Latin American Studies Mining Extraction in Latin America
by
Karolien van Teijlingen
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0268

Introduction

The extraction of minerals from the subsoil has a long and troubled history in Latin America. Particularly since the colonization of Abya Yala, mining activity has shaped the political, economic, environmental, social, and cultural dimensions of life in many of its biomes. Given this prominence, it is rather surprising that mining only emerged as a topic of broad inquiry by Latin American(ist) scholars by the end of the 2000s. This recent upsurge in the social science literature on mining has everything to do with the latest boom of Latin America’s extractive sectors due to high commodity prices and a growing demand for resources, particularly by China. The ensuing expansion of the exploration and exploitation of the subsoil spurred profound socio-environmental transformations, conflicts, and social mobilizations all the way from Mexico to Argentina. The extractive boom, moreover, brought back to life national and regional debates on Latin America’s long-standing dependency on export commodities, as well as on the possibility of post-extractive development. Large-scale mineral mining, arguably among the most socially and environmentally disruptive of all extractive sectors, has been at the center of this emerging literature. It has attracted the attention of scholars from across the social science disciplines, but particularly from anthropology, political science, and human geography. With theoretical foundations in political ecology, social movement theory, feminist studies, neo-Marxism, and environmental governance, they have set out to unravel the strategies of corporations and governments to promote mining, the social and environmental consequences for those regions where mining touches ground, and the widespread resistance against mining by grassroots groups and environmental movements. Their inquiries brought about a rich and colorful scholarship that not only apprehends the issue of mining, but also makes meaningful contributions to broader debates in Latin American studies on—for example—social inequality, citizenship, development, environmental governance, resistance, gender, and environmental justice. This article presents a selection from the social science debate on contemporary mining in Latin America, with a strong emphasis on large-scale mining. It is organized around several key strands of the literature, ranging from the international political economy of mining and the concept of extractivism, to the micropolitics of gender and indigeneity that characterize the industry. It concludes by addressing a subfield that seems to be somewhat at odds with the topic of mining, but is highly related: the flourishing explorations of post-extractivist futures in Latin America.

General Overviews

A truly comprehensive overview or textbook for (under)graduates on mining in Latin America is yet to be written. There are, however, various edited volumes and articles that may serve as such in terms of the range of countries they cover, the multiplicity of disciplines they represent, or the diversity of topics they address. For a historical overview of mining from the colonial era through the national period and into the 20th century, refer to Brown 2012 or Brown’s separate Oxford Bibliographies article “Mining.” The latter also provides important references to work on small-scale mining in Latin America. Moving into the 21st century, the work of development geographer Anthony Bebbington and his colleagues has been of particular influence. One of the first authors to systematically address the impacts and conflicts of the resource boom sweeping the South American continent, Bebbington employs a political ecology framework to produce edited volumes, each with a slightly different thematic focus. Bebbington 2007 concentrates on the territorial transformations that mining engenders, Bebbington 2011 analyzes mining’s problematic relation to development, and Bebbington and Bury 2013 highlights the multiscalar socio-environmental conflicts spurred by mining. Although their titles might suggest otherwise, all three volumes center on the Andean countries. Bebbington, et al. 2008 is a synthesis article that may serve as introduction to the relation between mining and development and the impact of mining on livelihoods. Two other overview works approach the commodities boom from a political science perspective, with Haarstad 2012 highlighting the political spaces created by social movements and Ellner 2020 evaluating different extractivist policies across the region. Finally, Alimonda and Escobar 2011 and Deonandan and Dougherty 2016 represent a more critical approach that characterizes much of the literature on mining in Latin America.

  • Alimonda, Héctor, and Arturo Escobar. La naturaleza colonizada: Ecología política y minería en América Latina. Buenos Aires, Argentina: CLACSO, 2011.

    Bringing together many Latin American political ecologists, this edited volume puts on display a great variety of critical voices on large-scale mineral mining in Latin America. It includes theoretical essays by Arturo Escobar, Stephen Bunker, and Maristella Svampa, followed by a wealth of case studies and a section with interviews of anti-mining movement leaders that bridges the gap between academia and local struggles.

  • Bebbington, Anthony. Minería, movimientos sociales y respuestas campesinas: Una ecología política de transformaciones territoriales. Lima, Peru: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos—CEPES, 2007.

    One of the first edited volumes on the commodities boom of the 2000s and the territorial transformations and conflicts it generates, in Spanish. Although the cases presented in the book are on Peru and Ecuador, the introductory chapter sets out an analytical framework for the analysis of mining, the relevance of which reaches far beyond the Andean context.

  • Bebbington, Anthony, ed. Social Conflict, Economic Development and the Extractive Industry: Evidence from South America. Oxon, UK: Routledge, 2011.

    This edited volume covers a key question in debates over mining: How might the extractive industries contribute to development? The volume contains seven case studies from the Andean-Amazonian region and a few comparative chapters. Going beyond formal strategies and institutional mechanisms for mining-led development, the book particularly delves into the role of more bottom-up social and political processes (including conflict) in shaping the relation between mining and development.

  • Bebbington, Anthony, and Jeffrey Bury, eds. Subterranean Struggles: New Dynamics of Mining, Oil, and Gas in Latin America. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2013.

    Published at the height of the extractive boom, this edited volume offers a comprehensive analysis of the multiscalar dynamics of the “new geopolitical ecology in Latin America” (p. 17) and ensuing socio-environmental conflicts. Especially chapter 2 offers a useful analysis of the dimensions of the extractive super cycle in the region, whereas subsequent chapters trace the often conflictive ramifications of the boom at case-study level. Suitable for undergraduates.

  • Bebbington, Anthony, Leonith Hinojosa, Denise Humphreys Bebbington, Maria Luisa Burneo, and Ximena Warnaars. “Contention and Ambiguity: Mining and the Possibilities of Development.” Development and Change 39.6 (2008): 887–914.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-7660.2008.00517.x

    This article presents a nuanced overview of the dilemmas and key questions concerning the relation between mining and development in Latin America. It introduces concepts central to this debate, such as the resource curse, in an accessible way, making it a suitable introductory text for undergraduate students.

  • Brown, Kendall. A History of Mining in Latin America: From the Colonial Era to the Present. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2012.

    This book takes the reader through Latin America’s colonial and postcolonial history of mining. The emblematic mines of Potosí in Bolivia form the author’s starting point, but the different chapters of the book also pay attention to mining areas in Mexico, Peru, Chile, and Brazil. Thematically, the book focuses on the changing capitalist relations, labor conditions, worker’s resistance, and the use of technology that marked this rich history.

  • Deonandan, Kalowatie, and Michael L. Dougherty, eds. Mining in Latin America: Critical Approaches to the New Extraction. Routledge Studies of the Extractive Industries and Sustainable Development. New York: Routledge, 2016.

    Owing up to its title, this edited volume presents a critical account of the role of transnational capital in human rights violations and mining conflicts in Latin America.

  • Ellner, Steve. Latin American Extractivism: Dependency, Resource Nationalism, and Resistance in Broad Perspective. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2020.

    As one of the latest edited volumes on mining in Latin America, the book compares the post-neoliberal extractivist policies of the “Pink Tide countries” (Bolivia, Mexico, Ecuador and Argentina) and the more neoliberal policies of “conservative right-wing governments” (Colombia, Honduras, Peru). Based on this comparison, the book refutes the widely held notion that all Latin American countries, independent from their political color, have been seized by extractivist forces.

  • Haarstad, Håvard. New Political Spaces in Latin American Natural Resource Governance. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1057/9781137073723

    Although not focused on mineral mining alone, this edited volume provides intriguing insights into the governance of natural resources under the New Left governments that were in power at the time of publication. The chapters of the book analyze the new spaces for claim-making by civil society organizations that arose during these regimes, as well as the persisting challenges these groups face in pushing for social justice.

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