Black and Green

Afro-Colombians, Development, and Nature in the Pacific Lowlands

Black and Green

Book Pages: 272 Illustrations: 13 photographs, 1 table, 2 maps Published: August 2009

Author: Kiran Asher

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Environmental Studies, Latin American Studies > Andes

In Black and Green, Kiran Asher provides a powerful framework for reconceptualizing the relationship between neoliberal development and social movements. Moving beyond the notion that development is a hegemonic, homogenizing force that victimizes local communities, Asher argues that development processes and social movements shape each other in uneven and paradoxical ways. She bases her argument on ethnographic analysis of the black social movements that emerged from and interacted with political and economic changes in Colombia’s Pacific lowlands, or Chocó region, in the 1990s.

The Pacific region had yet to be overrun by drug traffickers, guerrillas, and paramilitary forces in the early 1990s. It was better known as the largest area of black culture in the country (90 percent of the region’s population is Afro-Colombian) and as a supplier of natural resources, including timber, gold, platinum, and silver. Colombia’s Law 70, passed in 1993, promised ethnic and cultural rights, collective land ownership, and socioeconomic development to Afro-Colombian communities. At the same time that various constituencies sought to interpret and implement Law 70, the state was moving ahead with large-scale development initiatives intended to modernize the economically backward coastal lowlands. Meanwhile national and international conservation organizations were attempting to protect the region’s rich biodiversity. Asher explores this juxtaposition of black rights, economic development, and conservation—and the tensions it catalyzed. She analyzes the meanings attached to “culture,” “nature,” and “development” by the Colombian state and Afro-Colombian social movements, including women’s groups. In so doing, she shows that the appropriation of development and conservation discourses by the social movements had a paradoxical effect. It legitimized the presence of state, development, and conservation agencies in the Pacific region even as it influenced those agencies’ visions and plans.


Black and Green’s greatest success lies in its exposure of the dangers of oversimplification and binarization. . . . Balanced by an elaboration of broader contexts, Asher’s approach stands to make profound contributions to methodology and scholarship.” — Killian Colm Quigley, AmeriQuests

“Asher convincingly and thoroughly shows how the struggle over development is never smooth, one-way or simple, drawing on impressive ethnographic and archival evidence from activist meetings, state forums, project and activist documents, and brief visits to several Pacific coast communities. Black and Green will be of interest to those studying the intersections between social movements, neoliberal development, gender, ethnic identifications and state power. . . . The strength of Asher’s work lies in demonstrating how development and social movements emerge together in complex, contradictory and contested ways.” — Keith Lindner, Progress in Development Studies

“Struggles for black self-determination, in [Asher’s] analysis, are inseparable from environmental sustainability, land title, struggles for gender equality, and political economy and public policy. Her dense analysis of the development mandate in Colombia is instructive for development scholars who may be tempted, particularly in the name of academic specialization, to consider development issues in contextual isolation.” — Simon C. Darnell, Canadian Journal of Development Studies

“This book is a very important book for readers interested in the field of development, ethnic studies, and state formation. It will be of particular interest to scholars and graduate students who specialize on 20th century Colombia. This book, because it is innovative and covers new ground, raises many important research questions about the presence of the state and violence in Colombia.” — Brett Troyan, Wagadu

“This is clearly an original and important work which provides a balanced and objective documentation of the parties involved in the struggles to implement Law 70. . . . [A] detailed and reliable source of information in reference to Afro-Colombian ethnicity and the 1991 Colombian Constitution.”
— Victoria Bateman, Development in Practice

“Overall, Black and Green is an engaging study that signifies a defining moment for academic studies about both Afro-Colombians and nature in Latin America.” — Sophie M. Lavoie, Feminist Review Blog

“The author manages to enthral the reader into her line of argument. . . . The combination of an ethnographic sensitivity and fluid and contextualising writing has a seductive effect on the reader whether or not they are an expert on the topic or region. This aspect, without a doubt, gives the book the potential to be an excellent tool for undergraduate programmes in a wide array of disciplines ranging from anthropology to development studies, and from political science to Latin-American studies.” — Eduardo Restrepo, Bulletin of Latin American Research

“The strength of the work is Asher’s sophisticated conceptualization of how the various forces in play are mutually reactive. She consistently and lucidly explains the connections and ambivalent interplay between development projects, international environmentalism, the state, and global liberalization on the one hand, and local knowledge, community activism, gender roles, and Afro-Colombian traditional practices, whether in reference to land tenure or cultivation practices, on the other. . . . Highly recommended. Upper -division undergraduates and above.” — J. M. Rosehthal, Choice

“This book is a welcome addition to the growing literature on indigenous and black resistance in Latin America. . . . Asher gives an ethnographically rich account of how the black movement emerged in the context of what appeared to be a changing rationale for sustainable development in the region.” — Ulrich Oslender, The Americas

“This book is ideal for those conducting graduate-level research on Colombia and black movement issues in Latin America.” — Jan Hoffman French, Journal of Latin American Studies

“Kiran Asher effectively captures the nuances of the multiple positions taken by Afrocolombians and their allies regarding the development of the Pacific lowlands—ethno-cultural activists, mainstream politicians, black women’s networks, nongovernmental organizations, and social scientists—producing an intricate and multifaceted vision of the heterogeneous interests at play in the creation of the black movement in Colombia. Asher’s keen ethnographic eye explores the contradictions that emerge when local demands are translated into transnational discourses of identity, rights, environmentalism, and community development. She lays bare the complex texture of the negotiations that gave rise to legislation and planning, on the one hand, and of the voicing of local hopes and aspirations—particularly of Afrocolombian women—on the other. She moves with ease between the halls of the Colombian Senate and the workshop of a women’s cooperative, revealing the numerous levels at which Afrocolombian environmental discourse emerges. In the process, Asher crafts a sensitive and sympathetic, yet also sharp-edged and daring portrait of a significant social movement that is coming to the fore across Latin America.” — Joanne Rappaport, author of Intercultural Utopias

“Kiran Asher provides the best exploration we have of Afro-Colombians’ experiences in the wake of an unprecedented 1991 constitutional clause recognizing collective land rights for black communities. Across the disciplines, students of racial politics and environmental organizing will benefit from her thoughtful analysis and the clarity of her approach.” — Ann Farnsworth-Alvear, author of Dulcinea in the Factory


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Kiran Asher is Associate Professor of International Development & Social Change and Women’s Studies at Clark University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Abbreviations and Acronyms xiii

Introduction: Black Social Movements and Development in the Making 1

1. Afro-Colombian Ethnicity: From Invisibility to the Limelight 32

2. "The El Dorado of Modern Times": Economy, Ecology, and Territory 57

3. "El Ruido Interno de Comunidades Negras": The Ethno-Cultural Politics of the PCN 100

4. "Seeing with the Eyes of Black Women": Gender, Ethnicity, and Development 130

5. Displacement, Development, and Afro-Colombian Movements 154

Appendix A. Transitory Article 55 191

Appendix B. Law 70 of 1993: Outline and Salient Features 192

Notes 197

References 211

Index 233
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4483-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4487-2
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