Several approaches to Social Impact Assessment have been applied to resource development projects in Australia since the early 1970s. Debate amongst researchers and other participants has raised crucial issues for the practice of social scientists generally, and economic geographers in particular. Differences have emerged between those who see SIA as a formal inquiry process in a specific legislative framework, and those who see SIA as a means of empowering communities affected by resource development, particularly Aboriginal communities. This paper reviews the debate, focusing on the work of the Berger Inquiry in Canada and the Ranger Inquiry, and projects to monitor the social impact of mining in the Northern Territory and East Kimberley region. It outlines a relational framework which situates SIA conceptually in its dynamic political context.