Changing Bodies in Toxic Landscapes
Through this comparative project postdoc María A. Guzmán-Gallegos seeks to explore the intersections of personhood, environmental change and degradation, economic relations and state formation in Southern Ecuadorian and Northern Peruvian Amazonia.
Photo: Maria A. Guzmán-Gallegos
Ecuador's and Peru's national economies have experienced sustained economic growth since the beginning of this century, due to the expansion of extractive industries. Most extraction activities influence rural and indigenous livelihoods, since oil and mineral concessions overlap with their land and with water resources and drainage basins.
Economic growth based on resource extraction usually affects marginal or minority populations – in places so diverse as Sierra Leone, China or even Norway. In spite of socio-political differences, their possibilities to influence state decisions and policies usually are limited.
“The effects extractive activities have on ecological systems offer clear examples of how human action constitutes socio-natural worlds, showing concretely and often painfully, what it means to live in the Anthropocene”, says Guzmán-Gallegos.
The environmental consequences of extractive activities and the lack of grounded knowledge and state recognition of the concerns of affected populations are identified as serious challenges by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. These challenges go beyond Latin America. Oil extraction and mining, environmental degradation and the displacement of populations are creating socio-environmental conflicts all over the world. Water and soil contamination may limit severely people’s access to clean water and may threaten their food security.
This project seeks to address these issues by producing a fine-grained ethnography of the connections people establish between their gendered bodies and the bodies of valued aquatic species and cultivated plants affected by contamination. It proposes to link these perceptions and practices to knowledge production and to the politics through which culturally diverse communities frame contamination (especially its toxicity), contest state projects and, at the same time, negotiate their inclusion. Proposing a comparison between different localities and different national contexts this project creates, moreover, an “ethnographic site” that allows to link environmental concerns, to open ended socio-natural configurations and to state formations.
The project, which is titled "Changing Bodies in Toxic Landscapes: Environmental degradation and intersecting knowledges in the Ecuadorian and Peruvian Amazonia" is funded by the Norwegian Research Council.