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Year : 2018  |  Volume : 16  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 8-20

Transformed Territories of Gendered Care Work in Ecuador's Petroleum Circuit

1 Department of Sociology and Gender Studies, Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO), Ecuador
2 Contributing Editor of Flor del Guanto, Latino Services Coordinator at the Orange County Rape Crisis Centre, and Assistant Researcher at FLACSO, Ecuador

Correspondence Address:
Cristina Cielo
Department of Sociology and Gender Studies, Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO)
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/cs.cs_16_77

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Date of Web Publication26-Mar-2018


This article explores the transformation of indigenous women's care work in the Ecuadorian Amazon, as their communities are increasingly integrated into petroleum industry activities. Care work activities–not only for social reproduction, but also to sustain cycles of fertility, growth and waste interdependent with nature–constitute affective ecologies. In development sites of Ecuador's petroleum circuit, such activities are domesticated and devalued, and the territories produced by women's care work are progressively delimited. Once aimed at social and natural reproduction, their care practices now focus on household and familial reproduction. This article is based on two years of ethnographic and qualitative research in indigenous communities of the Amazonian provinces of Sucumbíos and Pastaza. We bring feminist economic approaches to the study of affective ecologies to show how fundamental changes in inhabitants' historically shaped relationships to, and conservation of, nature both depend on and produce gendered ecological and socioeconomic relations.

Keywords: care work, petroleum, gender, territories, indigenous communities, Ecuador, Amazon

How to cite this article:
Cielo C, Sarzosa NC. Transformed Territories of Gendered Care Work in Ecuador's Petroleum Circuit. Conservat Soc 2018;16:8-20

How to cite this URL:
Cielo C, Sarzosa NC. Transformed Territories of Gendered Care Work in Ecuador's Petroleum Circuit. Conservat Soc [serial online] 2018 [cited 2021 Feb 27];16:8-20. Available from: http://www.conservationandsociety.org/text.asp?2018/16/1/8/225149

   Introduction Top

Ecuador's petroleum circuit is made of the strategic territorial linkages that incorporate local and national resources and economies into global energy flows and markets. Sites where oil is explored, extracted and processed–often near or in conservation areas–provide privileged points of study to understand the transformation of relations, landscapes and subjects in these processes. This article examines shifts in affective ecologies in the contested production of oil territories in the Ecuadorian Amazon. It highlights the transformation of indigenous communities' lived territories as these are generated through caring activities that have been increasingly incorporated into the petroleum circuit. Care work for men, women and children includes activities that regenerate not only their human communities, but also other situated, non-human agents, including plants, animals, forests, rivers and spirits that inhabit their natural environment. We look at reproductive practices in two territories—1) central southern Amazon where oil drilling is a future threat, and 2) northern Amazon, where territories are being drastically reshaped by development projects that compensate communities for petroleum exploitation.

In contrasting these two sites, we focus on the changed spaces for women's activities and affective relations, as their communities are incorporated into consumption and labour markets that accompany oil and development projects. Comparing the ways in which indigenous Amazonian groups reorganise their human and non-human environments in areas of oil exploration and extraction bears witness to the radical ruptures brought about by development in oil territories. In the community where oil is currently drilled, we see that women's care work becomes limited to domestic spaces and the gendered dynamics of care work make women more dependent on men's salaried jobs. Juxtaposing the two sites allows us to understand political and economic transformations, on the one hand, and changes in affect and care relations, on the other. We explore the gendered territories and inequalities produced in these processes. Many critical studies on conservation highlight the disruptive effects of conservation regulation on relational ontologies and social reproduction. This article examines the political economy of affective relations and the shifts in gendered hierarchies and territories imbricated in changing human associations to their environments.

As Amazonian communities increasingly integrate petroleum industry activities into their lives, the care practices community members perform in their changed contexts create new territories. The affective production of territories and ecologies (Aitken and An 2012; Singh 2013) emerges from inhabitants' historical relationships of interdependence, co-responsibility and co-constitution with nature that makes the reproduction of human and non-human life possible (Brannelly, Ward and Ward 2015). Not only do men and women collectively work to sustain their families and their communities through culturally- shaped practices, but these practices also implicate them ecologically in cycles of fertility, growth and waste (Brownhill and Turner 2006; Orozco 2012). Such interdependent participation in nature configures subjectivities that partake in situ ated, more-than-human communalities. By studying the impacts of development infrastructure on these dynamics, we identify fundamental transformation of Amazonian subjectivities in oil territories.

We begin with an introduction to Ecuador's momentous establishment of a plurinational state that seeks to provide a framework for the co-existence of diverse ontologies. We discuss this hopeful recognition of indigenous ecologies written in the country's constitution, as well as the way that Ecuador's development aims and how petroleum dependence impacts the promises of plurinationalism. We then look at territories of the Zápara people, in Ecuador's central southern Amazon region, where oil extraction is yet to begin, highlighting the heterogeneity and complexity of those communities' affective ecologies. We also appraise the “Millennium City,” a state development project recently built in the northern region of Ecuador's Amazon, where oil extraction first began in 1973. Through this latter case, we analyse the ways that care work in oil-producing contexts limits women's affective relations to the human and domestic spheres, diminishing the territories shaped by their care work. We analyse the consequences of these processes in the unequal differentiation of gender, in which women's autonomy and possibilities for self-determination are limited by their increased dependence on men's work. Ultimately, oil territories are engendered through the domestication of women's care work. This fractures the affective relations of care between these women and specific situated topographies of the non-human.

   Diverse Ecologies in Contemporary Political Economies Top

In Ecuadorian media and social imaginaries, women lead protests against the expanding extractive frontier in the Amazonian region of Ecuador (see [Figure 1]). The prominence of women's organisations in defence of their territories threatened by exploitation has been noted throughout Latin America and Africa (Turner and Brownhill 2001; Isla 2015; Federici 2004).

Ecuador's national government has declared that petroleum extraction is essential for the country's progress, especially for the development of historically underserved and marginalised Amazonian communities. In this official view, infrastructure and projects funded by profits from petroleum extraction can help to conserve the Amazon, mitigating its inhabitants' economic needs that could lead to unregulated predatory practices. In contrast to this view, our research–conducted between 2014 and 2015 through interviews, focus group discussions and participant observation–reveals that Ecuador's development projects in fact decrease Amazonian communities' caring for their environments. As we will see in the descriptions below, women's activities and affective relations with their natural environments become limited to more human and social environments.
Figure 1: Indigenous Amazon women march to Quito in 2013 Photo source: Ecuavisa

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We argue that the importance of women's role in the defence of territory is not only explained by the threat of material dispossession (Harvey 2005) that resource exploitation involves, but must also consider the extractive industry's subsumption (Hardt 1999) of inhabitant's affective relationships with their surroundings. A focus on the transformation of the territories that are constituted by women's care work in our two study sites allows us to trace the changing affective ecologies in the Amazon (Finer et al 2015). With the increasing incorporation of indigenous areas into oil concession blocks and of indigenous populations into the processes of petroleum production, a sphere of salaried work is progressively separated from a domesticated domain for the regeneration of life, increasingly understood as the social reproduction of the family. This diminishes the possibilities of conservation understood as collective and affective care work, and transforms the sexual division of labour. The gendered work of care–who or what is to be cared for and through what types of activities–creates differentiated and unequal positions in transformed spaces of communality.

Bolivian political philosopher Luis Tapia (2009) argues that in postcolonial states such as Bolivia and Ecuador, diverse modes of social coordination for production and reproduction co-exist within and across national borders. Tapia shows us that the contemporaneity of multiple modes of organisation to sustain collective and natural life shapes plural political structures. Both Bolivia and Ecuador were refounded as plurinational states in their constitutional assemblies of 2009 and 2008, respectively, in response to demands by indigenous movements for the recognition of their diverse “forms of governing” (Tapia 2009). These constitutions established a legal framework to legitimate territorialised assemblages and the varied forms of work, reproduction, authorities and intersubjectivity (Quijano 2000) that regulate situated ecologies. This point is enriched by affective ecology's insistence on understanding collective organisation beyond the human (Dewsbury 2012). Ecuador's plurinational constitution aims to protect indigenous modes of organisation, as these are shaped by their specific relationships to nature.

Modes of indigenous conviviality include activities for the reproduction of their social and natural environments that shape the economies and territories they inhabit (Perkins 2007). These forms of collective life are as corporeal and affective as they are conceptual and political (Agrawal 2005; Galcerán 2007; Lordon 2014). Affect theories (Thrift 2004; Gregg and Seigworth 2010) help us to identify diverse ontologies and ecologies, in dialogue with diverse materialist theories on the ecology of human-nature relations (Salleh 2005; Foster 2013). Yet the Ecuadorian case shows us that these approaches must be complemented with political, economic and feminist perspectives, as affective associations shift in the rapidly changing Amazon.

The expansion of the extractive frontier is central to Ecuador's postneoliberal development project (Dávalos 2010; Acosta 2011), with resource rich areas increasingly integrated into the country's petroleum circuit. At the same time, indigenous communities are increasingly incorporated–politically and subjectively–into the national project, and therefore into global commodity chains of petroleum production. In this context, feminist economists' emphasis on reproduction and care work (Narotzky 2007; Vega and Gutierrez 2014) helps us to examine gender differentiated possibilities for participation in collaborative and vital co-becomings. With the subordination of the reproductive organisation of life into development logics of increasing production (Dalla Costa and Dalla Costa 1999), women's work not only takes on new forms, but is also devalued, as the territories shaped by their care work are delimited. The care work and territories that sustain the local cycles of fertility necessary for human and non-human life are subsumed into cycles of production, consumption and waste in which women's affective relationships are increasingly limited to the human, and circumscribed within a domestic scale.

This gendered separation of the spaces of productive and reproductive labour is part of the transformation of indigenous communities' affectively constituted territories by the oil industry. The centrality of petroleum extraction for Ecuador's insertion into the global market perpetuates the country's primary commodity exportation model, once dependent on agricultural products such as banana and cacao (Acosta 2011). Raw materials still form 92% of Ecuador's exports, with petroleum representing 55% of total exports between 2000 and 2012, and income from petroleum comprising 29% of government income in the same period (Larrea 2013). Most of Ecuador's oil is in the Amazon basin in the eastern region of Ecuador, in areas inhabited by indigenous groups. In the section that follows, we examine the practices of care and the affective ecologies in indigenous communities of the Zápara nationality. The identification of Zápara activities and collective subjectivities in areas threatened by petroleum exploration but not yet by its exploitation, provides a clear contrast to the case of the Millenium City, where we examine transformed territories and gendered hierarchies of care that illustrate the limits of Ecuador's radical plurinational political project.

   The Complexity of Interdependence in Zápara Territoriality Top

Many of the Amazonian women who mobilise to defend their territories are from the central southern Ecuadorian province of Pastaza, where communities of the Zápara1 people live. Though the first seismic explorations for oil in Pastaza were in 1965, oil extraction has not yet begun in the province, in part because of the historical resistance of the indigenous groups in the area. As we shall see, positions regarding mineral and hydrocarbon extraction have created and reactivated conflicts within and among indigenous Amazon groups (Vallejo and Duhalde 2015). Populations who seek to defend their territories against the incursion of oil extraction, as have factions of the Zápara nationality, fear that oil extraction in their territories will disrupt the relationality and interdependence they have established within the territories and ecologies they occupy.

One of the 14 indigenous nationalities of Ecuador, the Zápara live in small communities dispersed throughout their territory of 241,236 hectares. Their officially recognised territory, however, is overlapped by both the conservation areas under the Ministry of the Environment's SocioBosque programme, and oil blocks awarded as concession in 2012 to the Chinese company Andes Petroleum (see [Figure 2]).
Figure 2: Map of natural protected areas, petroleum territories and reseach study sites in Ecuador.Map by Paola Maldonado and Amanda Yepez

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The Zápara nationality's narrative claims, “We were more than a million Zápara. But over the course of time and changing norms that attracted foreigners, we could no longer inhabit our land” (Torimbo community member, Interview December 30, 2014). The Zápara were once considered extinct in official registers. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, they were integrated into multi-ethnic missionary 'zones of refuge' that protected local populations from being coerced to work for hacienda owners; then were decimated at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries by the displacements, epidemics, land transformation and enslavement dynamics of the rubber extraction period. Zápara processes of ethnic identification and consolidation began in 1990s, as they organised to confront the threats that accompanied seismic oil explorations. These threats included new social divisions in their communities, as well as the disappearance of animals and the contamination of rivers (Sawyer 2004). In the 2010 census, there were only 559 self-identified Zápara.

Claims to ethnicity and native identities among the Záparas are traversed by political positions vis-à-vis development and oil extraction. Individuals who describe themselves as an original Zápara affirm that they are the ones who value and uphold their connection to the land, animals and natural environment, as opposed to the 'migrants' who have more recently claimed Zápara ethnicity to negotiate with state and oil company representatives. The 'migrants' referred to by the 'native' Zápara are multi-ethnic families and communities of Zápara, Achuar and Andoa indigenous populations who have inhabited the territories for centuries. Yet long-standing historical conflicts are now reconfigured as pro and anti-extractive positions, supported by claims to caring for the territory. A Zápara who identifies as indigenous to the area explains:

The migrants don't care, since it's not their land, they're not concerned. They are not interested in cherishing and protecting the Zápara jungle… so they lack respect for us, they continue to kill our dear animals, finishing off the diverse environment, killing trees, building farms… they want to destroy our vision, our biodiversity. (Torimbo community member, Interview December 30, 2014)

Despite these ethnic, territorial and political claims, Zápara communities share many practices and visions. Whether they promote or resist oil extraction and development, Zápara's daily corporeal, affective and oneiric activities establish what Simone Bignall (2010) calls “complex selves.” This refers to heterogeneous assembled forms that find stability in the organised articulation of differences over time. In this sense, territorial and ecological sustainability is not reached through uniformity or abstraction, but in the articulation of diversity across the human and the non-human, which includes animals, natural elements, and spirits. Such “complex selves” characterise Zápara–and more generally, Amazonian–vital reproductive cycles. To reproduce, to produce, even to hunt, is to take care. In a postcolonial understanding of care (MacGill 2014), this not only means to look after, but also to tend to and become responsible for, both materially and in terms of belonging together. Hunting, for the Zápara, is not simply a matter of capturing animals for comestible provision, nor is it a transaction that implicates only the hunter and the prey. Hunting, instead, involves submitting oneself and one's body to both the natural and dream worlds:

To hunt a tapir, we have to bring together those leaches that stick on all our body. Or sometimes we dream that we're in a water hole bathing and leaches stick to our entire body. These have to be carefully removed so that they don't suck my blood. If we dream with leaches, we will surely hunt a big, big animal, because when we take him, and kill and gut him, the blood of the tapir flows and flows. (Masaramu community member, Interview December 18, 2014)

Dreams are central to Zápara reproduction. The Záparas depend on their dreams, and their ability to control particular dreams, to hunt, to plant and to order the diverse world that they live in and participate in reproducing (Bilhaut 2011). Their dreams help the Zápara to not only make decisions about their daily activities, but also orient their organisational and political action beyond the national space. Providing Zápara with warnings and suggestions, dreams are a “form of relating and communicating between human and non-humans” (Bilhaut 2011: 125). Zápara dreams can be affected by the incorporation of the non-human world into one's own body, through inhaling or smoking tobacco, ingesting certain plants, submerging oneself in the river, etc. It is in this sense that assemblages of human and non-human elements comprise the territories of the Zápara communities.

These territories are the spatialised complex bodies that Bignall (2010) argues affects bring into being. Bignall's useful concept of the complex self “enables a model of selfhood that constantly flees or escapes its own limits by forging increasingly complex and active relations with other bodies” (12). Aitken and An (2012) note the consequent link between diverse ecological organisation as an interdependent multiplicity generated by difference, and the activism that emerges from the complex selves' interest in cultivating their heterogeneous interactions. Záparas' anti-extractive positions are shaped by their acknowledged need to care for–look after, tend to and become responsible for–the diversity of these relations. Along with Escobar (2008), we prefer to speak of the complex selves that Amazon inhabitants occupy as affectively constructed territories, as sites of situated practices and learning in which identities are enacted.

The concept of territory brings to bear insights on the political economy of place-based becomings and the historically produced relations of power that determine their possibilities (Lopes de Souza 2000). It also provides analytics for grasping or making intelligible “ecological bodies in motion [characterised by] affect, movement, tendency and intensity” (Aitken and An 2012: 7), particularly as affective and care work shape territories. Understanding complex selves as territories helps us to link life-worlds and their everyday activities to political projects, helping us to understand the transformation of epistemologies and ontologies in contemporary political economies.

Zápara territories are shaped, then, by the affective, corporeal and symbolic relations of care, understood as “a way of being in the world that the habits and behaviours of our body facilitate [that] cannot be completely articulated apart from the particular agents and situations involved” (Hamington 2004: 1-2). In this sense, gender differentiated activities shape varied yet overlapping territories for Zápara men and women. Men hunt, fish and defend their territories through negotiations, war and by communicating with other worlds as shamans. Women cultivate crops and use their extended knowledge of plants to take care of human bodies. Thus, the territories that Zápara men experience, inhabit and shape are defined by routes, limits and nodes. They know the locations of the salting rocks that different animals frequent; they can identify the agreed upon borders between adjoining indigenous groups and those that delimit conservation or extractive sites; and, they recognise the flows of the powerful river that cleans and takes dreams and throws them away.

Women, through their very different reproductive activities, connect with other beings and spaces. In times of war or conflict, women send birds through their songs, to protect the men. When they cultivate crops, they acknowledge the spiritual owners of the land that take the shape of jaguars, snakes and other animals. One Zápara woman described her ritual for planting: “With these plants, you hit like this, you use the annatto plant, and you strike here, and you call all the ancients who have cultivated this soil” (Torimbo community member, Interview December 21, 2014). Another spoke of the spirit that accompanied her grandmother's crops in the shape of a boa constrictor.

The snake had her particular power, taking the shape of a boa to shed fortune on a good harvest… the women at that time were powerful, they fought. They also had their own power, that power had a song. It was also the power of the whistle. When [my grandmother] cultivated land, the boa came. The boa made them dream so that there would be good harvest…. so one should never kill the boa; when you see it, you can touch it, caress it gently and then leave it. When you go home, you will sleep and the vision will be there. The vision will give you the power. It will tell you, “You cultivate, I will take care. I am the mother of the fields, and you will be my friend.” And you are sure to find the boa in the fields, the boa will always be there. That's how they were given power. Without the dream, they could not cultivate… when they went to the fields, they inhaled, they drank, and that's how they continued. (Torimbo community member, Interview December 21, 2014)

Not only do people care for the land and the animals, but they also enable the continued survival of human communities. Such a focus on mutual interdependence is key to understanding a “body's belonging to a world of encounters; or a world's belonging to a body of encounters” (Gregg and Seigworth 2010: 2).

Human conviviality with non-humans “emphasise[s] 'the open-ended becoming' of the world [in which] the 'fixing' of the human comes into view as a problem” (Whatmore 2013: 35). This is the 'belonging to the land' as opposed to owning the land that MacGill (2014) emphasises is part of Australian indigenous cosmovisions. Zápara territorialisations are ecologically organised by the spatial distribution of their purinas and communities. Purinas are jungle areas that are far away from human settlements and not permanently inhabited. Groups of Zápara–as well as other Amazonian indigenous groups with purina systems (Chavez, Lara and Moreno 2005)–instead travel two or three times a year to these areas, densely populated by animals, to hunt, fish and collect diverse varieties of plants and seeds. These areas tend to be highly biodiverse, with salting rocks frequented by tigers, pumas and black panthers, places where the whole family travels and intergenerational learning takes place.

We also have some crops there… we go during the children's [school] vacations. Every family goes to their purina…. so we go there, and stay in the little house we have there. There is hunting nearby. We can easily find fish and fruits and stay there two or three weeks. Then we come back, making sure it's clean around the little house… we have to take care of it, all of us who have this purina, it has to be cared for… because if we don't, where will we hunt? Where will we have this land and fields? (Torimbo community member, Interview December 18, 2014)

Families bring smoked meat and fish back to their communities from the fertile purinas.

The communities that Zápara live in most of the time are quite small, made up of a few groups of families whose houses are at some distance from the other (see [Figure 3]).
Figure 3: Zápara community in Pastaza Photograph by Corinne Duhalde

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The once nomadic Záparas were encouraged to settle by missionaries, but these communities are impermanent. It is common for groups to leave a community to begin another separate one if problems arise. One older Zápara woman told us that she always advised her children to make their homes “far, far away from each other… far, far away, that's how you can live in peace” (Llanchamacocha community member, Interview January 6, 2015). Such a transitory relationship to specific places shapes Zápara territorialities and relations to other beings, animals, trees in extended spaces. Such distances between family groups, as well as the flexibility of their social spaces, make animal, plant and spirit life that much more important in the Zápara's daily activities. As in other Amazon communities that Eduardo Kohn (2007) describes, dogs are the most important animals for the Zápara. Their importance, however, has little to do with their anthropomorphising, but with the role that they play as the principal hunting 'technology' of Záparas. Domesticated pigs, monkeys, parrots, toucans and chickens also share the lives of the families, entering and exiting the open spaces of the houses ([Figure 4]).
Figure 4: Zápara shared spaces with animals Photograph by Corinne Duhalde

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From a young age, children in these communities can describe the animals, plants and spirits with whom they share the territory, with perceptive, knowledgeable and affective detail. In workshops where we asked Zápara children to depict scenes from their lives, their drawings showed human figures as only a small part of a larger world far more populated by carefully detailed animals, plants and spirits. Their concrete knowledge of the physical, social and spiritual characteristics of non-human beings was also impressive: they explained patiently which fish likes to live alone in caves, which feed on mud, which fish have owners who they follow, which fish send messages to humans, as well as the messages sent to humans by different kinds of birds and other animals.

It is precisely this intimate and situated knowledge, and interdependence with nature that anchors the territorial care work of the Zápara. Their social and material production and reproduction incorporate forces of nature and the world beyond. Quite the contrary of an idealisation of nature, it is a very material co-existence with nature that underlies their affective interconnections with, and their care of, life beyond the human. Another Zápara community member explains that if exploitation were permitted, “There will be no more hunting, no more fish, the trees will die, the crops will be done, we would have no way to live anymore” (Torimbo community member, Interview December 15, 2014). The harmful effects of extractive activity on their crops and the lives of animals is very clear to them: stories abound of dead fish, birds and tapir found near wells dug for exploration. Their kindred affinity and co-constitution with the mega diversity that typifies the Amazon region helps us to understand Amazonian populations' resistance to oil exploitation. Using Bignall's terminology, Zápara territories are understood as “complex selves”, in which heterogenous differences compose interdependencies and its members have “an unmediated interest in activism that seeks to safeguard the wider ecological conditions that protect other forms of (non-human) diversity as part of a broad existential milieu” (Bignall 2010: 22).

It is important to emphasise that the Zápara do not live in a harmonious world of human-nature relations. Rather, theirs is a world in which danger, illness and ailments–as well as sustenance and affect–are inextricably bound up with the non-human. For the Zápara, caring for their family members means teaching them how to navigate the spirit world as well, with the help of shamans. Shamans have long helped Amazonian people invoke spirits for their application in social and community conflicts, ranging from disputes over resources to family and personal issues, to questions of organisation and authority (Taussig 1987). Among the Zápara, shamans are now often sought out in strife stemming from opposing positions regarding extraction.

During the course of our study, a shaman hired by a pro-petroleum Zápara used a jungle spirit to attack an anti-petroleum leader. The spirit accidentally killed that leader's son instead. The child's parents lamented that they should never have allowed him to walk along that spirit-filled area alone. A Zápara leader explains, “Just as we can make mistakes, so can the spirits make mistakes” (Torimbo community leader, Fieldnotes January 2015). The territories that emerge from these affective relations with the non-human are shaped by the density of subjectivities that bring together bodies, spaces and spirits (Gebara 2000; Coba 2016). Here, where both perils and provisions directly depend on more than human agencies, the local cycles of fertility determine what 'care' means. As we have seen in the case described, activities of provisioning and organising for the reproduction of life creates territories of care intimately entangled with natural and spiritual life. The President of the Association of Zápara Women put it concisely: “Our economy is our territory and nature” (Gloria Ushigua, Puyo, Interview February 4, 2014).

   Transformations of Care, Territory and Gender in the Millennium City Top

Neither the Zápara, nor other indigenous groups, fully agree among themselves when weighing the benefits and possible risks of the developmental projects that the Ecuadorian government offers in strategic sites of national interest (SENPLADES 2011). This section looks at the site of the Millennium City, examining the transformations of territoriality which are produced through the delimitation of care work and of affective relations with the 'living jungle' (kawsak sacha in kichwa), as Amazonian populations describe their environment. Kawsak sacha is one of the three pillars of the indigenous concept of Sumak Kawsay which means “Living Well,” a notion appropriated by the government's National Development Plan for Living Well. In the case of the Millennium City, however, we will see that such development plans dismantle indigenous ways of living and knowing which plurinationalism sought to safeguard. Apart from kawsak sacha, the other two fundamental notions of Sumak kawsay area wholesome and harm-free earth, as well as ancient knowledge.

The contradictions between indigenous Sumak Kawsay and state policies for 'Living Well' are made clear by comparing the Zápara constitution of territories of care with the experiences of indigenous groups already incorporated into state development projects. Despite important differences among the histories and practices of Amazonian indigenous groups, a rich anthropological literature shows us that Amazonian modes of communality are not organised by the opposition of the human and the non-human (Descola 2013), nor by Western hierarchies of gender differences (Gregor and Tuzin 2001). A rich analytic source for these latter authors is Marilyn Strathern's (1988) work on gender in indigenous communities in Melanesia, in which she highlights the relationality of the categories of men and women, as opposed to their clear separation. Conflict, inequalities and ruptures certainly exist in Amazonian societies, but social relations “lie athwart [our] oppositions” (Viveiros de Castro 2005: 36), and rather than being characterised by opposing categories of male and female, may instead depend on other situated and relationally defined distinctions.

Indigenous socialities such as the Zápara's, that span human and non-human worlds, are also evident in the Kichwa and other indigenous communities of the northeastern region of the Ecuadorian Amazon, where the country's first oil drilling took place in 1972 (Little 2001). A large part of that petroleum exploitation area was declared a natural protected area in 1979 and an intangible reserve in 1999, with decrees that prohibit extractive activities. Yet not only has drilling continued in that region, but the exploration and concession of oil blocks has spread to territories such as the Zápara's, in central and southern Amazon of Ecuador. China's investment in Ecuador's energy infrastructure takes the form of loan-for-oil agreements that require future oil extraction in these exploration sites (Hurtado 2016).

A focus on the changes in everyday caring activities of the Amazonian inhabitants in this political economic context manifests the contradictions between Ecuador's economic development plans and its plurinational political project. National redistributive policies that aim to include diverse indigenous groups in national development have finally only done so by limiting the plurinational aims for the co-existence of diverse ontologies. In contrast to human and non-human conviviality in affective and material activities for reproduction, oil territories require a rupture between productive and reproductive processes. This rupture shifts the territories of care work, reproducing the gendered division of labour and inequalities that are fundamental to market relations (Federici 2005). Our second case looks at such dynamics in Playas de Cuyabeno, a predominantly indigenous Kichwa community.

Most Playas de Cuyabeno residents migrated to the area in 1960s to find fertile land for hunting and cultivation, as well as to escape violence across the border in Colombia. Until 2013, Playas de Cuyabeno was much like the communities of the Zápara nationality described above, although it was more frequented by nearby inhabitants, due to the establishment of a school at the site in 1970 founded in coordination with Capuchin missionaries. Nevertheless, many women and children from Playas remember their old homes much like the domestic spaces described by the Záparas. Women now speak longingly of the parrots and other birds they adopted as pets, the baby fawns they rescued when their mothers were hunted, the monkeys that stayed to live with them because of the food they were offered. These animals came in and out of their homes, where the windows and doors were always open. Women not only cared for their families but also for these animals and their environment.

Only a few houses were located in the central community site. Playas de Cuyabeno community members lived till several kilometres from this central area, on small farms where they cultivated crops and cohabited with the jungle and its animals. Their living arrangements recently and abruptly changed, with the urbanisation of the Playas de Cuyabeno community, with a new Millennium City built over the formerly dispersed community. The Millennium City, built in exchange for the community's consent of oil extraction in their territory (Lyall 2016), changed these spaces as well as the community's understanding of, and participation in, the regeneration of their ecologies. The ambitious project of the Millennium City–the second of its kind and touted as the experimental model for 200 more such cities that were planned in the Amazon region–was established by the state company, Strategic Ecuador, charged with planning and developing infrastructure for populations in critical territories for natural resource extraction. The northeastern Amazon of Ecuador is currently a key site for national economic and productive projects. By bringing infrastructure and basic services to its inhabitants, the state seeks to incorporate them territorially and subjectively into its national project (Cielo, Coba and Vallejo 2016). A fundamental part of this incorporation is the transformation in women's territorial work of care, which include its activities, horizons of meaning 2 and affective ecologies.

The Playas de Cuyabeno Millennium City looks like the kind of gated community one might find in the outskirts of a large metropolitan area. Instead of being surrounded by the urban jungle, however, the new Cuyabeno urbanisation is located in the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve (see [Figure 5]).
Figure 5: Playas de Cuyabeno Millennium City from the Aguarico River Photograph by Lisset Coba

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The Millennium City's 68 prefabricated houses–provided with identical furnishings including an electric stove and computer in each home–are placed at equidistant spaces along cobbled streets with sidewalks, street light posts and signs signalling the different parts of the urbanisation. All of this in a small community solely accessible by river, that hosts few tourists or visitors. To receive houses in this modern urbanisation, Playas community members had to leave their farm homes and commit to live in the central communal area. Houses that were in the central area were destroyed and many family members–particularly the younger generations–rarely visit their farms.

In this context, the transformation of women's care work, and the affective territories it generates, is particularly acute. As with the Zápara people, Playas de Cuyabeno community members previously lived in spaces integrated with the jungle. It is especially among women of the Playas Millennium City, who are living for the first time in such close quarters, that there is a clear nostalgia for living not only among their adopted animals, but also by their crops and in the jungle. Caring for these non-human domains was vital to their reproduction. As newly urbanised residents of the Millennium City, however, families are prohibited from keeping animals near their homes, and a fence separates the urban area from the jungle. They are fined by the Ministry of Environment if animals–especially 'wild' animals–are brought near the Millennium City homes. Nevertheless, some women secretly keep chicken underneath their houses, and cover the area so that they are not caught. On cold days, always secretly, they make small fires to warm up the shivering chicks. Lighting fire is also prohibited in the Millennium City, given the possibility of the houses catching fire, even though much of their traditional cooking was over open fires. Though they are forbidden from doing so, every now and then women cook their traditional plate of grilled fish and yucca.

The abrupt change from community living to residing in the Millennium City is also quite striking for the children and youth. Before they lived in the urbanised community, as one young teen told us, “they had to work and help out” (Playas de Cuyabeno community member, Interview June 18, 2014), carrying water, taking care of animals, fishing, cultivating yucca or banana. Now, they can play late into the night on the community's well lit soccer field. With the street lights on all night long, they no longer fear the spirits in the areas closer to the jungle. Fewer mosquitoes and spirits frequent the area now. When children from Playas made drawings of their previous homes, they often showed a prominent jungle in which their houses were part of the green landscape which they their families were once responsible for looking after and tending. Drawings of the Millennium City, in contrast, highlighted its infrastructure. Children's amazement and even fear of the jungle animals, its spirits and their powers has shifted to awe and wonder directed at the curious and powerful oil platforms nearby. Further, since moving to the Millennium City a year ago, women have been troubled by the many children of their community who died during its construction and during their first few months living there. They explain that the children died from curses sent by surrounding communities by their shamans. The establishment of Millennium City has thus signified violent conflicts and rupture between these communities, and the natural and spirit worlds.

The powerful oil platforms near Playas de Cuyabeno and the natural elements which surround them are intimately connected. As we saw above, the Zápara people understand how potential oil exploitation threatens the water, plants and animals that they depend on. In Playas de Cuyabeno, the development project that compensates Playas residents for the negative effects of exploitation in their territory reconfigures that very territory, separating the Millennium City residents from the plants and animals they had not long ago cared for and depended on. The infrastructure and urban norms of the Millennium City limit the relationships of the residents with the animals and crops. But they are ironically encouraged to embark upon productive projects to raise chickens in regulated cages and cultivate coffee and cocoa on their nearby farms for commercialisation. These projects–thanks to donations of chickens and seeds by the community relations officer of the state oil company, PetroAmazonas–aim to make Playas de Cuyabeno residents less dependent on the jungle. Hunting is proscribed, as it purportedly endangers the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve fauna. Such projects are part of the reconfiguration of territory, domesticating the relations of community members with animals and shifting their agricultural activities from products consumed in conjunction with fish and hunted animals, to commercial goods that can sustain Playas residents' incorporation into a monetised economy. This way, their relationship with 'wild' animals and plants is both simplified and distanced.

These transformed relations are not only physical but affective, producing new materialities and new ecologies. As notions of care, territory and the complex selves of Amazonian ecologies are reconfigured, gender is constructed into a more relevant factor in social inequalities. In the current Zápara context, as in other Amazon contexts (Descola 2001), gender differentiation serves the interdependence and co-construction of human and non-human activities, care and affects. Neera Singh (2013) observed a similar dynamic among the forest-dweller relations in India, noting that in the context of the “relationship of nurturance and care that they share with the forest and its vegetation… gender and other social identities are not as salient as the embodied day-to-day practices and relationships with wild plants and animals” (194).

Negri and Hardt's (1999) insights on the incorporation of affect into current forms of capitalist appropriation of “living labour” can help us understand how affect and care delimit territories. In their view, post Fordist logics of capitalism are characterised not only by the extension of the formal subsumption of labour to capital, in which exploitable work hours and territories are expanded for capitalist accumulation, but also by the intensification of real subsumption (Marx 1973), in which subjectivities, emotions, desires are exploited in the production of value. In this sense, affect–defined in Spinozian terms as the power to act–gives value to labour. Young mothers spend their time and care in helping their children perform well in school, preferring to stay in the urban area to do so, tending less to their more ecologically imbricated farm activities.

What theorisations of capital's expropriation of the general social intellect (see also Vercellone 2007; Morini and Fumagalli 2010) fail to explain, however, are continued and exacerbated racial and gender differences (Gutierrez-Rodriguez 2010; Federici 2006), both material and symbolic. Federici sharply states:

The feminist analysis of the function of sexual division of labour, the function of gender hierarchies, the analysis of the way capitalism has used wage to mobilise women's work in the reproduction of the labour force–all this is lost under the label of 'affective labour'. That this feminist analysis is ignored in the work of Negri and Hardt confirms my suspicions that this theory expresses the interests of a select group of workers, even though it presumes to speak to all workers, all merged in the great caldron of the Multitude. [Their theory's] disinterest in reproductive labour and its presumption that all labour forms a common hides the fact that it is concerned with the most privileged section of the working class. (2006: 6)

Likewise, feminist appraisals of affect theory point to a similarly normative tendency to focus on “good affect” (Hemmings 2005) that is part of the vital becoming of more-than-human organisations, rather than emphasising the “affective dissonance” (Hemmings 2012) that establishes and reproduces unequal social orders (Clough 2008).

Caring for one's family–for both men and women–in the new urbanisation means assuring their present and eventual sustenance through domestic activities and paid employment, which will help them pay for utilities, food and their children's future education. Men in communities, transformed by oil extraction, often hope to work for the petroleum company, a job that would represent not only the promise of a fixed salary, but also the opportunity to fulfil the role of provider. Women, on the other hand, become responsible for the care of their children and the new urbanised homes. In the new Millennium City, neither male nor female residents see much sense in caring for–investing their affective labour in–the surrounding animal and spirit worlds. Residents' relationship to the jungle becomes one of mutual threat: the jungle becomes inhospitable and they are told they endanger nature. Limiting their territories of care protects both themselves and the jungle from these threats. The territories of care do not disappear, but are transformed, as they are constituted by the practical, experiential and affective density of links of concrete and situated ways of taking care of health and life. Residents' territories of care once incorporated non-adjoining spaces such as their farms and purinas. They are now more clearly circumscribed to the Millennium City space and its links to consumption and labour markets. The self of the Amazonian community and body is still complex; it simply incorporates less biodiverse difference into its becoming as production and reproduction are limited to the human sphere.

Further, the insistently social (as opposed to socioecological) organisation of the Millennium City requires domestication of women's care work, limiting this care to their family, particularly focusing on their children's formal education and cleaning of the house. Women complain that housework takes up much more of their time now. Since the most visible difference between the identical houses is how they are tended, and because gossip has increased among neighbours who now live closer than before; sharing newly established public spaces means that there are social obligations to clean house (see [Figure 6]).
Figure 6: Inside the Millennium City houses. Photograph by Ivette Vallejo

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Women told us that they now feel that they must use chemical cleaners, garbage bags and other commercial cleaning products. Women turned housewives are thus more dependent on men who have more ready access to paid work and to money. With the domestication of their care work, women participate less in the generation of territories that emerge from human-natural relations and spend their time producing the household and reproducing their family. The previous horizons of meaning in which fertile relationships to nature were socially organised has now been subjected to contradictory forms of inclusion characterised by ruptures in women's practical and affective relations with nature and a consequent loss of their participation in productive cycles and their autonomy.

The shift in healthcare is another way that women's interdependence with nature is changing. While women in the Millennium City still know about the medicinal use of plants, they increasingly rarely use these plants as their relationship to the jungle becomes more distant. In midwifery, for example, there is little separation between abstract knowledge and its material practice, between nature and the community. Midwives are not paid for their services, but rather consider themselves to be part of the regeneration of their community; midwifery is one of women's most highly respected activities. Their ability to bring new lives safely into the world is developed in close communion with nature. Midwives know the properties of specific plants and animals that a woman might need. This knowledge is shared amongst almost all women, who after their first childbirth assisted by another woman, give birth alone. Since a health centre with doctors was established along with the Millennium City, the experience of childbirth is transforming. Although they don't trust doctors, some women are now afraid of giving birth by themselves.

These forms of knowledge, as well as shamanism, have been weakened as their daily activities have been increasingly incorporated into strategic development projects. The community's shaman notes that his powers have diminished since the Millennium City has been built, as his distance from the spiritual world and the jungle has increased. Concrete forms of knowledge that help Amazon residents negotiate the natural and spirit worlds, along with women's practices in which care work is extended to territories beyond the home and the human, are being domesticated and delegitimised. These processes parallel those that Federici (2005) argues take place in the transition to capitalism in her book 'Caliban and the Witch', in which women's powerful knowledge of life cycles is challenged and limited by capital's restriction of feminine work to the familial reproduction of productive labour (Cielo and Vega 2015).

   Conclusions Top

In areas where exploitation has not yet begun, such as the Zápara territory, women's territorial work of care–and their subjectivities and complex selves that affectively incorporate beings beyond the human–can bring women together to resist oil extraction. Zápara joined other Amazon indigenous women in their march to the capital city of Quito in 2013 to protest extractive policies. Their public declaration made their demands clear—“to ensure the continuity of life of the indigenous Amazonian people, preserving and conserving the abundance of our territories, according to Sumak Kawsay [Living Well] and Kawsak Sacha [Living Jungle]” (quoted in Constante 2013). Indigenous women throughout Latin America have organised in national and regional networks, such as the Latin American Network of Women Defenders of Social and Environmental Rights, to safeguard the life worlds and communalities that they and their families care for and depend on. Their efforts seek to defend their complex territories from the advancement of extractive frontiers, as a Zápara woman made clear—“our ancestors left us saying that we should not allow them to enter because the animals would be finished off, the water will be harmed” (Torimbo community member, Interview December 15, 2014). The Association of Zápara Women has helped build a hut near the oil exploration wells, and begun cultivation of crops nearby, in order to be able to remain in the area to defend the territory when the oil company arrives.

As the developmental state and petroleum sector have intervened in the organisation of daily activities, we see that transformed territories increasingly separate not only the human and the natural worlds, but also the public productive and private reproductive spheres. These territories are reconfigured as caring and its activities become bounded not only to the human, but also to the domestic and familial spheres. As the extent of their care becomes spatially demarcated and delimited to social dynamics, women's sense of time and future shift, becoming more temporally linear. Caring for their families now means preoccupying themselves with their children's future insertion into the labour market and assuring their access to formal education. Not only is women's work domesticated and devalued, as they become more dependent on the men who have access to salaried work, but their forms of knowledge also lose power. A female Zápara leader worries that “Before they respected us, now they don't. People come and go [into our territory] as if it were their home, and it is strange for us women” (Manuela Ima, Puyo, Interview October 17, 2014). New subjectivities–social rather than ecological–are shaped through material and affective processes in which the differentiated work of care creates increasingly gendered and unequal social relations. As we show in our case study, forms of communality–of collectively coming into vital being–are limited by political economic conditions.

   Acknowledgements Top

This article is based on research conducted with Fernando Garcia, Ivette Vallejo, Lisset Coba, Angus Lyall and Corinne Duhalde, and was supported by FLACSO sede Ecuador. Work for this article also benefitted from the assistance of research scholarship students in the Environmental Studies, Anthropology and Sociology programs of FLACSO. We are particularly grateful to James McEnteer and Angus Lyall for their careful reading and editing of the text and Neera Singh for her valuable comments which greatly improved the piece and our thinking on ecologies and care. We also thank the other editors of this special issue and the two anonymous reviewers whose comments helped us to focus our text and make it more readable.

   Notes Top

  1. The Zápara are one of the smallest indigenous nationalities in Ecuador, inhabiting areas of the Amazonian province of Pastaza. They subsist mostly through fishing and hunting, with some agriculture, in territories in which other indigenous peoples are also found, and which now also overlap with conservation and oil territories.
  2. “Horizons of meaning” is a phrase used in Spanish, particularly by Tapia (2009), to refer to frameworks for the construction of meaning according to epistemological and ontological perspectives.

   References Top

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  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4], [Figure 5], [Figure 6]


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