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Abstract | The challenge of interdisciplinary intellectual and strategic work in the extractive industries is particularly acute at the interface of research and social activism. Numerous social movements which are dedicated to sustainability fail to ‘connect the dots’ between their campaigns and broader political-economic and political-ecological visions. This is becoming a critical challenge in Africa, where the extreme damage done by mining and fossil fuels has generated impressive resistance.However, the one obvious place to link these critiques from African activists was the Alternative Mining Indaba in Cape Town in February 2015, and a survey of narratives at that event leads to pessimism about interdisciplinary politics. The potential for much greater impact and deeper critiques of unsustainable extractivism lies in greater attention to combining social reproduction and production (as do eco-feminists), and to tackling social, economic, political and ecological factors with a more explicit structuralist critique and practical toolkit. Areas such as energy, economics and climate are ripe for linkages. One reason for optimism is a climate justice declaration made by leading civil society activists in Maputo in April 2015.