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Lauren's Research

lauren in the field
In Peru, as in many countries, resource extraction has been heavily promoted as a means for development – Peru is in the midst of extractive industry booms in both oil and mining exploration and extraction, with oil concessions now covering over 70% of the Peruvian Amazon (up from around 7% in 2003). The blanketing of the Peruvian Amazon in oil concessions reconfigured power dynamics and land claims and provoked tensions and concerns among indigenous peoples and others living in areas slated for oil exploration and extraction. In my dissertation research, I examine the indigenous rights claims that were articulated in relation to the expansive oil operations in the northeast Peruvian Amazon and the ways in which such claims were addressed, silenced, and contested by government and oil company personnel.

Drawing on 20 months of field research based in the northeast Peruvian Amazon, I gathered extensive ethnographic data about a nascent indigenous social movement that arose to denounce oil contamination and demand indigenous rights to territory, consultation and consent, and development in line with indigenous visions of “living well” (buen vivir). This emergent indigenous movement, which adopted the name “Amazonian Indigenous Peoples United in Defense of their Territories,” was successful in attracting more attention than ever before to widespread indigenous concerns with oil contamination, unsafe drinking water, and territorial and livelihood insecurity. In response to indigenous advocacy, government officials initiated myriad dialogues and working groups to address indigenous concerns, including establishing a Multi-Ministerial Commission to examine impacts from oil operations in the northeast Peruvian Amazon. In examining these processes, I found that government officials often conflated participation and justice, bounded potential outcomes to such a degree that such processes reinforced rather than altered current extraction-focused political economies, depoliticized solutions as being about humanitarian aid rather than rights, and contained indigenous movements through undercutting alternative forms of indigenous advocacy (which were increasingly characterized as violent). My research contributes to understandings about the role of indigenous social movements in countering hegemonic understandings about development, and the challenges such movements face when walking the line between resistance, participation, and partnership with state officials in order to secure enhanced development prospects for their communities.
In my postdoctoral research, I will examine the environmental emergencies that have been declared in portions of four watersheds in the northeast Peruvian Amazon as a direct result of the indigenous advocacy that I tracked in my dissertation. My research on these environmental emergency declarations will contribute to understandings about the ways in which periods of crisis can serve as drivers for social and political change, or conversely (and perhaps perversely), serve to reproduce current power structures and development models. Over the course of the postdoctoral fellowship, I will also advance on other publications and presentations about indigenous identity politics in relation to extraction-based development in Peru, including a policy brief on related topics for the PBRC.

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