooding of 28 villages and the forced eviction of 5000 people, most of them from the Saramaccan Maroon communities who lived along the Suriname river.
The research aims to critically investigate, through a focus on the Afobaka dam, how Dutch colonialism is intertwined with global capitalism. Highlighting aspects such as environmental destruction, extraction of resources, displacement, socio-political and cultural annihilation, the Aluminium Dreams event aims to ignite a deeper dialogue about the impact of this colonial project.
Currently Dean of the Global School at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, USA, from 2009-2021 Mimi Sheller was professor of sociology at Drexel University, Philadelphia, where she founded the New Mobilities Research and Policy Center. Her book, Aluminum Dreams: the Making of LIght Modernity, was published by MIT Press in 2014.