‘The things that white people work so hard to extract from the depths of the earth, minerals and oil, are not foods’, as shaman and Yanomami spokesperson Davi Kopenawa pointedly observes in The Falling Sky. Extraction has been historically associated with the removal of underground materials, whereas extractivism is a broader notion connoting a primarily white, colonial mode of accumulation of the West. For most Latin American countries, their natural wealth became their curse, permeating both the material and the symbolic realms. The extractive regime binds the environment and rules the lives of those subjugated to it by transforming them into mere commodities.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, rubber exemplified particularly well the devastating consequences of extractivism. Latex fulfilled the industrial dream of an ‘extraordinary substance’, the first material whose plasticity made it suitable to become everything else: waterproof garments, automobiles, communication infrastructure, mechanized warfare. Throughout its extraction boom, the Amazon Rainforest supplied around 60% of the world’s rubber demand. This hunger for rubber reflected the expanding omnipotence of global capitalism with ruinous consequences for the environment as well as for the local populations. During the overlooked genocide along the Putomayo River, according to John Tully, for every ton of rubber extracted and dispatched to the Global North, seven indigenous lives were lost.
The removal of large quantities of natural resources from the Global South has been foundational for meeting the increasing demand for goods of the centers of nascent capitalism. This logic never ceased and what one calls today neo-extractivism reproduces the colonial and subordinated condition of the so-called peripheral countries. Yet, this extractive rationality does not only secure the production of goods but extends itself to the production of knowledge and to the import of epistemic frameworks that explain local realities. Cognitive extractivism, claims Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, privileges the ‘center’ as the producer of theoretical and interpretative models whereas the ‘periphery’ remains relegated to the status of the illustrative case. Exported raw material are subsequently converted into concepts and shipped back to their places of provenance with added value.
The symposium seeks to examine and question the different modes of extractivism that have marred and marked the histories of Latin America and the Caribbean. The distinctive qualities of rubber (plasticity, isolation, expansivity, erasure) are the starting point for a contemporary inquiry of (neo)extractivism. Its political, environmental, cultural and social facets are to be analyzed, in particular as they are critically undertaken by literature and the visual arts. Artists and scholars will explore this mode of accumulation in its intimate relationship to the production and circulation of theory and cultural capital; to epistemicide and necropolitics; and to a restrictive worldview of ‘nature’ as an inert reservoir for economic exploitation.
Musa Michelle Mattiuzzi
Organized by Delfina Cabrera, Ariadne Collins, and Marlon Miguel in collaboration with materia – DLCL Focal Group (Stanford University)