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Brutal effects of deforestation in Argentina

Gastón Gordillo will present this years Eilert Sundt-lecture on October 20th. The anthropologist is analyzing how these violent transformations in the form and texture of terrain affect local people, the trees and animals.

Gaston Gardillo

Gastón Gordillo wishes to highlight the materiality of the profound environmental and social disruptions the world is experiencing today

In the Gran Chaco plains of northern Argentina, agribusinesses operate soy fields whose creation demanded, and continue demanding, the destruction of the forests that once covered this region.

Gordillo examines this destruction and its traces in the terrain through an affective geometry: that is, an analysis of how bulldozers form physical vectors that negatively affect local people and the forested terrain in which they live, made up the entanglement of trees with multiple other life forms.

- Terrain is the only spatial category that evokes the physical forms, the volume, and the textures of space, and for this reason is used regularly by geologists or military strategists. But the term is often used descriptively and without elaboration, and there’s little theorization about terrain in the humanities. So I’m exploring what terrain is by drawing from everything we’ve learned in the humanities about the social, cultural, and political nature of any place, but by engaging in depth, at the same time, with the materiality of terrain.

Violent transformations

He finds it upsetting to witness the ways in which agribusiness destroy this living, complex and entangled materiality to create soy fields is both disturbing and revealing of the physicality of this terrain.

- Deforestation in Argentina is a pretty brutal process, which involves bulldozers, setting all the debris of the forest on fire, and often evicting residents violently. This violence thoroughly redefines the form of terrain, creating as the end product mechanized soy fields sprayed with agrichemicals. I’m analyzing how these violent transformations in the form and texture of terrain affect local people and the trees and animals that define a forest, and also how residents and activists have been trying to put limits to this social and environmental destruction.

Environmental disruptions

Gordillo analyzes how affects shape this process in a twofold sense: in the disregard of the business and political elites who see those forests as blank, available space and in the emotional and bodily response of residents unsettled by this destruction and by the traces its leaves in space.

Locals and activists have opposed deforestation through geometries of interruption that seek, first, to intercept with their bodies the advance of the machines and, second, to affect those who disregard the high environmental and social cost of the soy boom in northern Argentina.

- I think this research is important, first, to better appreciate the materiality of the profound environmental and social disruptions the world is experiencing today. Deforestation to make space for industrial agriculture is one of the major sources of CO2 emissions in the world, and understanding its local dynamic is therefore central in current discussions about climate change. This topic is also relevant to bring to light the transnational nature of global capitalism as well as the high environmental cost of the industrialized production of meat, for soy in South America is planted largely to create animal feed.

Gordillo will also participate at the workshop "Traces of the future - living in the aftertime" at Litteraturhuset in Oslo, Friday October 21st.

Read more about Gordillo and his work on his blog. 


Published Sep. 29, 2016 2:51 PM - Last modified Oct. 7, 2016 12:27 PM