Valuation struggles in the Ecuadorian Amazon

The main theories of oil conflicts, defined by Martinez-Alier (2002) and Escobar (2008) as ecological and cultural distribution conflicts, and influential in the study of Latin American indigenous movements (Schlosberg and Carruthers 2010), postulate that indigenous people, because of their ecological and cultural ‘difference’ (Escobar 2008) – a special attachment to the environment as a provider of livelihood or cultural identity – oppose oil extraction projects which threaten these environments. In Ecuador, such frameworks were denounced as a ‘standard narrative’ (Reider and Wasserstrom 2013), essentialising the struggles of indigenous people, which embody not only ecological and cultural dimensions, but economic, social, political and ethic ones (Fontaine 2004). For the counter-narrative, the Ecuadorian oil conflict is better described as the search for a ‘middle ground’ (Sabin 1998), and the various agreements found historically between indigenous people and large companies operating in their territories legitimise such criticism.

But what could a ‘middle ground’ possibly be if it involves an incommensurable loss related to the right to one’s ecological and cultural ‘difference’?

Through an analysis of the different perceptions and claims of indigenous people who have accepted oil extraction projects in their territories, in the Ecuadorian Amazon, I propose to investigate the many reasons underpinning that choice, but also the decision-making process itself and notably, the struggles involved in it. In addition to the intrinsic value of a better understanding of the struggles of indigenous people when facing oil extraction projects in their territories, my research derives important policy implications regarding oil extraction strategies in Latin America and the ability of the prior consultation to take indigenous people’s claims into account, and theoretical implications in political ecology and ecological economics, notably regarding the choice of policy decision-making tools in contexts of incommensurability of values.

Julie Dayot
Research Student