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(Re)producing the selva: parallel world-making through settler colonial territoriality and decolonization

Authors: Elizabeth Shoffner*, University of Washington
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Indigenous Peoples, Latin America
Keywords: Settler colonialism, environmental management, conservation, decolonization
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In 2019, the selva misionera was voted one of the seven natural wonders of Argentina. This rather incongruous selection of an entire ecoregion of subtropical forest as a maravilla reflects efforts by the province of Misiones to promote the selva as natural patrimony and a product for tourist consumption—efforts which exist alongside the province’s economic dependence on extractive forestry and histories of colonization tied to deforestation. I explore the effects of (re)producing the selva misionera as an object of conservation in the Yaboty Biosphere Reserve and its area of influence, arguing that environmental management rearticulates settler colonial territoriality through the making of conservation property and conservation subjectivities. Drawing on fifteen months of ethnographic research, interviews, and content analysis, I examine a case study of 4000 hectares within Yaboty, bought by an international conservation NGO and titled to three Mbya Guarani communities. The exercise of neoliberal conservation as an avenue to achieving Indigenous territorial rights is unique and unprecedented in Argentina, yet collaboration in the name of conservation is also a contact zone where negotiation between world-making practices impacts both environmental management and Indigenous sovereignty. In being rendered legible as Mbya territory and as selva, this site is translated vis-à-vis dominant legal and scientific regimes of property and conservation which circumscribe it within settler colonial territoriality, requiring performances of Indigenous authenticity in accessing rights-based land claims. At the same time, the persistent exercise of Mbya socionatural world-making continues to exceed and resist ontologically reductive practices of (re)producing the selva.

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