Strata of Nation: Rocks, Race, and Resource Nationalism in Bolivia

Authors: Andrea Marston*, University of California-Berkeley
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Political Geography, Latin America
Keywords: Bolivia, resource nationalism, plurinationalism, geology, colonialism, mapping, indigeneity
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 12:40 PM / 2:20 PM
Room: Galerie 2, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In Bolivia, the term “resource nationalism” is used to describe increased state involvement in resource extraction. For many, resource nationalism is in tension with Bolivia’s plurinational constitution, which enshrines indigenous values and territorial claims. This paper argues that the coexistence of resource nationalism and plurinationalism reflects the continuation of a longstanding division between subsoil and surface land in Bolivia. While the latter can be owned privately or collectively and imbued with place-specific meaning, the former has been produced as a fundamentally nationalist space, thick with gendered and racialized ideals of national progress. Focusing on subsoil exploration in two historical moments of nation-building, this paper shows how the subsoil was produced as distinctly national and separate from the land and people above it. In the post-independence era (1825-1840), French geologist Alcides d’Orbigny was hired by the nascent Bolivian state to produce the country’s first geological map. While completing this work, d’Orbigny also produced a separate set of documents that immobilized indigenous peoples on the land. In the post-revolutionary era (1952-1960), the newly refounded Bolivian state hired geologists and archeologists whose work both leant historical weight to national narratives while also opening up a new era of state-led subsoil exploitation. Through a close examination of the texts and practices of scientists in these two eras, this paper shows how the current coexistence of plurinationalism and resource nationalism is the most recent iteration of a longstanding separation between cultural “particularities,” relegated to surface land, and nationalist universality, produced in and through the subsoil.

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