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Since the turn of the last century, Latin America in general and the Andean region in particular have witnessed a pronounced escalation of investment in extractive industries. Driven in large part by historically high commodity prices and rising Chinese demand, national governments have sought to use oil and mineral rents to finance novel programs of economic redistribution. While generating significant socio-economic benefits, these projects have also contributed to the intensification of environmental conflicts, particularly around water. In recent years, Chile has been home to more than 35 mining-related conflicts, most of them on indigenous territories over water resources.
This subject takes an interdisciplinary approach to understanding these conflicts, with a particular focus on the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. It asks comparative questions about the relationships between large-scale mining and indigenous displacement, conflicts over culturally distinct understandings of territory, relationality, and well-being, the legacies of water privatization, the increasingly asymmetrical relations between corporations headquartered in the Global North and extractive frontiers in the Global South, and the effects of climate change on water-related struggles throughout the region. Throughout, we explore similarities and differences with both past and present mining struggles in Australia.
The Atacama Desert offers a particularly privileged location in which to investigate these dynamics on the ground. One of Chile’s main tourist attractions, its rich deposits of copper, lithium and other minerals, its water scarcity, and its long history of indigenous settlements in tension with colonial enclaves, have made it a fascinating microcosm of the regional, national, and global dynamics explored throughout the subject. As a University of Melbourne Overseas subject (UMOS) this subject will take place on site in collaboration with the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. Whilst based in Chile, the subject will involve field trips to relevant sites.
Intended learning outcomes
On completion of this subject students should:
- Demonstrate a detailed understanding of socio-political narratives and debates surrounding the extractive industries in Latin America;
- Demonstrate an independent approach to knowledge through on-site experience;
- Effectively communicate the social, political, historical and cultural realities shaping Chilean society and the extractive sector in particular;
- Articulate the relationship between diverse and contested forms of knowledge and practice within Latin America and the socio-historical contexts that produced them;
- Understand the different cultural politics surrounding the extractive sector in Chile versus in Australia;
- Be able to communicate knowledge intelligibly and economically through essay and assignment writing, tutorial discussions and class presentations.
On completion of this subject, students should:
- Develop an understanding of debates in domestic and international politics and an ability to evaluate different interpretations of political phenomena.
- Demonstrate an understanding of research processes in the social sciences including design, methodology and methods, critical analysis and interpretation, and the diversity of approaches to research.
- Recognise the importance of ethical standards of conduct in the research and analysis of social and political phenomena.
- Work productively in groups.
- Communicate effectively in oral and written formats.
- Develop an ability to work with independence and self-reflection, and engage in problem solving.
Last updated: 3 November 2022