Thieves of patria: Vertical Politics in plurinational Bolivia
My current project explores what I call the "vertical politics" of Plurinational Bolivia. In 2009, Bolivia was transformed from a republic into a Plurinational State with a supposed commitment to protecting Indigenous territories and pachamama. Yet resource extraction has increased dramatically in this plurinational era, often at great socioecological cost.
I study how the Bolivian subsoil was produced and is maintained as a national space, even as the surface can be privatized or collectively owned. I explore this dynamic in archives and through ethnographic work with "mining cooperatives" in the towns of Llallagua and Uncía, Northern Potosí. Working independently from the state or private companies, mining cooperatives have been rendered thieves of national resources, or thieves of patria (country). Yet with the founding of the Plurinational State, they have moved into positions of political power, thus giving shape to Bolivia's political economy from within. I examine these dual processes with the ultimate goal of understanding how resource nationalism is daily reproduced in the underground.
At the heart of this project is an interest in the historical constitution of material objects and their roles in shaping people and politics. I trace the history of material stuff like metal ores, geological strata, machines, and mining waste in relation to political economic concepts like class, value, resource, and property. I am intrigued by how apparently inert matter is shaped by abstract conceptual categories and vice versa. For example, I explore how split property rights (i.e. land rights separated from subsoil rights) were constituted in relation to geological mapping and knowledge production. These histories both shed light on Bolivia's cooperative miners, who have been formed by more-than-economic processes, and show how colonial, techno-scientific, and nationalist histories form the unseen foundations of political economic analyses.
Publications from this project:
From 2010-12, I worked on a project called Post-neoliberal Nature? Community Water Governance in Peri-Urban Cochabamba, Bolivia. Despite claims that Bolivia is one of several Latin American countries to have entered a "post-neoliberal" era, my study of community water governance in the peri-urban neighborhood of La Maica, showed how neoliberal attempts to decentralize governance had intertwined with both a hamstrung modernist dam project and local community organizing efforts, ultimately producing an urban water politics that I described as “not-quite-neoliberal.” This project inspired me to co-edit a special issue in Geoforum with Corin de Freitas and Karen Bakker entitled Not-Quite-Neoliberal Natures in Latin America.
Publications from this Project: