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Subterranean Matters: Cooperative Mining and Resource Nationalism in Plurinational Bolivia
In an era of increased state involvement in natural resource governance, members of Bolivia’s “mining cooperatives” are commonly described as thieves of national wealth. Nevertheless, these small-scale miners won significant influence in Bolivia’s radically restructured Plurinational State, in which the rights of both Indigenous peoples and Pachamama (Earth Mother) have been constitutionally enshrined since 2009. In this talk, which draws on her forthcoming book, cooperative miners are unorthodox guides to the tense coexistence of resource nationalism and plurinationalism in Bolivia – a coexistence made possible, she argues, by the vertical partition of land from subsoil. Drawing on ethnographic work with tin mining cooperatives in the Bolivian highlands, Professor Marston will trace the history of this partition and explore its contemporary influence. Centering labor as a site of analysis, she will use the concept of “material history” to theorize connections between historical materialism and new materialities, and specifically examine how the meanings historically sedimented underground shape cooperative miners’ individual bodies and their body politic, which is internally stratified along lines of race and gender. These intimate processes have national ramifications when cooperative miners take to the streets and run for political offices. Through her work, Professor Marston demonstrates not only how cooperative miners help maintain Bolivia’s extractivist economy, but also how the inseparably meaningful and material qualities of natural resources shape political subjectivities and political economic processes.