Gotkowitz, Laura

Gotkowitz, Laura. A Revolution for Our Rights Indigenous Struggles for Land and Justice in Bolivia, 1880-1952. Durham: Duke University Press, 2007.

Focused on indigenous organizing and politics in pre-1952 Cochabamba, Laura Gotkowitz’s A Revolution for our Rights tells the story of the “revolution before the revolution.” This book is key because it fleshes out the intricacies, associations and years of struggle that often get written out of narratives of revolution. Thus while it does not discuss the land reform implemented as part of the Bolivian National Revolution, it meticulously lays out the legal battles, confrontations and protests launched by rural people for some 70 years before. Stressing legal battles, Gotkowitz shows how communities mobilized against the Liberal project fighting for corporate “absolute rights to property” in the last decades of the nineteenth century. Additionally they often fought for recognition of their right to rights. For instance, as a result of the 1945 Indigenous Congress a series of laws protecting colonos from their hacienda owners were passed. However, it was up to the communities to ensure that the laws were observed; Villarroel made no effort to enforce them.

As important as the emphasis placed on legal battles, is Gotkowitz’s unearthing of the dense network of associations that fueled indigenous and colono mobilization in Cochabamba. First off, struggles were often waged as indigenous community members and hacienda colonos together. Moreover, Gotkowitz shows how they were linked to urban labour movements, like the Confederación Sindical de Trabajadores de Bolivia (CSTB), as well as radical parties and organizations.

For text online click HERE (login to UBC Library required)


Santiago, Myrna

Santiago, Myrna I. The Ecology of Oil: Environment, Labor, and the Mexican Revolution, 1900-1938. Cambridge [U.K.]: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Santiago blends social and environmental history to explain transformations in the Mexican oil industry leading up the Cárdenas' nationalization in 1938. The guiding concept she uses to bring these two fields together is the notion of an "ecology of oil," which addresses interwoven patterns of land tenure and use with social structures.
The major transformations she describes, then, fall along these three axes: tenure moving gradually from communal to private; use moving agricultural (subsistence and ranching) to drilling and refining; and the social landscape shifting from Huasteca to mestizo, as the industry attracted labour and the instability of the revolution—then post-revolutionary clientelism—pushed labour to the Vera Cruz.

Regarding tenure, the transformation she describes follows a common progression in which commonly held Huasteca land eventually became the property of foreign firms like Standard Oil and Royal Dutch Shell. However, unlike the situation Melville describes in the Valle del Mezquital, this progression is stunted and interrupted by the nature of the Huasteca landscape and the social transformations of the revolutionary and post-revolutionary period. Although consolidation of ownership did occur in the lead up to the revolution, land was not fully privatized by an invasion of ranching-focused hacendados, partly because the dense jungle and tar pits spotting the land were not conducive to large-scale ranching. Moreover, as foreign firms moved in to search for and exploit reserves, the instability of the revolutionary period made it more reasonable to rent from hacendados instead of purchasing land outright.

Dore, Elizabeth.

Dore, Elizabeth. “Environment and Society: Long-Term Trends in Latin American Mining,” Environment and History 6 (2000): pp. 1-29.

From the outset this article takes on the tensions of capitalist production: namely the tendency to promote technical innovation, and alleviate worker exploitation, while at the same time driving to maximize absolute surplus production through continuous expansion, which has tended to deteriorate social conditions. Dore exploits this contradiction to theorize a relationship between labour and environmental conditions in which she suggests that as capitalist production expands, negative externalities are displaced from the work force onto the environment.

Pre-Conquest she echoes Cleary and relies on Denevan to debunk the pristine myth and argue that the Maya collapse, as well as destabilization across pre-Columbian Latin America may very well have had ecological dimensions. Also following Cleary, she defends the idea that the demographic collapse ushered in as part of the Conquest actually reigned in environmental decline, although she intimates that this may have helped the Amazon forests survive, rather than—as Cleary argues—allowing for the growth of secondary forest.

Her description of the colonial mining enterprise stresses the impact on the labour force. She hits all the big marks—Toledan reforms, Murcury amalgamation, patio process, mit’a, etc—and frames them as evidence of few technological advances and increasingly brutal exploitation of workers.

Cañizares- Esguerra, Jorge

Cañizares- Esguerra, Jorge. “How Derivative Was Humboldt? Microcosmic Nature Narratives in Early Modern Spanish America and the (Other) Origins of Humboldt’s Ecological Sensibilities,.” In Colonial Botany: Science, Commerce, and Politics in the Early Modern World. Ed. Londa Schiebinger and Claudia Swan. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005, pp. 148-65.

This chapter deals with the origins of Humboldt’s theories of biodistribution and the influence that Spanish American naturalists had on him. It begins by dealing with Pablo Vila’s idea of the Euro-Creole origins of biodistribution and in particular, the role of Colombian naturalists Francisco José de Caldas’ botanical research in the Andes in shaping Humboldt’s view of South American ecology.

Cañizares explains how naturalists from José de Acosta to Linnaeus had resorted to an Edenic narrative of Andean nature in part due to the ecological variation offered by the ranges’ extreme altitudes. Looking especially at the Paraíso en el Nuevo Mundo (1645-50) of León Pinelo, Cañizares underlines two key parts of the paradisiacal narrative. First, as “many imagined imagined paradise as a tall equatorial peak with a multitude of climates (152), Pinelo resorted to the bible as proof that the eastern slope of the Andes was in fact the location of Eden. He used Gen. 2:6-15 and 3:24 to prove it, suggesting the four rivers were not the Gihon, Tigris, Euphrates and Pishon, but the Magdalena the Orinoco, the Amazon and the Plate (he also argued the angel w/ flaming sword was a metaphor for Andean volcanoes). Second, as Pinelo’s version of the sacred was based not in the regular but in the wonderful, his Paraíso en el Nuevo Mundo was filled with a catalog of Peru’s exotic flora—like passion fruit Passiflora edulis—and fauna. (As a side, in Pinelo we get a tripartite geography that is slightly different: lowlands—coast and selva—llanos, and highlands.)

Folchi, M.

Folchi, M.  “Conflictos de Contenido Ambiental y ecologismo de los pobres: no siempre pobres, ni siempre ecologistasEcología Política No. 22, Ed. Icaria, (2001) pp. 79-100.

In this piece Folchi takes on the prevailing tenets marking the “environmentalism of the poor” frame, especially as Chile is concerned. He begins with a brief literature review in which he demonstrates the tendency of the ecologismo de los pobres school to locate the origin of Chilean environmental conflicts at the shift to the neoliberal model ushered in under Pinochet. Folchi argues that these studies neglect: 1) the long history of environmental conflict that goes back far beyond the 1973 coup; 2) the “ideological impurity” of many so-called environmentalist mobilizations (here he weaves ecological concerns into a fabric of social, material and traditional issues); and 3) the fact that environmental conflict can be generated by any kind of transformation, not necessarily degradation.

Under the Hapsburgs, the “common” status of the palma chilena was often a source of heated conflict that forced the colonial administration to choose between community access and the private property rights of landowners.

For instance, conflicts over fuel wood in early republican Chile were often played out between mine owners and hacendados, The issue over prohibition of the fraguas—or artisanal foundries—in mid-nineteenth century Santiago was one in which the poor artisans fought to continue contaminating the city’s air.

A community fought to get legislation passed that would regulate containment standards and require the neutralization of relaves de cobre to avoid toxic spills.
Environmental tension (tensión ambiental), to overcome Manichean approaches, and conflicts of an environmental nature (conflictos de contenido ambiental) to avoid the implication that tensions arise from a strict ideological defense of nature.

Asdal, Kristin.

Asdal, Kristin. “The Problematic Nature of Nature: The Post-Constructivist Challenge to Environmental History.” History and Theory 42, no. 4 (2003): 60-74.

Asdal is advancing a post-constructivist, value-nuanced conception of science that confronts the subject-object dichotomy. By raising the question of “which nature and which conceptions of science should be brought in?” (61) she challenges the foundation of environmental history in the natural sciences.

To begin she lays out what I think is a false dichotomy. She opposes Donald Worster—supposedly deeply rooted in a baseline notion of nature—with Anna Bramwell, whose work is used as representative of a camp that holds all ecology to be the product of culture. Worster is held up as the posterchild for natural science-based environmental history. The problem is I don’t think that Worster does represent such a natural science-based pole. He pays a lot of attention to the significance of discourse. Asdal, in trying to pose a critique of Worster, makes the point that ecology itself has a history. (63) Yet that history was told by Worster himself in a book that Asdal writes off as inconsequential and no longer representative of his views: Nature’s Economy. Instead she resorts to two articles—one in an undergraduate textbook—as indicative of his work.  

I’ve harped so much on this introductory section because Asdal needn’t have wasted so much time building this dichotomy simply to place Haraway and Latour in the middle of it, as neither treating nature as the positive base, nor an entirely ideological construction. This is a review of Haraway and Latour and she could have just set it up as such, without resorting to caricatures.

Martínez-Alier, Joan

Martínez-Alier, Joan. The Environmentalism of the Poor: A Study of Ecological Conflicts and Valuation. Northhampton, MA: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2002.

For Martínez-Alier it all seems to boil down to a kind of economic determinism. That is, for him the incommensurability of natural capital seems to be at the end of his chain of analysis. He draws a lot from Otto Neurath’s theory of incommensurability to fuel ecological economics (this echoes the view already established in "From Political Economy to Political Ecology," and explains the notion that the environmentalism of the poor may be considered a new form of class struggle in Guha). Ecological economics focuses on problems of ‘taking Nature into account,’ (i.e. the valuation of natural capital). Given the incommensurability of resources, monetization (or valuation in general) of natural capital inevitably leaves externalities. It is in the space of externalities, the question of who pays those costs, where political ecology emerges to study ecological distribution conflicts.
The way Martínez-Alier ties political ecology to ecological economics has its worth in that it foregrounds the question of “who has the power to impose particular languages of valuation.” However, I do not see much emphasis on the process by which that power is constituted.

Hvalkof, Soren.

Hvalkof, Soren. “Outrage in Rubber and Oil: Extractivism, Indigenous Peoples, and Justice in the Upper Amazon.” In Charles Zerner, ed. People, Plants, and Justice: The Politics of Nature Conservation. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000. pp. 83-117

Perhaps one of the more conventional works of this volume, “Outrage in Rubber and Oil,” suggests a continuity of injustice that straddles the temporal boundaries of successive export booms in the Upper Amazon. I say conventional because in the end it posits collective land title as the “key to control” (106), a crucial mechanism by which indigenous peoples can transcend debt bondage. In this sense he reiterates the conclusions of most who deal with the region (Varese, Chirif, García, Gray, etc.) without acknowledging the myriad nuanced ways that tenure can give rise to other sets of problems (see Sawyer chapter 1, García and Chirif, or the critique Benavides and Chirif make of the De Soto brand of tenure). Morover, Ribot’s piece in this same volume shows how property rights do not necessarily translate into justice.

Hvalkof opens with a vignette of Siona Indians of Puerto Bolívar (Ecuador) resisting the arrival of Chinese oil company. He explains how the Siona political awakening was nourished in two major ways: their struggle with the administrators of the Faunistic Reserve of Cuyabeno brought them together in a collective effort to delineate their territory and marked yet another crucial moment in their struggle against extractive activities, as immediately after signing a treaty with INEFAN in 1995 INEFAN turned around and granted an oil concession on newly legalized Siona land. Hvalkof uses this story and a conversation with locals to demonstrate the continuity of experience that Cuyabeno area Indigenous have had with extractive activities since the seventeenth century.