- The Geographies of Social Movements: Afro-Colombian Mobilization and the Aquatic Space by Ulrich Oslender
The Geographies of Social Movements: Afro-Colombian Mobilization and the Aquatic Space.
Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016. xiii + 290 pp. Maps, photos, illustrations, notes, glossary, references, index. $25.95 paper (ISBN 978-0-8223-6122-0); $99.95 cloth (ISBN 978-0-8223-6104-6); $19.99 electronic (ISBN 978-0-8223-7440-4).
The Geographies of Social Movements by Ulrich Oslender presents a compelling and theoretically situated argument for a geographical perspective in the study of social movements, illustrating the importance of space and place through an account of Afro-Colombian social mobilization in Colombia’s Pacific Lowlands. Oslender [End Page 225] is an associate professor of geography at Florida International University and has worked in the Colombian Pacific since the mid 1990s, publishing on topics of social mobilization, development, and geographies of terror. In this book, he showcases his extensive ethnographic and historical scholarship on Afro-Colombian social mobilization. While some of the material will be familiar to those who have read his previous work, the breadth of material ensures something novel for most readers, and the depth and density of information promises to reveal new insights with each read. Beyond its relevance to those studying rural social mobilization or the Colombian Pacific, students and scholars of Latin America, black studies, development and conservation are certain to find connections with their own work.
This book begins with a theoretical argument for the inclusion of space and place in social movement research through what Oslender calls a “critical place perspective”, which “co-implicates scale, territory and networks…to account more fully for the multiple, multi-scalar, rooted, and networked experiences within social movements” (p. 18). He offers insights into the ways in which space and place are created, understood, and engaged in social movements, and in particular how they “influence, shape, enable, or otherwise constrain resistance practices” (p. 22).
Chapters 2 and 3 focus on the Colombian Pacific, developing the concept of “aquatic space” in the Pacific Lowlands and showing that it is a necessary precursor for understanding the broader social, political, and economic regional context. The physical space is seen through the lives of those who live there in a mutually constitutive relationship whereby the river, tides, and rains shape both the landscape and the social and cultural lives of the people. The rhythms of the aquatic space are stitched together with the roots of the past in oral traditions that Oslender sees as hidden transcripts of resistance, which represent a well of identity and strength that serve as pillars for social mobilization. These stories also reveal skeletons of past development, territorial transformations, and histories of displacement and migration, offering a context for the broader processes that continue to shape black social mobilization in Pacific Colombia.
The last third of the book presents a comparative analysis of the social mobilization of lowland Afro-Colombian communities following Colombia’s Constitution of 1991. This new charter created a pathway for Afro-descendent communities in the Pacific to obtain collective title to their lands through the creation of Community Councils. Oslender uses these Community Councils as a “privileged space” to examine the influence of the physical and cultural dimensions of the aquatic space on the process of social mobilization of Afro-Colombians. He examines many facets of social mobilization, including its initiation and timing, its internal tensions and divisions, and barriers to its progress, and explains how Afro-Colombians draw upon their history and territory, symbolically or functionally, as a source of strength to organize and empower. Regional differences are unpacked in documenting how the new law was received by different communities and its impact on social organization, [End Page 226] including the role of the state, the church, and private capital interests. While at times revealing a dark and cynical political landscape, the book ends with glimmers of hope, pointing to the ways in which Afro-Colombian communities have drawn on their past culture and traditions of resistance to carve out a space of political actualization and mobilization.
Overall, this book offers a broad, interdisciplinary perspective...