Crude Chronicles

Indigenous Politics, Multinational Oil, and Neoliberalism in Ecuador

Crude Chronicles

American Encounters/Global Interactions

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Book Pages: 312 Illustrations: 28 b&w photos, 6 maps, 4 figures Published: June 2004

Author: Suzana Sawyer

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Environmental Studies, Latin American Studies > Central America

Ecuador is the third-largest foreign supplier of crude oil to the western United States. As the source of this oil, the Ecuadorian Amazon has borne the far-reaching social and environmental consequences of a growing U.S. demand for petroleum and the dynamics of economic globalization it necessitates. Crude Chronicles traces the emergence during the 1990s of a highly organized indigenous movement and its struggles against a U.S. oil company and Ecuadorian neoliberal policies. Against the backdrop of mounting government attempts to privatize and liberalize the national economy, Suzana Sawyer shows how neoliberal reforms in Ecuador led to a crisis of governance, accountability, and representation that spurred one of twentieth-century Latin America’s strongest indigenous movements.

Through her rich ethnography of indigenous marches, demonstrations, occupations, and negotiations, Sawyer tracks the growing sophistication of indigenous politics as Indians subverted, re-deployed, and, at times, capitulated to the dictates and desires of a transnational neoliberal logic. At the same time, she follows the multiple maneuvers and discourses that the multinational corporation and the Ecuadorian state used to circumscribe and contain indigenous opposition. Ultimately, Sawyer reveals that indigenous struggles over land and oil operations in Ecuador were as much about reconfiguring national and transnational inequality—that is, rupturing the silence around racial injustice, exacting spaces of accountability, and rewriting narratives of national belonging—as they were about the material use and extraction of rain-forest resources.


“Perceptive description and a fluid, jargon-free narrative style, subtly embedded in a poststructuralist framework, make the book both interesting in its argument and theoretically engaging.” — Andrés Vallejo Espinosa, Journal of Latin American Studies

“Sawyer provides a compelling on-the-ground account of how the provincial federation OPIP (Organization of Indigenous Peoples of Pastaza) fought the plans of ARCO (Atlantic Richfield Company), an American oil firm, to exploit their concession (Block 10) in Pastaza . . . . [an] excellent ethnography.” — Lynne A. Meisch, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

“The book works on multiple levels: as savvy critique of the logic of liberal corporate capitalism and its failure for Latin America’s working peoples, as an exposé of government complicity with neoliberal expansion, and as a history of a local social movement in defense of land and culture that combines regional, national, and transnational alliances. Above all it is a testimony to the possibilities and limitations of building a more just and equitable society in an era of accelerated economic globalization. . . . [A] fine-grained analysis of the people living on the front lines of a combat against state and corporate forces of neoliberalism.” — Derek Williams , Hispanic American Historical Review

"Crude Chronicles is one of the best ethnographies of Latin America written in the past decade. . . . [R]eaders are left with a wonderfully rich, fluid, and revealing account. I highly recommend Crude Chronicles for anthropologists and others interested in indigenous politics, neoliberalism, oil, the environment, development, social movements, and the nation-state." — Steve Striffler, American Ethnologist

"Crude Chronicles represents the kind of book I wish more scholars would aspire to write. Sawyer is courageous, impassioned, and fiercely political in this book and attacks the contradictions of contemporary capitalism head on, without apologies. She does so in engaging, straightforward, and convincing prose that, although it helped me understand a complex political situation, also meant I did not have to work very hard to do so. Sawyer does not simply seek to describe the politics that are played out as a result of the stranglehold of neoliberal capitalism on indigenous environments; instead she "sets in motion the natural forces which belong to her own body, her arms, legs, head and hands" in order to change the world." — Nick Heynan, Environment and Planning A

"[A] valuable new book. . . . [Sawyer's] reportage . . . deserves wide readership among those interested in indigenous peoples and human rights, Latin American social movements, and the social costs of free market global economic integration." — Rudi Colloredo-Mansfield , Journal of Anthropological Research

"[A]n excellent example of politically engaged research in which Sawyer does not present herself as a neutral observer but as an activist deeply committed to the rights of indigenous peoples. . . . The book is surprisingly free of jargon and will be a seminal work to anyone desiring a more profound understanding of how indigenous movements in Ecuador in the 1990s became a model for social movement organizations. . . . Highly recommended." — M. Becker, Choice

"An excellent example of politically engaged research. . . . It is well written, easy to read, surprisingly free of jargon, and will be a seminal work to anyone desiring a more profound understanding of how Indigenous movements in Ecuador in the 1990s became a model for social movement organizations. It is a solid contribution to our understanding of current historical developments." — Marc Becker, H-LatAm, H-Net Reviews

"Suzana Sawyer has written a clear and compelling account of the intersection of indigenous activism, national politics, and global capitalism in Ecuador. This rich text is an ideal resource for undergraduate and graduate courses on new ethnographies of Latin America. It is also a valuable read for more advanced scholars interested in indigenous activism, neoliberalism, and democracy in the region." — Kedron Thomas, Journal of Latin American Anthropology

"The strength and originality of this book is to tell the story of Ecuador’s development from the perspective of Amazonian indigenous activists and the rural communities they represent. . . . By chronicling a series of events and political activities, the book highlights the highly contested nature of neoliberal policies." — Laura Rival, Journal of Peasant Studies

"The strength of Sawyer's book is that she offers readers several accounts of the extended negotiations that took place between the various interested parties over future oil concessions. . . ." — Steve C. Ropp , Perspectives on Political Science

Crude Chronicles seamlessly weaves the compelling richness of an exceptional ethnographic account with the power of a story well told. By chronicling the history of the ongoing contest that has characterized the politics of petroleum in the Ecuadorian Amazon, Sawyer brilliantly illustrates the imbricated process by which indigenous and neoliberal geophraphies are configured and reconfigured in the process of making nature, nation, and citizens. Crude Chronicles will surely become a key reference point in future debates about the cultural politics of nature.” — Peter Brosius, University of Georgia

"Crude Chronicles is a splendid example of fine-grained ethnography. It illustrates in many ways why this approach continues to be the hallmark of anthropology. The best feature of the book is the lovingly detailed descriptions and close-to-the-ground analysis of dialogue and events. It will be mandatory reading for Latin Americanists interested in social movements, especially the indigenous and environmentalist movements, and of course, students of Ecuadorian politics.” — Jean E. Jackson, Massachusetts Institute of Technology


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Suzana Sawyer is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Davis.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgements xi

A Note on Names xii

Opening 1


1. Amazonian Imaginaries 27

2. Crude Excesses 57


3. Neoliberal Ironies 91

4. Corporate Antipolitics 118


5. Contested Terrain 149

6. Liberal Legal-Scapes 182

Closing: A Plurinational Space 211

Notes 225

Acronyms 251

Glossary 253

Bibliography 255

Index 277
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3272-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3283-1
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