- The Extractive Zone: Social Ecologies and Decolonial Perspectives by Macarena Gómez-Barris
The Extractive Zone: Social Ecologies and Decolonial Perspectives
Durham: Duke University Press, 2017. xx+188 pp. Illustrations, notes, references and index. $22.75 paper (ISBN: 9780822368977); $84.95 cloth (ISBN 9780822368755); $18.39 ebook (ISBN: 9780822373561).
The extractive zone: social ecologies and Decolonial Perspectives, by Macarena Gómez-Barris, is the first release in Duke’s new series, “Dissident Acts,” co-edited by none other than Gómez-Barris herself. Gómez-Barris, the chair of Social Science and Cultural Studies at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute (which, on its website, proudly proclaims itself to be “Located in the most innovative part of the most interesting part of the most important city in the world“), has set out to write a book not about resource extraction itself, but about life as shaped by extractive capitalism. Less a place than a zeitgeist, [End Page 277] the “extractive zone” refers to “the colonial paradigm, worldview, and technologies that mark out regions of ’high biodiversity’ in order to reduce life to capitalist resource conversion” (p. xvi). The book’s central goal is to interrogate the Anthropocene as a colonial project and to explore “life otherwise:” “the emergent and heterogeneous forms of living that are not about destruction or mere survival within the extractive zone, but about the creation of emergent alternatives” (p. 4). Methodologically and theoretically, the author deploys a “decolonial queer femme methodology,” which attends to “the resonances of lived embodiment as world-shaping activities” (p. 9). According to the author, this methodological stance is a “porous and undisciplined analysis shaped by the perspectives and critical genealogies that emerge within [resource rich] spaces as a mode of doing research” (p. xvi).
Indeed, “undisciplined analysis” is a remarkably apt term for this book. In using the term, I believe the author means not only that her analysis refuses to be confined to a single disciplinary tradition, but also that it sets out to break rules of conventional social science inquiry. The Extractive Zone draws liberally on postcolonialism, feminist thought, queer theory and some currents of post-structuralism, while largely sidestepping historical materialism. Marx makes an occasional appearance but never stays for long and isn’t given much of an opportunity to make a point. Ideas come and go, flitting in and out of view like conceptual butterflies.
While reading the book I was continually reminded of the 1987 film “The Princess Bride,” in which Wallace Shawn’s character, Vizzini, repeatedly misuses the word “inconceivable” (using it to describe things that are, in fact, quite easy to conceive of). At one point in the film, Mandy Patinkin’s character, Inigo Montoya, says quizzically, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” So it is with this book’s use of the word “extractive.” In spite of the book’s title, Gómez-Barris refuses to take seriously the enormous literature on resource extraction in Latin America. There is no evidence that she is even aware of the work that geographers have done on the topic, and she ignores most of what anthropologists have written as well. She draws on Michael Taussig’s Shamanism and the Wild Man (Taussig, 1987) and cites June Nash’s classic We Eat the Mines and the Mines Eat Us (without really engaging with this monumental work; Nash, 1993). But she somehow misses Fernando Coronil’s essential text The Magical State (Coronil, 1997). In her lengthy discussion of indigeneity, gender and sexuality among cholas in La Paz, she ignores Mary Weismantel’s (2001) crucial work Cholas y Pishtacos: Tales of Race and Sex in the Andes. In discussing extractivismo, she cites but does not engage with the work of Eduardo Gudynas, arguably the most important Latin American author on the topic.
The Extractive Zone consists of a preface and seven chapters. An introduction lays out the book’s topic and theoretical orientation, and is followed by five chapters that explore the “extractive zone” as experienced in different regions of Andean South America. These include the politics of oil and indigeneity...