- The Extractive Zone: Social Ecologies and Decolonial Perspectives by Macarena Gómez-Barris
The Extractive Zone: Social Ecologies and Decolonial Perspectives. By Macarena Gómez-Barris. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017; 208 pp.; illustrations. $84.95 cloth, $23.95 paper, e-book available.
In The Extractive Zone: Social Ecologies and Decolonial Perspectives, Macarena Gómez-Barris visits five resource-rich territories in South America traversed by colonialism and extractive capitalism to observe the social ecologies submerged within these geographies. She documents the petroleum industry in Eastern Ecuador; the spiritual tourism industry in the Sacred Valley of Peru; silver and tin mining in Potosí and La Paz, Bolivia; pine plantations in the Bío Bío region of Chile; and hydroelectricity projects in Cauca, Colombia. While these regions have been deemed "extractive zones" by agents of colonial capitalism who have, since the 1500s, mined the Américas to convert natural resources into commodities for capital accumulation, sacrificing biodiversity in the process, extractive capitalism has not been totalizing in its destructive effects. Wading through these worlds, Gómez-Barris uncovers local knowledges and "submerged perspectives" that challenge the monocultural view of developmentalism and colonial capitalism, and represent material alternatives to the exploitative relations and destructive path of extractive capitalism. She takes her cues from Indigenous guides, artists, activists, and cultural producers who train her to see the webs of interdependence between nature and culture in their natural ecologies, and she challenges us to find new ways of seeing, hearing, perceiving, and apprehending submerged perspectives that invert the colonial extractive view. While the natural ecologies that Gómez-Barris visits are in peril as a result of large-scale extractive projects, the Indigenous communities that reside within these spaces remain vital sources of knowledge because they have survived the colonial encounter. Gómez-Barris lifts and amplifies powerful genealogies of thought, praxis, and connection that have survived the violence of capitalist reduction and commodification of life. Doing so establishes the "extractive zone" as the terrain of potential for critiquing, resisting, and dismantling extractive capitalism and coloniality, and reorganizing social and ecological life based on Indigenous principles of coexistence with the nonhuman world.
As Indigenous-led obstructions to the expansion of extractive capitalism increasingly gain global attention, and the deleterious effects of the Anthropocene are more readily acknowledged, The Extractive Zone offers a timely study of the proliferation of extractive capitalism and coloniality within neoliberal multicultural states. Gómez-Barris shows how even as newly progressive states such as Ecuador and Bolivia incorporate environmental protections into constitutional change and legalize Native people's rights, they often fall into a colonial logic that imagines resource extraction as the only means towards national development. By enabling extractive projects that violently reorganize territories and disrupt complex ecosystems, they prolong social and economic inequalities that delimit Indigenous sovereignty and perpetuate anti-Indigenous and anti-Black racism; fail to address the needs and perspectives of female, gender-nonconforming, working-class, and queer populations; diminish the possibility of national autonomy from global markets; and curtail actual decolonization.
The Extractive Zone is the first book published in the Dissident Acts series coedited by Diana Taylor and Gómez-Barris, a series that focuses on embodied politics and decolonial practices in the Américas. Gómez-Barris's engagement with the burgeoning literature on extractivism that has emerged in South America—much of which remains untranslated—buttresses the need for theory from sites in the Global South that are deemed marginal but are nevertheless central to the global economy. The Extractive Zone takes on the work of epistemic decolonization. It is the result of substantive situated fieldwork attentive to embodied knowledge and the geopolitics of [End Page 163] knowledge production. A submerged perspective requires one to occupy a position from below and reckon with the opacity of what lies beneath the surface, invisible to the vertical colonial gaze that facilitates and perpetuates accumulation by dispossession by rendering Native populations invisible. Gómez-Barris centers her...