Accepted Paper:

Culture, politics of pollution and risk: ethnological lessons from Andean mining conflicts  


Vladimir Gil Ramón (Catholic University (PUCP) EI - Columbia University)

Paper short abstract:

The study assesses Andean mining conflict cases, departing from the analysis of the politics of pollution and risk perception, in order to understand the causes of struggles from the perspectives and valuation of the social actors involved in nature engagement.

Paper long abstract:

The recent expansion of the mining frontier around the world, mostly fueled by the urbanization of China, has created new conflicts between governments and companies against remote and marginalized populations. Although mining is presented by states as beneficial for national development, the number of conflicts have grown world-wide. Nevertheless, there is insufficient empirical data explaining the causes of sub-national conflicts and demands, considering populations surrounding new mining operations and their perceptions of the environmental impacts and unfulfilled expectations of development.

The research is based on long-term multi-sited ethnographic field work comparing transnational Andean mining cases, unveiling the causes of social conflicts. Politics about animated entities related to mining resources, pollution monitoring and perception of environmental risks have become a key variables for understanding conflictive encounters. The research covers findings on mythological explanations of struggles surrounding natural resources as well as cultural relations with animals and plants. Agriculturalists had to assume extra costs of time and energy when they felt forced to search for new water sources for their animals and plants, due to the distrust of rivers that looked and smelled different, due to mining residuals. The ethnographic analysis shows a critique to cost-benefit analysis of externalities, when it ignores local perceptions and the cultural relationship with their animals and plants.

The research presents a particularized version of events that are unfolding globally, in an era when national governments concede spheres of their sovereignty to corporate networks and NGOs, with an unexpected outcome: the possibility of vulnerable populations to find superior ways for improving their articulation and participation in the nation, while contesting national institutions and re-appropriating discourses of development and environmental impact.

Panel P050
Engaging with treasures of the subsurface between extractivism and spiritualism