Land, Copper, Flora: Dominant Materialities and the Making of Ecuadorian Resource Environments


This article examines the nuances of different constructions and meanings of “natural resources” in Ecuador. Focusing on the biodiverse and copper-rich region of Intag, I show how once a process of commodification of natural materials is underway—in a place where the biophysical specificities of soil, minerals, and flora map onto extractive, as well as “green” economies of value—there is an emergence of what I call “metonymic materiality,” a discursive frame in which one particular aspect of material resources becomes iconic of the place, assuming dominant significance and value for the actors. Once such “dominant” materialities emerge, they may be contested through counter-discursive strategies, where other constitutive materialities are used to symbolize and promote alternative regimes of value. I present a “resource biography” of Intag, focusing on its emergence as an agricultural frontier, a copper treasury, and, finally, a place of rare and precious biodiversity. I analyze how the resource environments that emerge around these materialities overlap and supplant each other, relationally and dynamically.