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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - IRI THESys

The transformation of nature in Chile. The ecological impacts of mining in Tarapacá: environmental conflicts, extractivism and nature understandings.

Sascha is a doctoral researcher at the Institut für Europäische Ethnologie at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. His main research interests are human-nature relations expressed in the socio-ecological conflicts caused by the extractive activities, particularly copper mining in the north of Chile.

An important percent of the Chilean economy is based on the extraction of raw materials, bringing important environmental consequences in the regions where extractivism is the principal economic activity, especially the north of Chile with an desert climate and water scarcity. The place of my research is the north of Chile, the Region of Tarapacá. Tarapacá is one of the mining Region where copper and other minerals are extracted and traded in the global market.

The mineral extraction is carried out in geographical areas far from the urban centers. Therefore, environmental problems are beginning to be felt due to the intensive use of groundwater by mining companies. Even so, there is dissent regarding the attribution of responsibilities for the water scarcity in the area. Government agencies, NGOs, indigenous communities differ from each other in their assessments of the environmental responsibility of multinational mining. In this process, the ecological damage seems to be relegated to the background, given the social difference between those that somehow manage to take advantage of mining or its relationship with mining companies and those that only bear the environmental costs. In this context of business, personal and community advantages and disadvantages, indigenous identities, environmental costs, negotiations and opportunism, the question of a "mining ecology" acquires meaning, as it interrogates the political and territorial configurations of a "disorderly capitalism" where other expressions not necessarily capitalist of personal or community benefit adhere to these extremely diverse and complex processes.

  • Methodology

Ethnografic fieldwork, with two or three fieldwork staying, using ethnographical techniques, like participant observation, structure and semi- structured interviews, Focus Group, judgment of experts.

  • Theoretical Framing

Many efforts to understand and criticize, not only the Chilean but the Latin American economic dependency based on Extractivism of raw materials, has put into question many theoretical perspectives of the given nature-human relation at the center of Extractivism, value-chains, and social- environmental movements, resisting the ongoing process of capitalisation of nature. With the contributions of STS, political ecology as well of the post-structuralist and neo-marxist theory framework, it will be possible to put under discussion contemporary understandings of “Nature”, “Ecology” and “Sustainability” in order to make problematic a particular semiotic of local- ecological practices and conflicts, generated by mining industry.

  • Targets

In the conflicting relationship between mining, indigenous and farmers, where the limits of a sozial and environmental injustice begins to blur, it is one target to describe the entanglement of social, economic, moral and ecological consequences of these often dynamic relations. The second target is to trace the ontological and cosmological differences expressed in these specific human nature- relations.

  • Hypothesis

The hypothesis of the research project, consider that the tensions and conflicts arisen by the extractivistic commodification of nature involve different understandings of what nature is, expressed in different practices, planning, management and performance of land, water, resource use and territorialities.

  • Main research question

What kind of “ecology” is produced by the mining process in Tarapacá? What are the social, economic, political and scientific arrangements and relations, which give shape to a specific understanding of Nature, Ecology and sustainability expressed in the social and environmental conflicts in Tarapacá? According to what kind of interests the transformation process of Nature (Landscape, Desert, Water supply) is produced?


In 2001 to 2008 Sascha studied Anthropology in Santiago de Chile. His disertation was about the sociocultural implications of liberal eugenics. After some years gathering work experience he made his Master (2011-2013) in “Contemporary thinking and political philosophy” in a university in Santiago (UDP). The theme of his Master dissertation was about the hybrid thinking of Bruno Latour and the relation between science and politics. This dissertation give him the first insights about possible research for a future PhD. During this time he began with teaching in schools as a philosophy Teacher and as auxiliary professor and junior professor in two universities of Santiago. 2016 he began with the preparation for the PhD research Project.


Photo: Giovanni Gellona


Sascha Cornejo Puschner , Doctoral Researcher
THESys Graduate Program
Tel.: +177/5359524
E-Mail: scornejopuschner@gmail.com