Association for Political and Legal Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
As is well-known, in 2008 Ecuador became the first country in the world to include constitutional provisions protecting the “rights” of nature. In the decade since, the idea that nature has “rights” has been mocked, critiqued, celebrated, and romanticized. Some have argued that these rights are timely responses to the multiple ecological crises of the Anthropocene as well as critical tools in the decolonization of international law (Acosta and Martinez 2010; Burdon and Maloney 2014; Gudnyas 2011; Kauffman and Martin 2017). Others have insisted that they represent fundamental misunderstandings of indigenous views and values; that they are strategically co-opted by states and corporations; and that they seek to “universalize colonial modes of existence as natural” (Rawson and Mansfield 2018). In this paper, I assess the first decade of these rights claims in Ecuador by focusing on their development in relation to two large-scale mining projects in the southern highland province of Azuay. Using as my point of departure Goodale’s recent critique of the enlisting of indigenous rights discourses in projects of intensifying accumulation (Goodale 2016), I demonstrate that the “rights of nature” in southern Ecuador have proven similarly limited. Nevertheless, they have also begun to be mobilized in ways that may significantly challenge the political-economy of extraction throughout the region, achieving forms of democratic participation that are historically unprecedented and that may productively unsettle both broader critiques of rights and arguments for a new “politics of distribution” (Ferguson 2015).