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Conservation and Society
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Year : 2015  |  Volume : 13  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 321-322

Social Conflict, Economic Development and Extractive Industry: Evidence from South America

Department of Geography-Geology, Illinois State University, Normal, IL, USA

Correspondence Address:
Matthew Himley
Department of Geography-Geology, Illinois State University, Normal, IL
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Date of Web Publication24-Nov-2015

How to cite this article:
Himley M. Social Conflict, Economic Development and Extractive Industry: Evidence from South America . Conservat Soc 2015;13:321-2

How to cite this URL:
Himley M. Social Conflict, Economic Development and Extractive Industry: Evidence from South America . Conservat Soc [serial online] 2015 [cited 2020 Aug 4];13:321-2. Available from: http://www.conservationandsociety.org/text.asp?2015/13/3/321/170413

Mineral, oil, and gas extraction are transformative activities. Wells are drilled, shafts tunneled, mountainsides blasted-all with the aim of wresting from the earth those parts of the subsoil deemed valuable by human socio-economic systems. Moreover, these physical landscape modifications are just the beginning. Property rights, livelihood strategies, water flow, gender relations, air quality, class structures, land values, state revenues, and human health are among the other things typically altered or reconfigured by the growth of extractive industries. Given the scope of these oft-witnessed transformations, extractive activities are commonly viewed with unease as well as expectation-as risky transgressions of the order of things as well as singular opportunities to harness the transformative potential of extraction to spur development processes.

How and under what conditions might extractive industries effectively stimulate development? This is the question that contributors to Social conflict, economic development and extractive industry seek to address. Drawing on research undertaken in South America's Andean-Amazonian region (Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru), the authors set out to understand if and how social conflict related to extractive industries fosters progressive institutional change that, in turn, generates more equitable and sustainable development in areas affected by extractive operations. As Anthony Bebbington explains in the introductory chapter (Chapter 1), recent social science research has underscored the centrality of institutional context in determining the contributions of extractive industries to development. Less is known, however, about the social and political processes that lead to the emergence of more progressive forms of extractive-sector regulation. The Andean-Amazonian region provides rich ground to investigate the possible role of social conflict in such institutional innovation, given not only the region's long history of extractive activities, but also the fact that the last two decades have seen an aggressive expansion of the extractive frontier, along with a surge in related social conflicts. Recent political developments also make the region significant; while the 2000s saw Peru stay the neoliberal course, Bolivia and Ecuador elected left-leaning leaders (Evo Morales and Rafael Correa, respectively) on the basis of their progressive political platforms. An explicit aim of this collection is to evaluate the effects of this (purportedly) post-neoliberal turn for the social and ecological regulation of extractive industries.

The book is divided into three main sections. In addition to the introduction by Anthony Bebbington, Section 1 includes two cross-country comparative chapters. Chapter 2 (by José Carlos Orihuela and Rosemary Thorp) offers a history of extractive economies in the region, from the colonial era to the present. A central insight of the chapter is that current options for Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru to manage their extractive industries effectively (that is in ways that foster quality resource-based development) are strongly shaped (and constrained) by these countries' long-run political-economic histories. The idea that 'history matters' also infuses Chapter 3 (by John Crabtree and Isabel Crabtree-Condor), which offers a comparative analysis of state-society relations across the countries, analysing how the historical evolution of both state structures and social movements has shaped if and how conflicts surrounding extractive activities are mediated. The authors conclude that state capacity to arbitrate conflict and generate institutional change is limited in the region (not least because of historically weak state presence in rural areas), though the conditions for the state to assume such a role are probably most favorable in Bolivia, given its longer tradition of state-social movement negotiations.

Section 2 of the book comprises seven in-depth case studies. Taken together, these case studies report mixed findings on the potential for extractive industry-related social conflict to lead to progressive institutional innovation. Anthony Bebbington's study of mining conflicts in northern Peru (Chapter 4) is among the more optimistic, if cautiously so. He contends that the conflicts generated by mining expansion in this area have catalysed efforts to develop proposals for land-use planning and indigenous consultation at the national level. In Chapter 8, Laura Rival's assessment of the Yasuní-ITT initiative in Ecuador (which was designed to provide the country compensation for the non-exploitation of oil reserves) suggests that while this proposal generated intra-governmental tensions, it also fostered new forms of social and political collaboration, and offered a potential resolution to the entrenched contradiction between conservation and oil extraction. Other authors, however, point to lost opportunities, as is most clearly shown in Brian Pratt's chapter on Indigenous protest at the Camisea gas fields in Peru (Chapter 9). Pratt documents how tensions between the agendas of local groups and those of allied international NGOs resulted in the protest movement having limited influence. Perhaps most disturbingly, Javier Arellano-Yanguas' analysis of mining-tax transfer mechanisms in Peru (Chapter 5) indicates how institutional innovation may actually lead to further conflict. Designed to respond to mining-related social unrest, these mechanisms for devolving mining rents to producing regions have led to new rounds of conflict over access to, and use of, these fiscal resources.

As might be expected, several authors document how powerful actors with interests in extractive-sector expansion have resisted progressive institutional innovation. In Chapter 6, for instance, Jennifer Moore and Teresa Velásquez show how the Correa government, the mining industry, and foreign diplomats worked together to limit efforts to reform mining policy in Ecuador. For Correa, this involved deploying notions of national sovereignty over mineral resources to undermine the anti-mining movement. This chapter and also Chapter 7 (by Denise Humphreys Bebbington, on hydrocarbon expansion in the Bolivian Chaco) address the matter of whether the post-neoliberalisms on view in Bolivia and Ecuador have led to more progressive forms of extractive-sector regulation. In both cases, the evidence is less than encouraging, as these governments have continued to prioritise the expansion of mineral, oil, and gas extraction over social and environmental concerns, in particular concerns related to the effects of industry expansion on indigenous and campesino communities.

As Anthony Bebbington explains in the preface, this book project grew out of a sustained period of interaction among the authors. This interaction is perceptible to the reader (chapters consistently cross-reference each other), and it leads the book to have an analytical coherence crucial for edited volumes. In addition, the afterword by Stuart Kirsch and the conclusion by Anthony Bebbington (which comprise Section 3) provide valuable meta-analyses of the individual case studies. Given these studies' mixed findings regarding the role of conflict in generating progressive institutional change, in the end, the book does not deliver a roadmap for activists or policy makers seeking to transform extractive-sector regulation in ways that foster inclusive and sustainable development (indeed, such a roadmap was never the book's goal). It does, however, provide invaluable insights regarding the social and political conditions that might lead to such innovation, as well as the obstacles progressive actors will face as they seek to advance their visions within diverse political and economic circumstances. In this respect, the book has a relevance that reaches far beyond the Andean-Amazonian region.

The book also raises important questions for future research. One relates to the matter of explaining the absence of conflict, an issue broached by David Preston in his study of social responses to mining-related water contamination in the Pilcomayo basin in Bolivia (Chapter 10). While the book as a whole takes the presence of conflict as its central object of analysis, Preston aims to understand why the residents of this area have engaged in such little protest and struggle related to mining's water-quality impacts. His chapter serves as a reminder that while conflicts related to extractive industries have proliferated in the Andean-Amazonian region, conflict is not ever-present, and it exists at various levels of intensity. This recognition impels the question of what institutional forms, power relations, political-economic histories, and other factors explain this uneven landscape of conflict (and its relative absence in some extractive areas). Another question relates to how the development effects of extractive activities are assessed. In his conclusion, Anthony Bebbington contends that the book's case studies provide scant evidence that extractive industry expansion has led to sustained economic dynamism in affected territories. While this may be the case, a need exists for more thorough analyses of the economic effects of these industries at multiple sites and scales-for instance, analyses that take into account the growth of industry service providers (e.g., environmental consultancies, transportation companies, and construction and engineering firms) that may be located within country but far from the site of extraction. Mapping out these broader and more complex economic geographies of contemporary mineral, oil, and gas extraction may aid in addressing another crucial question that Anthony Bebbington poses in his conclusion: why do Andean states continue to pursue extraction as a development strategy despite abundant evidence that equitable and sustainable development remains an elusive goal in the region's extractive areas?


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