Politics of Cassiterite: Mapping the Value of Tin as Material through Psychogeophysics of Bangka Island


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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Award date9 Feb 2022


Commissioned by the mining corporation Rio Tinto in 2018, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) released a list of metals they expected to be most impacted by upcoming technologies in terms of increased demand. Tin ranked highest. Almost one third of the global tin supply is extracted from Bangka Island in Indonesia. This thesis aims to re-examine the materiality of tin and its complex entanglements with technology, humans, and the landscape of Bangka Island. Using a creative approach of psychogeophysics—a détournement from the psychogeography of the Situationists—as a methodology, a major component of this thesis involves an investigation of tin as a material and an analysis of the theory of value that conditions human connection to the mineral. I begin this thesis by exploring the history of tin on Bangka Island and how it connects with the global flow of material circulation. Following, I examine the theoretical background and motivations of using psychogeophysics as a method. Drawing from the interdisciplinary insights of various artistic trajectories, including psychogeographic research analysis developed by the Situationists and the concept of fûkeiron (landscape theory) theorised by radical filmmaker Masao Adachi, I observe the potential convergence of artistic approach and radical politics in tracing the connections of tin with the geophysics of the landscape and the psyche of a people. Next, I discuss the construction of the value of tin and the dynamic relationship between humans, nature, and labour as conceived among different groups of people and issues. Moreover, an anthropological approach to a theory of value—with focus on the theory of gift—is employed as a reference to examine the transformation of the mineral’s use and exchange value. Furthermore, I will additionally discuss the artistic contribution that I have conceived together with this thesis project. This artistic output is a three-channel moving image work entitled Kasiterit. It is through this case study, an intersectional method, and interdisciplinary practice that this thesis seeks to reconfigure and rethink the human-material relation.