Unearthing Conflict

Corporate Mining, Activism, and Expertise in Peru

Unearthing Conflict

Book Pages: 280 Illustrations: 20 illustrations Published: April 2015

Author: Fabiana Li

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

In Unearthing Conflict Fabiana Li analyzes the aggressive expansion and modernization of mining in Peru since the 1990s to tease out the dynamics of mining-based protests. Issues of water scarcity and pollution, the loss of farmland, and the degradation of sacred land are especially contentious. She traces the emergence of the conflicts by discussing the smelter-town of La Oroya—where people have lived with toxic emissions for almost a century—before focusing her analysis on the relatively new Yanacocha gold mega-mine. Debates about what kinds of knowledge count as legitimate, Li argues, lie at the core of activist and corporate mining campaigns. Li pushes against the concept of "equivalence"—or methods with which to quantify and compare things such as pollution—to explain how opposing groups interpret environmental regulations, assess a project’s potential impacts, and negotiate monetary compensation for damages. This politics of equivalence is central to these mining controversies, and Li uncovers the mechanisms through which competing parties create knowledge, assign value, arrive at contrasting definitions of pollution, and construct the Peruvian mountains as spaces under constant negotiation.


"This is a timely ethnography of contemporary mining conflict... She offers an attractive understanding of “conflict.” No theory of resistance along the lines of already assumed, immutable material interests (such as mass protests or road blockades) can capture the nuances with which Li meticulously “unearths conflict.”... It is a must-read for veterans and newcomers to research in the anthropology of mining." — Anita Carrasco, American Ethnologist

"This book does a lot and it does it well. It will be helpful not only in providing a rich foundation for studies of mining conflict in Peru, but also for students and scholars really looking for a way to illuminate the complexities of the common reality of community/government/corporate conflict over resource extraction in the name of 'development' throughout Latin America and beyond." — Kristina Baines, Anthropology Book Forum

"[Li's] analysis is based on an extensive and exhaustive ethnographic research and informed by an analytical framework that is well suited for deconstructing, exploring, and unveiling. Unearthing Conflict is in this regard an obliged resource for those interested in understanding not only mining conflicts and activism or the complexities of human agency but also the broader interactions between humans and nature(s), especially in these critical times." — Cristina Espinosa Ch., American Anthropologist

"Fabiana Li’s innovative ethnography breaks new ground in conceptualizing the political ecology of mining controversies....The book makes a significant contribution to the field of political ecology by rethinking the ways in which landscapes take on political significance. It is highly recommended reading for students and scholars interested in environmental politics, corporate social responsibility, and social movements." — Teresa A. Velásquez, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

"Li’s extensive fieldwork in Peru adds authenticity and authority to each of her compelling case studies. The book is accessible to upper-division undergraduate courses as well as graduate seminars on modern Latin America. Anyone interested in conflicts over extractive resources, Andean mining communities, and social anthropology in Peru should add Unearthing Conflict to their reading lists." — Stephen Cote, Environmental History

"Far from re-spinning a tired old tale, Unearthing Conflict takes a fascinating angle on the relationship between a mining company and the local populations who are the recipients of the fall-out from mining activity. Li’s intensive fieldwork forms the basis of a compelling narrative that will be of interest to environmental activists and indigenous rights organizations in addition to mining professionals. . . . [T]his book would also be useful in graduate or upper-division undergraduate courses on the sociology and ethics of resource extraction, corporate social responsibility, cultural anthropology, or the sociology of activist movements." — Lia Vella, Electronic Green Journal

"... Li’s carefully researched, innovative and stylistically written Unearthing Conflict [is] a must read on the contemporary politics and economy of Peru." — Peter F. Klaren, Canadian Journal of History

"Based on extensive local research, Li offers both a rich inside story of the different actors and interactions in Cajamarca and a valuable contribution to theory building." — Barbara Hogenboom, European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies

"Fabiana Li sheds new light on resource conflicts . . . raising questions that merit further discussion and debate." — Stuart Kirsch, Journal of Cultural Economy

"Unearthing Conflict is an excellent ethnographic treatment of mining corporations, their local and state supporters, and the activists who contest them. By complicating standard narratives of community opposition to mining with the perspective of contestations about equivalences, the book would enrich senior undergraduate and graduate courses about Latin America, resource extraction, expert knowledge, and human and non-human actors." — Daniel Tubb, PoLAR

"Unearthing Conflict is the first really good, English-language ethnography of mining in Peru, and its appearance especially timely given that mining has become the backbone of the Peruvian economy. Based on fascinating fieldwork, Fabiana Li's book will be of much interest to scholars of Peru and the Andes as well as those trying to better understand mining and the fraught politics of money, nature, corporate capitalism, and social protest around this gigantic global industry."
— Orin Starn, coeditor of The Peru Reader: History, Culture, Politics

"Unearthing Conflict is a well-documented, thoughtful, and engagingly written account of mining-related conflicts in Peru. Looking at two different historically situated modes of resource extraction through the lens of ontological politics and 'contested equivalence,' Fabiana Li provides a novel, conceptually productive view of how such things as 'pollution' and 'water as life' are constituted and behave as actors in the world. A fine contribution to literatures on mining, environmental politics, and activism."
— Elizabeth Emma Ferry, author of Minerals, Collecting, and Value across the US-Mexico Border


Availability: In stock
Price: $26.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Fabiana Li is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Manitoba.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii

Introduction. A Mining Country 1

Part I. Mining Past and Present

1. Toxic Legacies, Nascent Activism 35

2. Mega-Mining and Emergent Conflicts 71

Part II. Water and Life

3. The Hydrology of a Sacred Mountain 107

4. Inrrigation and Contested Equivalences 143

Part III. Activism and Expertise

5. Stepping outside the Document 185

Conclusion. Expanding Frontiers of Extraction 215

Notes 235

References 243

Index 257
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Honorable Mention, 2016 Bryce Wood Book Award (Latin American Studies Association)

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5831-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5819-0
Publicity material