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Abstract

Re-Constituting the Nature of the Nation: Extractivism, Biodiversity, and the Rights of Nature in Ecuador is an ethnographic account of resistance to oil development in Yasuní National Park after Ecuador recognized “rights of nature” in its 2008 Constitution. The “rights of nature” were forged at the intersection of three distinct epistemologies of nature/culture: a de-colonial critique of “extractivism”; the sustainable development discourse of “biodiversity”; and indigenous struggles for territorial autonomy. In the constitution “nature” is alternately referred to as “Pachamama,” a political subject with rights, and “biodiversity,” an assemblage of genetic assets, environmental services, and national patrimony. To make sense of this mixture of Amerindian cosmology and the logics of bio-capital, I designed a multi-sited ethnographic study to investigate strategies of social movement resistance, forms of scientific knowledge production, and modes of resource extraction. Over sixteen months (2015-16), my ethnographic fieldwork crossed Andean and Amazonian Ecuador. In Quito, I explored how Acción Ecológica, a prominent women-led ecologist NGO, birthed Ecuador’s modern environmental movement and launched a transnational campaign to “keep the oil in the soil.” I also studied the protest politics of “YASunidos” a youth movement that held massive public demonstrations to “make the cry of the jungle heard” in the capital city’s streets and plazas to end oil drilling in Yasuní. At the Tiputini Biodiversity Station, a laboratory located in the most biodiverse place on Earth along the northern border of Yasuní National Park, I used the methodologies of science studies to explore how biologists’ experiences of the forest’s biodiversity enriched reductive discourses of sustainable development that describe “biodiversity” as merely a commodity in the global bio-economy. Finally, I travelled with “Yakuchaski Warmikuna” a pluri-national delegation of indigenous women along the rivers of the southern border of Yasuní National Park documenting their efforts to mobilize women for a march against the State’s expansion of the oil frontier. These “river messengers” warned communities of the dangers of oil contamination, they described “extractivism” to be a form of gendered violence and they emphasized the importance of indigenous women’s political agency in territorial struggles against pollution and global movements resisting climate change. Ethnographic analysis of the interconnections between environmentalists, conservation biologists and indigenous activists reveals not only the mestizo genealogies of Ecuador’s “rights of nature” but also the ways in which social movements act as knowledge producers and scientists engage the state and nation as political actors. Reconstituting the Nature of the Nation demonstrates that ecological crisis like biodiversity loss and climate change cannot be disentangled from material struggles over extractive capitalism, the historical legacies of post-colonialism, forms of scientific knowledge production, and questions of race, gender, and indigeneity in the post-colonial Global South. Subaltern actors, like the indigenous and mestizo women with whom I conducted research, must be taken seriously as leaders in an emergent global environmental justice movement that is resisting climate crisis from the Global South.

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