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Energy as the work of nature: the quandaries of sacrificial productivism in Chiloé, south of Chile

Cabaña Alvear, Gabriela Rocío (2024) Energy as the work of nature: the quandaries of sacrificial productivism in Chiloé, south of Chile. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004628


Chiloé, an archipelago in the south of Chile, has been the setting of recent conflicts around the expansion of energy infrastructure. My research explores these contestations in the wider ecological and political context of the relations between the archipelago and the Chilean state. I analyse these conflicts around energy generation as the latest phase of a much longer history of struggles for and against connectivity and related processes of making the land productive. I contextualize the ambiguous relation with energy my interlocutors had in tandem with their idea of work as a human activity. The concept of work, I suggest, is inseparable from the wider moral and political understanding of energy as the work of nature. I argue that both work and energy have been developed as goods in themselves, as part of the historical trajectory of ideas of moral worth, care and productivity in Chiloé Within this context, I show that understanding certain activities as 'work' is not a universal or default category; its imposition has relied worldwide on different institutions. In the case of Chiloé, I focus on the role the Spanishimposed encomienda had as a seminal moment of transformation and displacement of other forms of social action, such as the minga. The contradictions that emerge in the expectations around work can be found in the idea of sacrifice, and in a certain relation to work as being sacrificial. A similar denunciation and understanding of sacrifice can be found in the notion of sacrifice zones, a term used among my interlocutors to express the dangers that come with making a place productive. I develop my argument across two lines: processes of energy planning and other state-led instances of bureaucratic evaluation of energy projects, and the issues Chilote collectives brought forward in their defence of the archipelago’s autonomy in relation to energy projects.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2024 Gabriela Rocío Cabaña Alvear
Library of Congress subject classification: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
Sets: Departments > Anthropology
Supervisor: Weszkalnys, Gisa and Pia, Andrea E.

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