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The Atacama Desert as a Miningscape: The Subterranean Entanglements of Science, States and Mining in Tarapacá, Northern Chile (1830-1930).

Authors: Manuel Mendez*, Université de Rennes 2, Manuel Prieto, Universidad Católica del Norte (Chile)
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Latin America, Political Geography
Keywords: Miningscapes, Subterranean Territory, Atacama Desert, Northern Chile, Tarapacá
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The Chilean water model imposed by the Chilean dictatorship in 1981 is broadly known as a radical example of neoliberal management. Several studies have focused their analyses on this model and its relation to mining from a Political Ecology perspective. However, they have minimized the broader historical context. In this presentation, we followed a geohistorical standpoint to gain an extensive understanding of the processes of mining development and the related water extraction in the Atacama Desert. By analyzing different official documents and historical sources of the 19th and early 20th centuries, we aimed to denaturalize the idea of the Atacama Desert as hyper-arid space rich in mineral resources. By doing so, from a Political Ecology perspective and a critical approach to territory, we interrogate the mining development in Tarapacá region, northern Chile (1830 -1930). This exercise leads us to present the Atacama as a socially produced miningscape. We argue that water, minerals, the process of state formation, global markets, scientific knowledge, political and legal discourses, and colonialism are inevitably interwoven in a subterranean territorial production process. In turn, this process has enabled the reproduction of the Chilean state, capital accumulation, and the consolidation of a modern project at the expense of the invisibilisation of local population and rationalities.

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