CHISHOLM – A research project is underway that examines the relationships between the mining industry of the Iron Range and local communities.

Dr. Amy O’Connor, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota Hubbard School of Journalism & Mass Communication, began her research in March of 2019. Since then she’s made more than a half dozen trips to the Chisholm and Hibbing area.

The focus of her research is the Hibbing Taconite mine and the communities of Chisholm and Hibbing, the two neighboring towns.

“At the heart of the project is sort of the idea how mining companies and community members and workers understand the interconnectedness between them,” O’Connor said in a recent interview. “It also involves understanding how the mining companies are woven into the culture of the community and to understand the day to day lives.”

A proposal for the project identifies its significance. It is noted within the proposal that mining research is limited to countries outside the U.S., and that most research about extraction industries tend to focus on environmental issues rather than community and employee experiences.

Most of O’Connor’s time on the Range so far has been spent in Chisholm. She’s also ventured to Hibbing, where she’s learned about Hibbing Taconite, toured Hibbing High School, stopped at the Hull-Rust Mahoning Mine View and Historic North Hibbing.

Since last spring, O’Connor has interviewed a variety of people, including current miners, retirees, faith leaders, business people and leaders of area non-profits.

When she visited Chisholm last fall, O’Connor said she was impressed by the “amazing hospitality” of the people she’s encountered.

“I’m learning a lot, and anytime you learn it’s new, it’s exciting and surprising,” O’Connor said. Using a methodological approach depends on sustained community engagement, according to O’Connor. In order to tell the story accurately and completely, she intends to get to know the community and its members. She hopes to interview many different people in the next few years — and if they are willing, to talk to them more than once. None of the subjects will be identified without prior written consent.

This approach differs from most research, which tends to be short term and does not include sustained community engagement, according to information found on the project proposal.

“Relationships between companies and communities are complex and I want to capture that complexity and details,” she explained in an email last fall to the Tribune Press. “For me, it is an issue of respect, thoughtfulness, and accuracy.”

The project seeks to find answers to the following questions that were included in its summary:

1. What are the responsibilities community members assign to mining companies operating in their community?

2. How do the responsibilities preferred by community members align and diverge from the corporate social responsibility practices of mining companies?

3. How is the corporate social responsibility of the mining companies woven into the culture of the community?

4. How do mine employees experience and enact corporate social responsibility practices?

O’Connor joined the University of Minnesota faculty in 2015. Prior to that she was a faculty member at North Dakota State University in Fargo, N.D.

She received her Ph.D. from Purdue University, where her area of study was public affairs/issue management.

To date, O’Connor is the author of more than 20 research publications on the topic of corporate social responsibility, and is nationally recognized for her work in this area. While there’s no firm end date for her current research project on the Iron Range, she is aiming for the winter of 2022.

Once her research is complete, O’Connor plans to produce several conference papers and a single-authored book that will illuminate how corporate social responsibility is communicatively constituted and practiced in the context of northern Minnesota mining communities.

There are still opportunities for people to participate in O’Connor’s research project. Anyone who is interested is asked to contact her by phone at 701-388-7821. You may also email her at amyoc@umn.edu.

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