296 pages, 20 Illustrations
In Unearthing Conflict Fabiana Li analyzes the aggressive expansion and modernization of mining in Peru since the 1990s to tease out the dynamics of mining-based protests. Issues of water scarcity and pollution, the loss of farmland, and the degradation of sacred land are especially contentious. She traces the emergence of the conflicts by discussing the smelter-town of La Oroya – where people have lived with toxic emissions for almost a century – before focusing her analysis on the relatively new Yanacocha gold mega-mine.
Debates about what kinds of knowledge count as legitimate, Li argues, lie at the core of activist and corporate mining campaigns. Li pushes against the concept of "equivalence" – or methods with which to quantify and compare things such as pollution – to explain how opposing groups interpret environmental regulations, assess a project's potential impacts, and negotiate monetary compensation for damages. This politics of equivalence is central to these mining controversies, and Li uncovers the mechanisms through which competing parties create knowledge, assign value, arrive at contrasting definitions of pollution, and construct the Peruvian mountains as spaces under constant negotiation.
"Unearthing Conflict is the first really good, English-language ethnography of mining in Peru, and its appearance especially timely given that mining has become the backbone of the Peruvian economy. Based on fascinating fieldwork, Fabiana Li's book will be of much interest to scholars of Peru and the Andes as well as those trying to better understand mining and the fraught politics of money, nature, corporate capitalism, and social protest around this gigantic global industry."
– Orin Starn, coeditor of The Peru Reader: History, Culture, Politics
"Unearthing Conflict is a well-documented, thoughtful, and engagingly written account of mining-related conflicts in Peru. Looking at two different historically situated modes of resource extraction through the lens of ontological politics and 'contested equivalence,' Fabiana Li provides a novel, conceptually productive view of how such things as 'pollution' and 'water as life' are constituted and behave as actors in the world. A fine contribution to literatures on mining, environmental politics, and activism."
– Elizabeth Emma Ferry, author of Minerals, Collecting, and Value across the US-Mexico Border
Introduction. A Mining Country 1
Part I. Mining Past and Present
1. Toxic Legacies, Nascent Activism 35
2. Mega-Mining and Emergent Conflicts 71
Part II. Water and Life
3. The Hydrology of a Sacred Mountain 107
4. Inrrigation and Contested Equivalences 143
Part III. Activism and Expertise
5. Stepping outside the Document 185
Conclusion. Expanding Frontiers of Extraction 215
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Fabiana Li is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Manitoba.