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Gold Mining in Peru: Company Strategies, Everyday Violence, and the Politics of Attention

  • Wilson, Michael
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2018
eScholarship - University of California
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For more than five years, Latin America has been classified as the world’s deadliest region for environmental activists. In Peru, the deadliest and most common type of conflicts are related to mining. However, there are dozens of mining conflicts in the country, and not all of them become violent—some are managed productively, and even violent conflicts can be resolved. What explains this variation? This interdisciplinary dissertation traces the processes and factors that can explain why mining conflicts both escalate into, and are transformed out of, violence. I draw on a controlled, qualitative comparison of four case studies, extensive ethnographic research conducted over 14 months of fieldwork, analysis of over 900 archives and documents, and unprecedented access to more than 230 semi-structured interviews with key actors in industry, the state, and civil society. Although the four mining projects shared similar contexts, their divergent outcomes—including the understudied effect of conflict ‘routinization’—can be explained by actors’ everyday relationships, locals’ efforts to organize and draw outside attention, and companies’ strategies to manage opposition and public opinion. In identifying patterns leading to conflict escalation and resolution, this research assists policymakers in the design of effective institutions that can channel conflict, gives international actors the understandings to best direct resources towards preventing violence, equips companies with tools to protect their investment by building mutual and durable community relations, and helps civil society in promoting forms of development that are commensurate with local needs and desires. More broadly, this dissertation presents an ethnography of subtle forms of violence, and explores how meaning-making practices render certain types of pain or damage noticeable while occluding others. By excavating how everyday interactions that underlie conflicts are strategically concealed in the short term, this study aims to assist in the prevention and transformation of violence over resource extraction.

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