Sawyer, Suzana. Crude Chronicles: Indigenous Politics, Multinational Oil, and Neoliberalism in Ecuador. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004.

Discussions I’ve had about this book tend to orbit around how bad it is. I don't think it is that bad, but I do see some shortcomings. So rather than simply summarize it, as I would usually do in a post like this, I want to examine a few of its strengths and weaknesses.

I think that as a study of environmental justice its merit lies in the idea that Sawyer develops of the mosaic of alternative nationalisms that are at play in the OPIP struggle against Texaco and an Ecuadorian state that increasingly abandoned its representative role and took on the role of fiscal manager. I think that her analysis of Oswaldo Guayasamin’s mosaic in the presidential palace becomes her metaphor for the idea of plurinational space that was espoused by the indigenous movement in Ecuador (and I would say uncritically embraced by Sawyer). Yet unsurprisingly, Sawyer’s personal commitment to the indigenous struggle poses a problem for her critical engagement with important concepts at play. I think is is very difficult—and commendable—to tread that thin line between political commitment and scholarly distance, but it will almost inevitably raise critical concerns.

For instance, Sawyer fails to problematize race. Sundberg has struggled to point out how Latin American environmental justice literature has failed to look critically at race and I think Crude Chronicles is a case in point. While Sawyer does take race as something that is constituted and masked through official spatial discourses, what she centers on is the negation of identity (50-51).

Hooker, Juliet

Hooker, Juliet. “Indigenous Inclusion/Black Exclusion: Race, Ethnicity and Multicultural Citizenship in Latin America.” Journal of Latin American Studies 37, no. 2 (2005): 285-310.

Hooker takes on the question of how, under what Van Cott calls the Multicultural Model, Afro-Latino struggles have not succeeded in securing the same types of rights and recognition that indigenous peoples have. She begins with a statistical overview that shows black marginality to be as—indeed in some cases like Colombia’s Pacific coast, more—severe than that of indigenous Latin Americans. Challenging prior assertions that explained this discrepancy in terms of differential population sizes, mobilization in defense of rights and the capacity to organize, she argues that “the main criterion used to determine the recipients of collective rights in Latin America has been the possession of a distinct cultural group identity,” and not the experience of racial discrimination and socio-economic or political marginalization. (291)

First she examines the holes in prior arguments that tried to explain this phenomenon. Using the case of Colombia in 1991 specifically and resorting to more general region-wide information, she demonstrates that Afro-Latinos were often involved in struggles much like those of indigenous peoples analyzed by the likes of Yashar, García and Van Cott. However, she sees one fundamental distinction in the way that their respective struggles were perceived by national elites and the public at large: that of Afro-Latinos as based on a position of anti-discrimination, and that of indigenous peoples as rooted in a collective sense of identity that differentiated them from the rest of the national polity.