Soirée “Mines and Water”

Documentary Screening

La Hija de La Laguna, réalisé par Ernesto Cabellos (2015)


Moderator : Nicolas Richard, CREDA

Commented by: Kyra Grieco and Antonia Zambra


From the « Pacha-» to the « Yaku-mama » ? Feminisation and indigenisation of water in a context of social mobilisation against mining
Kyra Grieco

This paper analyses the social construction of water, and particularly its feminisation and indigenisation, in the context of a local mobilisation against mining activities. It draws on 12 months of ethnographic research, carried out between 2011 and 2013 in the north-Andean region of Cajamarca, Peru, amongst participants to mobilisations against mining project Minas Conga. Fieldwork observations and interviews are complemented by an analysis of the audio-visual production concerning this social movement during the following period (2013-2016). This allows to account for the adaptation and diffusion of local conflict narratives and representations of water at the national and international level.
First, I will present some of the shortcomings of existing political ecology literature, in order to highlight the contribution of an ethnographic perspective to the study of water. The forms of knowledge and practice which are mobilised by local actors opposed to mining development will then allow to highlight the process of politization of water. Finally, the representation of water as a feminised and “indigenous” element, victim of a masculinised and destructive modernity, illustrates a process of re-signification aiming to counter extractive activities through the naturalisation of ethnic and gender relations.


Lickanantai water knowledge and it recent transformation in a context of social and environmental change (Atacama Desert, Chile).
Antonia Zambra-Álvarez

Despite high climate variability in the Atacama Desert (23°30’S, 68°15’O), one of the driest regions in the world, the consistent water supply from the Andes Mountains, has historically allowed Atacameño (Lickanantai) people to cultivate a wide range of agricultural crops as well as develop pastoralist activities, by taking advantage of several altitudinal ecological zones in different seasonal regimes. To do this, irrigation techniques and other flexible and strategic schemes associated with long-term water ecological knowledge, have been established since pre-Inca times. These adaptive strategies have not only shaped the relationship of these Andean societies with the environment but also, have been crucial in the maintenance and protection of the socioecological system of the desert oases.  Nevertheless, in the last decade extreme climate events in the Andes have contributed to floods, droughts, cold and heat waves, as never seen before. From a socio-historical perspective, adaptive schemes of this water societies which were central to the local economy until the end of the nineteenth century, gradually started to be replaced by modern activities, particularly mining and tourism. Given this context, it seems vital to identify not only how local experiences and representations of changing environmental conditions interact with social and economic changes at a global level, but also to explain the way in which culturally-acquired water knowledge is integrated, disregarded or remains opposed to other kinds of current knowledge systems and practices brought by a capitalist logic around the human-water-relationship. To respond to these concerns, I present here the case of Toconao, a village located at the northeast of the Atacama Salt Lake basin, where I carried out six weeks of fieldwork between May and June 2016. In 2011 and 2012 respectively, inhabitants of Toconao experienced floods bringing debris, water, and trees. Among their negative effects were the almost complete disappearance of farmlands, and the destruction of houses, fruit trees, irrigation channels, and bridges. In this context, Toconao become an interesting place to study further how traditional societies understand culturally-acquired knowledge around water, but also to explore how they have experienced changes around traditional water knowledge due to the social and economic events in the last decades. To achieve these aims, I applied, in first place, the theoretical framework exposed by Firket Berkes in his book “Sacred Ecology” (2008), to identify and describe how different levels of local water knowledge manifested itself in Toconao. In second place, I attempted to characterised how this localised knowledge around water has gradually changed due to the environmental and social transformations experienced during the last decades. Both exercises allowed me to conclude that the theoretical framework proposed by Firket Berkes (2008) seems a useful approach to analyse the interwoven elements that interact and shape local ecological knowledge around water, as well as to understand and follow how this knowledge has been affected by recent social and environmental changes.