Erik Kojola

Jun 23, 2023

Mining the Heartland

Nature, Place, and Populism on the Iron Range

New York University Press 2023

On an unseasonably warm October afternoon in Saint Paul, hundreds of people gathered to protest the construction of a proposed copper-nickel mine in the rural northern part of their state. The crowd eagerly listened to speeches on how the project would bring long-term risks and potentially pollute the drinking water for current and future generations. A year later, another proposed mining project became the subject of a public hearing in a small town near the proposed site. But this time, local politicians and union leaders praised the mine proposal as an asset that would strengthen working-class communities in Minnesota.

In many rural American communities, there is profound tension around the preservation and protection of wilderness and the need to promote and profit from natural resources. In Mining the Heartland: Nature, Place, and Populism on the Iron Range (NYU Press, 2023), Erik Kojola looks at both sides of these populist movements and presents a thoughtful account of how such political struggles play out. Drawing on over a hundred ethnographic interviews with people of the region, from members of labor unions to local residents to scientists, Kojola is able to bring this complex struggle over mining to life. Focusing on both pro- and anti-mining groups, he expands upon what this conflict reveals about the way whiteness and masculinity operate among urban and rural residents, and the different ways in which class, race, and gender shape how people relate to the land. Mining the Heartland shows the negotiation and conflict between two central aspects of the state's culture and economy: outdoor recreation in the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes and the lucrative mining of the Iron Range.

Michael O. Johnston, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at William Penn University. He is the author of The Social Construction of a Cultural Spectacle: Floatzilla (Lexington Books, 2023) and Community Media Representations of Place and Identity at Tug Fest: Reconstructing the Mississippi River (Lexington, 2022). His general area of study is about the construction of place in tourist cities and about the people who reside there. He is currently conducting research for his next project on the social construction of tourist cities. To learn more about Michael O. Johnston you can go to his website, Google Scholar, Twitter @ProfessorJohnst, or by email at

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Michael Johnston

Michael O. Johnston, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at William Penn University.

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