Environmental Inequality, Collective Action Frames, and Social Theory: A View from Latin America

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 14:45
Location: Hörsaal BIG 2 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Ana VARA, National University of San Martin, Argentina
Latin America is going through a cycle of environmental protest. Many studies have been published describing socio-environmental controversies, mostly around the exploitation of natural resources—i.e. mining industry, energy production, genetically modified crops, and the pulp and paper industry. However, there has been little work done on the discursive aspects involved, which as we know are crucial for social movements in terms of framing the dispute, recruiting allies and sympathizers, and identifying political opportunities, among other aspects.

We intend to focus on a master frame on natural resources that has re-emerged at the current cycle of environmental protest, and its links, resonances, and tensions with discourses developed by social scientists—that is, theoretical frameworks.

We have already traced the origin of this Latin American master frame to the early decades of the twentieth century, and called it “neocolonial counter-discourse on natural resources,” since it evokes colonial times in order to denounce a current neocolonial situation. The story suggested by this framing is one of extreme exploitation: key words recurrently used are “sacking”, “pillage.” It is an injustice framing that talks about environmental inequality, and may be considered proto-environmentalist. It is also Latin Americanist and antiimperialist. We have previously analyzed  its presence in processes of frame alignment between social movements in different Latin American countries (Vara, 2013a and b).

In this presentation, we intend to analyze its dialogue with theoretical frameworks, such as those developed by Latin American social scientists—particularly the ones on “extractivism”, “neo-extractivism,” and “the commodities consensus” (Svampa, 2013); but also with more international ones, like “the curse of natural resources” thesis; and with Ulrich Beck’s “global risk society” theory. We expect to make a contribution to the discussion on the dialogue between activism and academic work from a Latin American perspective.