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Accepted Paper:

Introducing to Extract: Green Technologies and the Case of Lithium in Chile  
Daniela Soto (University of Sussex)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing on a 12-month ethnography in Chile, I argue that the lithium extraction boom can be better understood by de-commodify the focus on what is extracted to what is inserted to extract, which reveals how green technologies expands neo-colonial capitalism and environmental crisis.

Paper long abstract:

Due to its materiality, lithium plays a key role in lithium-ion batteries, which has increased its demands as electric cars production is to multiply in the next years. Therefore, lithium has been framed as a strategic raw material for the new "green technologies" needed for a technological energy transition.

Hegemonic narratives have also constructed a commodity zone called the "Lithium Triangle" in South Abya Yala, given its high percentage of lithium reserves (USGS, 2020). In contrast, my 12-month ethnography in Chile (2020-2021) showed that lithium is at no point visible or differentiable materiality - but quite the opposite: lithium remains invisible and is only tracible following its relations and connections to other elements. As such, the paper will focus on what is visible in the territory as ethnographic objects and encounters, which is rather lithium insertions and relationalities: copper, infrastructure, material imaginaries, economic interests, and ways-of-being-in-the-world (West, 2016) in the desert-scape.

By mixing political ontology (Blaser, 2020) with critical geography of resources (Bakker and Bridge, 2006), I propose to de-commodify the focus on what is extracted, and rather deepen in the different elements that are inserted to extract. Against the risk to help to construct materialities rather than interconnections; fragments rather than wholes; I argue that expanding on the relationship between inserting-extracting supports the need to go beyond technological solutions and reveals how green technologies expands neo-colonial capitalism and the environmental crisis.

Panel P022b
Uncommon Explorations between Green Technologies, Climate Hopes, and the Anthropological Imagination II
  Session 1 Wednesday 27 July, 2022, -