Remapping the Vertical Archipelago: Mobility, Migration, and the Everyday Labor of Andean Development. The Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology. In press.

Abstract         This article analyzes contemporary relationships between mobility and immobility in the Arequipa region in Peru's Southern Andes. It links scholarship in Andean studies on the "vertical archipelago" model - the idea that proximal land at varying altitudes has been exploited to achieve resource diversity - with current research on the technological and affective dimensions of mobility, migration, and development. I draw on participant-observation and an ethnographic corpus of mobility stories - in which people recount the key moments of their life trajectories by chronicling how and where they have moved. This article presents an inquiry into what is specifically Andean about mobility, the people and things it connects, and the lives it configures. I argue that mobility is a form of labor that puts regionally valued notions of simultaneously economic and personal development to work in an Andean space that tasks its users to generate value by moving between elevations.

Key terms       Andes, anthropology, development, migration, Peru

The Unit of Resilience: Unbeckoned Degrowth and the Politics of (Post)Development in Peru and the Maldives. Journal of Political Ecology 24 (2017): 462-475.

Abstract       This article asks how people envision lives without economic growth in contexts where conventional development ceases to be feasible. It presents ethnographic research I conducted in Peru and in the Maldives, which policymakers see as two climate crisis frontiers. I argue for defining resilience as a grounded, necessarily local, actor's theory of permanence; it is a theory people from diverse social classes and institutions generate in situations of vulnerability and crisis. In the Andes' Colca Valley, which some residents predict has only several habitable decades left due to their increasing water scarcity, sustainable development projects are attenuating their presence as their budgets shrink, while mining enterprises and their corporate social responsibility programs have emerged as development's new agenda setters. The Maldives is one of the world's lowest-lying nations, which rising seas could soon render uninhabitable. Between 2008 and 2012, President Mohamed Nasheed made addressing climate crisis a policy priority by substituting conventional industrial development with a short-lived quest for national carbon neutrality. Examining this contrapuntal pair of frontier sites, I argue that defining the unit of resilience is a political act: forging this definition means prioritizing what, in a human-driven ecosystem, should remain permanent and what should be left behind.

Keywords:       resilience, degrowth, climate change, Peru, Maldives

Investment's Rituals: "Grassroots" Extractivism and the Making of an Indigenous Gold Mine in the Peruvian Andes. Geoforum. 82 (2017): 259-267. Summer 2017.

Abstract      What happens when an Andean family finds gold on its land? As mining corporations rapidly claim surrounding properties on rugged terrain near Mount Mismi, a water-supplying deity overlooking Peru’s Colca Valley, the Flores family is springing into action to beat the Buenaventura mining company to the gold that might be hidden within. The global land rush has been pronounced in Peru, whose mineral resources have largely been responsible for rapid economic growth but whose profits remain restricted to a relative few. The Flores family, many of its members underemployed, are engaged in a costly race against time to constitute themselves as an enterprise, rent equipment, formalize their title, and fulfill other rituals necessary for legitimating their own effort to access what they see as their small share of Peru’s mineral wealth, against the specter of state subsoil rights and corporate power. They are simultaneously racing to seek the land’s permission, via rituals like the pago a la tierra (offering to the earth) and the provision of spiritually infused chicha (fermented maize and barley). Through an ethnographic focus on the exemplary case of the Flores property and the diverse rituals essential to extracting its prosperity, this article asks how the Peruvian state’s categories of legitimate land use articulate with a perspective acknowledging land as a powerful non-human agent with its own requirements for becoming investable. I argue that beyond a simple dichotomy between official and indigenous rituals of legitimation, the Flores’ urgent race to render land investable puts multivalent ontologies and ethics to work together. In doing so, I further argue, family members draw on years of engagement with development projects and non-governmental organizations focused on promoting explicitly indigenous entrepreneurship. They are thus forging new interpretations of identity-based empowerment that complicate any stereotypical relationship between environmental sustainability and indigeneity.

Mediating Indigeneity: Public Space and the Making of Political Identity in Andean Peru. PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review. Vol. 39, No. 1, pp. 95-109. Spring 2016.

Abstract          This article investigates the relationship between political identity and public space in the communities of the Colca Valley, in Peru’s rural Andes, by examining two historical moments in which the built environment was used as a medium for formatting and engaging a local indigeneity. The first is the colonial invasion, when the very idea of unruly native subjects motivated an ambitious resettlement plan, the reducción, in which dispersed settlements were condensed around a public square and a church. The second is the contemporary moment, in which that same space is being used to stage audits, evaluations, and contests in the service of a development paradigm shifting from modernization and service provision to a focus on investing in indigeneity—specifically, by financing projects promoting entrepreneurial and agricultural practices that organizations classify as typically indigenous. Through an ethnographic reading of the Andean built environment, I offer two arguments: (1) Notions of indigenous identity have rested at the core of efforts to improve, organize, and regulate daily life—in other words, to achieve development—in the region since the colonial era. (2) Through changing historical contexts, the same physical space has been consistently used as a medium for configuring ideas about Colcan indigeneity, for deploying that category to generate strategic knowledge and regulatory force, and for investing indigeneity with the potential for various kinds of salvation. These arguments afford a rich historicization of contemporary development, with an ethnographic approach suggesting that transnational paradigms do not merely touch down, but also draw upon and push existing dynamics through the local media at their disposal.

Key terms       indigeneity, development, public space, colonialism, Peru/Andes


"It won't be any good to have democracy if we don't have a country": Climate Change and the Politics of Synecdoche in the Maldives. Global Environmental Change. Vol. 35 (190-198).

Abstract          Critical attention has recently turned to the climate change “synecdoche”: a place uniquely exposed to the environmental consequences of climate crisis, such as sea-level rise, that becomes a stand-in for the global crisis as a whole and a harbinger of more widespread disaster. The Maldives, which scientists, politicians, and activists predict could be completely submerged by 2100, filled that role between the 2008 inauguration of Mohamed Nasheed, the country’s first democratically elected president after years of authoritarian rule, and his 2012 ouster. This ethnography of the Maldivian challenge to climate change asks how claiming a geopolitical identity as the world’s “canary in the coalmine” fostered an emerging internal political culture. I argue that arming climate change solutions became a state-making device in the Maldives, whose fragile coral atoll ecosystem itself became the synecdoche of a young democracy. Between 2008 and 2012, how was environmental knowledge creation understood as a democratic activity? To answer this question, I draw on ethnographic interview testimony and participant-observation in Malé, the Maldivian capital, with politicians, activists, and city residents, as well as an analysis of the Nasheed administration’s public rhetoric. The article centers on the case of Bluepeace, the country’s oldest environmental NGO, which has seen significant international publicity. Following Bluepeace’s efforts to help the Maldives achieve carbon neutrality by 2020—part of Nasheed’s plan to end global climate change through exemplary national sacrifice—this article finds that climate problem solving and democracy were put to work for one another through small-scale mitigation and adaptation experiments.

Key terms       Climate change; geopolitical identity; politics of knowledge; democracy; environmentalism; Maldives


Límites a la fungibilidad de los billetes grandes en el Colca. [Big Bills and the Limits of Fungibility in Peru's Colca Valley.] Quehacer Vol. 193 (92-99).     

This article is in Spanish. A preliminary English-language version can be found at the Institute for Money, Technology, and Financial Inclusion blog (here's Part 1, and here's Part 2).

Abstract        What happens to cash in rural communities whose economies are based in part on subsistence farming and reciprocity? Are big, unwieldy denominations—such as Peru’s 100-sol bill—uniquely mobile, or uniquely stationary in such places? Might denomination itself tell us something about how people self-identify, or even about how development interventions are changing local economies? This article tracks the ways large cash units circulate through Andean Peru’s Colca Valley, due in part to a development paradigm emphasizing investments in enterprises promoting indigenous identity as a market good and cash-cropping as a means of livelihood. An ethnography of the interactional and technological infrastructure required to render money fungible in practice, this piece attends to the non-fungible dimensions of big bills, arguing that they cannot be spent without mediation by certain social relations. In their capacity to organize transactions, savings, and value distribution, large cash denominations provide a rarely explored avenue for understanding the everyday impacts of development intervention. I propose that large bills are reconfiguring the ways Colcans relate to one another and conceptualize themselves. Anchored in ethnographic analyses of the specific moments when cash changes hands, my methodology is rooted in three case study sites: a longitudinal analysis of market vendors’ cash use in the town of Chivay; a profit-sharing consortium of entrepreneurial families involved in local tourism; and saving and spending practices in one “unbanked” Colcan household. The study’s results suggest that (1) to make change (sencillar, “to simplify” in Spanish) entails activating and adjusting established forms of obligation, social capital, and neighborliness; (2) value distribution from big bills means that profits are rarely shared equally between members at any given moment, occasioning temporary economies of indebtedness and reciprocal aid; and (3) big bills can structure long-term household savings by virtue of their high-value storage or “heaviness.”