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Swans, ecological struggles and ontological fractures : a posthumanist account of the Río Cruces disaster… Sepúlveda, Claudia 2016

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        SWANS, ECOLOGICAL STRUGGLES AND ONTOLOGICAL FRACTURES: A Posthumanist Account of the Río Cruces Disaster in Valdivia, Chile  by  Claudia Sepúlveda    A Dissertation Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of  Doctor of Philosophy in The Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (Geography)  THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA (Vancouver)      February 2016   © Claudia Sepúlveda, 2016     ii Abstract This is a dissertation on ontological struggles –that is, struggles between competing ways of performing the world. More precisely, I study the ontological opening resulting from such struggles once what I call dominant performations are exposed to revision and room is made for non-dominant ontologies, such as alternative human/nature entanglements. I analyze the ontological opening provoked by a landmark event in Valdivia, Chile: the Río Cruces ecological disaster that since 2004 has affected a protected wetland and its colony of black-necked swans. The disaster, that followed the installation of a new pulp-mill by ARAUCO, one of the world’s largest pulpwood companies, sparked an unprecedented mobilization with long-lasting effects. Staying close to the “doings” of the actors, my political ontological interpretation describes, first, how the disaster exposed ARAUCO’s environmental practices as constitutive of its way of performing the forest business and, doing so, also fractured Chile’s until then dominant business model. Second, I describe how the disaster revealed the workings of environmental procedures and the techno-scientific knowledges upon which they were based provoking the breakdown of Chile’s environmental edifice and its ensuing reform. Third, I follow the ontological struggle that the disaster unleashed around Valdivia’s identity once dominant performations tied to the city’s industrial past were confronted. I describe how historical entanglements between Valdivians and rivers became the substrate of a reconfigured identity closely connected to wetlands. Finally, I attend to the centrality that the actors attribute to the swans in explaining the disaster’s effects. Despite no meaningful bond with the swans existed before 2004 I conclude that the swan’s “suffering” was the most agentive force within the struggle. I take this finding as evidence of the non-dominant nature/human entanglements that surfaced once dominant realities were fractured. In contrast to critiques that conceive of local mobilizations as failing to embody a fully transformative potential this conclusion demonstrates that single-issue ecological struggles may contribute to the world’s politicization. On the one side, by allowing non-dominant ontologies to manifest and travel more freely and, on the other, by expanding the borders of the political community to previously ignored actors, both human and nonhuman.   iii Preface This dissertation is an original intellectual product of the author. The fieldwork reported from Chapters 3 to 9 was covered by UBC Ethics Certificate H12-02249, granted on September 7 of 2012 by the Behavioral Research Ethics Board to the research titled “Swans, Ecological Struggles and Ontological Openings: A Posthumanist Account of the Río Cruces Disaster in Valdivia, Chile.” The following book chapter, describing the theoretical approach applied in the present dissertation, was published in 2015: Sepúlveda, Claudia and Juanita Sundberg. 2015. “Aperturas Ontológicas, Multiplicidad y Performación: Ampliando la Agenda de una Ecología Política Posthumanista a Partir de Reflexiones Sobre el Desastre del Río Cruces, en Valdivia”. Pp. 167-191 in Ecología Política en Chile: Poder, Naturaleza, Conocimiento edited by Beatriz Bustos, Manuel Prieto and Jonathan Barton. Santiago: Editorial Universitaria.     iv Table of Contents Abstract	  ..........................................................................................................................................................................	  ii	  Preface	  ..........................................................................................................................................................................	  iii	  Table	  of	  Contents	  .......................................................................................................................................................	  iv	  List	  of	  Figures	  ..............................................................................................................................................................	  vi	  List	  of	  Photographs	  ..................................................................................................................................................	  vii	  Acknowledgements	  ................................................................................................................................................	  viii	  Foreword	  by	  the	  Author	  ..........................................................................................................................................	  xi	  Chapter 1: Introduction: Why this Research? …………………………………………...………1 Chapter	  2:	  Tracing	  and	  Describing	  the	  Ontological	  Opening	  Provoked	  by	  the	  Río	  Cruces	  Disaster:	  Methodological	  Strategy	  and	  Analytical	  Tools	  .........................................................................................	  31	  2.1	  Overview	  .....................................................................................................................................................................................	  31	  2.2	  Methodological	  Approach	  ....................................................................................................................................................	  33	  2.3	  Methodological	  Strategy	  .......................................................................................................................................................	  35	  2.3.1	  Ontological	  Fractures	  and	  their	  Effects	  .....................................................................................................................	  35	  2.3.2	  Traces	  and	  Agencies	  ...........................................................................................................................................................	  38	  2.3.3	  Sources	  and	  Descriptions	  .................................................................................................................................................	  42	  2.3.4	  Tracing	  the	  Surfacing	  of	  Non-­‐dominant	  Ontologies	  .............................................................................................	  45	  2.3.5	  Narrating	  the	  Ontological	  Opening	  ...............................................................................................................................	  47	  2.4	  Analytical	  Tools	  ........................................................................................................................................................................	  49	  2.4.1	  Opening	  the	  Black-­‐boxes	  of	  Science	  ............................................................................................................................	  50	  2.4.2	  Tracing	  (and	  Flattening)	  the	  Materiality	  of	  “the	  Social”	  .....................................................................................	  53	  2.4.3	  Making	  Actors	  Speak:	  Posthumanism’s	  Political	  Project	  ...................................................................................	  58	  2.4.4	  From	  the	  Materiality	  of	  “the	  Social”	  to	  Ontological	  Performativity	  ...............................................................	  60	  2.4.5	  From	  Ontological	  Multiplicity	  to	  Macro-­‐social	  Performation	  ..........................................................................	  65	  2.5 Research Questions ...................................................................................................................... 70 Chapter	   3:	   The	   Making	   of	   ARAUCO:	   How	   Erosion,	   Pines	   and	   Native	   Forests	   Took	   Part	   in	   the	  Performation	  of	  Chile’s	  Forest	  Giant	  ............................................................................................................	  72	  3.1	  ARAUCO	  as	  the	  Incarnation	  of	  Chile’s	  Successful	  “Forest	  Model”	  ......................................................................	  72	  3.2	  Pines	  to	  Stop	  the	  Flying	  Sands	  ...........................................................................................................................................	  76	  3.3	  The	  Agency	  of	  Pino	  Radiata	  and	  the	  Pressure	  for	  a	  Pulpwood	  Industry	  ........................................................	  81	  3.4	  A	  New	  Impulse	  to	  Forestation:	  Conservationists	  Join	  the	  Forest	  “Feat”	  .........................................................	  86	  3.5	  The	  Making	  of	  ARAUCO	  ........................................................................................................................................................	  90	  3.6	  The	  Confrontation	  Between	  Plantations	  and	  Native	  Forests	  ...............................................................................	  97	  3.7	  Competing	  Worlds	  Take	  Shape	  .......................................................................................................................................	  103	  3.8	  Conclusions	  ..............................................................................................................................................................................	  108	  Chapter	   4:	   The	   Making	   of	   the	   Sanctuary:	   How	   Earthquakes,	   Ornithologists,	   Plants	   and	   Swan	  Counts	  Took	  Part	  in	  Performing	  the	  Río	  Cruces	  Wetland	  as	  Worthy	  of	  Protection	  ...................	  111	  4.1	  An	  Inexistent	  Bond	  ...............................................................................................................................................................	  111	  4.2	  The	  Making	  of	  the	  Río	  Cruces	  Wetland	  ........................................................................................................................	  113	  4.3	  The	  Making	  of	  the	  Río	  Cruces	  Sanctuary	  .....................................................................................................................	  119	  4.4	  Who	  are	  these	  Swans,	  Anyway?	  ......................................................................................................................................	  129	  4.5	  The	  “Submerged”	  Agency	  of	  Luchecillo	  and	  its	  Assemblage	  with	  the	  Swans	  ..............................................	  138	  4.6	  Counting	  Birds	  ........................................................................................................................................................................	  145	  4.7	  Conclusions	  ..............................................................................................................................................................................	  152	   	    v Chapter	   5:	   The	   Approval	   of	   ARAUCO’s	   Pulp-­‐mill:	   How	   Oceans,	   Rivers	   and	   Past-­‐Industries	  Enrolled	  Competing	  Ontologies	  into	  the	  Making	  of	  Chile’s	  Forest	  Sector	  .....................................	  155	  5.1	  The	  Wetland	  Shows	  Up	  .......................................................................................................................................................	  155	  5.2	  The	  First	  Environmental	  Concerns	  and	  the	  Demand	  for	  Relocation	  ..............................................................	  161	  5.3	  The	  Promise	  of	  Development	  and	  the	  Defense	  of	  the	  Río	  Cruces	  ....................................................................	  164	  5.4	  Unexpected	  Resistances:	  Ocean,	  Fishes,	  and	  Nondominant	  Ontologies	  .......................................................	  175	  5.5	  Conclusions	  ..............................................................................................................................................................................	  185	  Chapter	   6:	   ARAUCO	   on	   Its	   Knees:	   How	   the	   Río	   Cruces	  Disaster	   Took	   Part	   In	   the	   Fracture	   of	  Dominant	  Ways	  of	  Performing	  Chile’s	  Forest	  Business	  .......................................................................	  187	  6.1	  Facing	  the	  Cameras	  ..............................................................................................................................................................	  187	  6.2	  The	  Return	  to	  the	  River	  ......................................................................................................................................................	  191	  6.3	  Pollution	  and	  Death	  ..............................................................................................................................................................	  195	  6.4	  The	  Exposure	  of	  ARAUCO’s	  Environmental	  Practices	  ...........................................................................................	  200	  6.5	  The	  Exposure	  of	  the	  Business	  Model	  Incarnated	  by	  ARAUCO	  ...........................................................................	  205	  6.6	  The	  Bowing	  of	  Chile’s	  Forest	  Giant	  ................................................................................................................................	  212	  6.7	  Emerging	  Practices	  ...............................................................................................................................................................	  223	  Chapter	  7:	  Exploring	  the	  Performative	  Effects	  of	  “Commissioned”	  Knowledges	  .............................	  233	  7.1	  Hiring	  Experts	  .........................................................................................................................................................................	  233	  7.2	  CASEB’s	  Commentary:	  A	  Consequential	  Intervention	  ..........................................................................................	  236	  7.3	  The	  Performative	  Power	  of	  Scientific	  Descriptions	  ...............................................................................................	  241	  7.4	  The	  Workings	  of	  Scientific	  Uncertainty	  .......................................................................................................................	  247	  7.5	  “Commissioned	  Knowledges”	  for	  the	  Mill’s	  Approval	  ...........................................................................................	  255	  7.6	  An	  “Unknown”	  and	  Polluted	  Ecosystem	  ......................................................................................................................	  260	  7.7	  The	  Ignored	  Agency	  of	  the	  River	  ....................................................................................................................................	  263	  7.8	  Conclusions	  ..............................................................................................................................................................................	  273	  Chapter	   8:	   Swans,	   Rivers,	   Wetlands	   and	   a	   Multitudinous	   Fracture:	   the	   Collapse	   of	   Chile’s	  Environmental	  Framework	  and	  the	  Remaking	  of	  Valdivia’s	  Identity	  ............................................	  277	  8.1	  A	  Movement	  is	  Born	  .............................................................................................................................................................	  277	  8.2	  How	  Chile’s	  Environmental	  Frame	  Began	  to	  Fall	  Apart	  .......................................................................................	  287	  8.3	  A	  City	  Built	  Upon	  Rivers	  and	  Wetlands	  .......................................................................................................................	  297	  8.4	  The	  Fracture	  and	  Remaking	  of	  Valdivia’s	  Identity	  .................................................................................................	  300	  8.5	  Tracing	  the	  Marks	  of	  Emerging	  Worlds	  .......................................................................................................................	  307	  8.6	  Conclusions	  ..............................................................................................................................................................................	  313	  Chapter	  9:	  Two	  Dead	  Swans	  and	  Thousands	  of	  Humans:	  On	  the	  Agency	  of	  Animal	  Suffering	  ....	  317	  9.1	  Two	  Dead	  Swans	  ....................................................................................................................................................................	  317	  9.2	  The	  Swans	  are	  Falling,	  the	  Swans	  are	  Drowning	  .....................................................................................................	  324	  9.3	  Uneasy	  Feelings	  .....................................................................................................................................................................	  331	  9.4	  Taking	  Animals	  Seriously	  ..................................................................................................................................................	  336	  9.5	  Being	  Moved	  by	  the	  Suffering	  of	  Animals	  ...................................................................................................................	  339	  9.6	  Redrawing	  the	  Divide	  ..........................................................................................................................................................	  344	  9.7	  Border	  Crossing	  .....................................................................................................................................................................	  346	  9.8	  Conclusions	  ..............................................................................................................................................................................	  352	  Chapter	   10:	   Conclusions:	  What	  Does	   it	  Mean	   to	   Politically	  Disrupt	   the	  World?	  The	  Río	   Cruces	  Disaster	  as	  a	  Properly	  Political	  Event	  ........................................................................................................	  353	  10.1	  Overview	  ................................................................................................................................................................................	  353	  10.2	  What	  Does	  it	  Mean	  to	  “Politically	  Disrupt”	  the	  World?	  ......................................................................................	  357	  10.3	  An	  Ontological	  Reading	  of	  Ranciére’s	  Politics	  ........................................................................................................	  363	  10.4	  The	  “Properly	  Political”	  as	  an	  Ethical	  Response	  ...................................................................................................	  368	  10.5	  The	  Space	  for	  Nonhumans	  in	  the	  “Properly	  Political”	  ........................................................................................	  373	  10.6	  Final	  Words	  ...........................................................................................................................................................................	  376	  References	  ................................................................................................................................................................	  379	    vi  List of Figures Figure 1: Location of Valdivia, its Main Rivers, the Sanctuary and ARAUCO’s pulp-mill……...115  Figure 2 :A Poster by Acción por los Cisnes: Summer 2006……………………………..……….300  Figure 3: Postcard: “Valdivia, The Wetland-City”………………………………………………..308      vii List of Photographs  Photograph 1: A Couple of Black-Necked Swans in the Río Cruces Wetland……………………131 Photograph 2: Rebel Swans by Felipe Smides: “Organize” and “Breakdown the Structure”….....136 Photograph 3: “La Mancha” [The Slick] Moving Through Valdivia: December 18, 2004………268 Photograph 4: Two Swan Activists and a Policeman During a Visit of Bachelet to Valdivia…….281 Photograph 5: Two Policemen Holding Two Dead Swans………………………………………..317 Photograph 6: Schlatter and a Warden in the Wetland Holding a Dead Swan.…………….……..319 Photograph 7: Woman Holding an Injured Swan, January 2005………………………………….325 Photograph 8: More Rebel Swans by Felipe Smides…………..………………………………….351       viii Acknowledgements First and foremost, my gratitude goes to my two beloved teenage sons, Nicolás and Luciano, who left behind their friends and their world to accompany me on our Canadian adventure. I know it was not easy for them and hope that some day they will understand the significance that this decision had for me. I also thank their father, Pablo, who supported my plans and took care of our sons during those periods when I was focused on my studies. My gratitude also goes to my sister, Marisol, who in her special way of encouraging my studies traveled to Vancouver with my beloved niece, Natalia, and waited there for us when we arrived in the summer of 2010. I also thank my mother for being attentive to our wellbeing, and Patty, our nana, who even from 11,000 km away was continuously caring. Although he long ago passed on to another domain of existence, I thank my father, who taught me the experience of being connected to rivers, valleys, and oceans. I thank Chile’s Comisión Nacional de Investigación Científica y Tecnológica (CONICYT) for the scholarship that enabled me to study at UBC and for their flexibility in responding to every request I made during these years. I thank as well UBC’s Faculty of Art and Geography Department for the financial assistance I received during my studies. My special thanks to Alejandro Rojas, my first supervisor, who not only opened the doors of this great university to me but also had the generosity to accompany me until this final stage. My gratitude to Juanita Sundberg, my supervisor, who has that rare gift for guiding students like me into philosophically and politically complex issues in a way that empowers our capacity to develop a personal academic stance, and furthermore for making  us feel that such an effort is relevant. I also thank Trevor Barnes, whose revision of my first draft helped me come closer to the final outcome I had envisioned. My very special thanks to   ix Hugo Zunino and the Universidad de La Frontera for inviting me to join the Centro de Estudios Internacionales de la Patagonia (CIEP) at Pucón, where I spent several months in 2014 writing my dissertation amidst nurturing conversations under the volcano. I also thank Yerko for his support as research assistant, Marcia for her dedicated transcriptions of the interviews, Andrew for his professional and encouraging revision of my final version, Aldo for his help in preparing a map, Daniel, Jorge and Eduardo for their pictures, and Marcela for all her caring help in solving the impasse with the air tickets I needed for my defence. I am especially grateful to my interviewees, particularly to those with whom I had been in conflict for so long. I had genuine conversations with many of them that expanded my understanding not only of my case study, but also of what it means to be a human living in a more-than-human world. I thank them for their generosity in receiving me despite any pre-existing distrust and their courage in talking about their hesitations, fears and torments. I express great thanks to those past public officers and authorities who showed me the wounds they still carried as result of the Valdivian disaster. I also thank those in ARAUCO who opened for me the possibility of witnessing the competing worlds that still coexist within the company and Rodrigo A. for facilitating my first conversations with them. My special gratitude goes to Roberto Schlatter, Jorge Ruiz and the sanctuary’s wardens for helping me expand my knowledge of the wetland and its connection with Valdivians and their history. I also thank my fellow citizens from Acción por los Cisnes –José, Bruno, Ximena, Daniel, Benjamín, Úrsula, Renate, Ema and Leonardo– for sharing their innermost reflections and opening up about those things “we had never dared to talk about.” I express my heartfelt gratitude to the friends that in different ways have supported or accompanied me during the last six years while I was not only pursuing my PhD but also   x living important life events. Thanks to those friends who visited us in Vancouver –David, Malena, Eduardo and Claudia U.; to those who received me in Vancouver and introduced me to this new place –May and Verónica; to the new, special friends I found at UBC –Steve, Alissa, Sarah and Corin; to the lifelong friends I made in Vancouver –Patricia, Mitra, Estefanía, Amelia and my dear life-sister Claudia D., her husband Álvaro and their precious Alfonsina; to the caring friends that accompanied me during my stay in Pucón –Angélica, Rodrigo C., Dana, Ieva and Carmen; and to the friends that have been my company and guides during critical moments: Susana, Vivi, Jacquie, Mauricio, Marcelo, Aseema, Paola B., Paola A., Rossana, Pía, Suyén, Manuel, Rod, Pablo S., Miguel and Mariano. Finally, my special gratitude to Julia, my joyful “daughter,” who travelled from abroad during the winter of 2015, bringing back to my heart that delicate piece that was missing for so long; and to Alfredo, who mysteriously opened the path for this magical reunion.     xi Foreword by the Author In the austral spring of 2004, the fate of a colony of black-necked swans turned into a nation-wide issue in Chile while marking the lives of many humans, including myself. The swan’s material existence became obvious when the Río Cruces wetland –a protected wetland located upstream the city of Valdivia, 850 km south of Santiago– showed signs of contamination. The swans had gradually established there in great numbers after in 1960 a 9.6 earthquake on the Richter scale hit the zone. This event caused the subsidence of the lands surrounding the Río Cruces giving shape to a huge wetland. In 1981, the wetland was declared a Natural Sanctuary by Chile and a site of international importance for migratory birds by the Ramsar Convention. By mid 2000s “the sanctuary” was considered by some as home to the most important reproductive population of the species. In December of 2003 about 7,000 resident swans were counted in the sanctuary. Two months later, in February 2004, a new pulp-mill owned by the Chilean mega-holding ARAUCO began to discharge its liquid wastes into the Río Cruces, 30 km upstream the wetland. By April 2004, two thousand hectares of the aquatic plant that was the swan’s main food supply had collapsed. The bluish and transparent waters of the wetland turned into dense and brownish ones while the swans began to starve and their brains, hearts, and livers accumulated heavy metals. Dozens of swans were found dead and many fell over the city. No chicks or nests were found. A year after the pulp-mill started to discharge its wastes to the Río Cruces, less than 200 swans remained in the protected wetland. Human communities were also affected. People living close to the industry reported respiratory problems, skin allergies, impacts in their vegetables and signs of acid rain.   xii Several economic activities related to the sanctuary disappeared along with the swans, such as a fluvial touristic route and associated projects promoted by indigenous associations. In Valdivia, a citizen movement in defense of the swans and the Río Cruces wetland emerged, calling itself  Acción por los Cisnes [Action for the Swans]. I was part of it from the outset. Moreover, I was literally captured by the fate of the swans and the wetland, and, especially by the citizens’ overwhelming response to the disaster. During four intense years, I dedicated my full-time professional, voluntary work to the movement’s objective of stopping the disaster, recovering the wetland, and saving the swans. As a sociologist trained in biological conservation and environmental conflicts, my main tasks consisted in analyzing all sorts of reports, legal resources, and scientific studies, while preparing position documents and technical presentations for authorities, public agencies and international organizations, as well as newspaper articles, press releases, and educational talks for the broader public. I also became one of the movement’s spokespersons, focusing on academic and international audiences, authorities, and the media. Finally, I directed and wrote the script of a documentary entitled Ciudad de Papel that tells the story of the Valdivian movement up to 2007, when the film was launched. In sum, I came to live the unpredictable, intense, tough, and economically impoverished –but no less exiting and rewarding– life of an environmental activist in Chile, far away from the safer professional grounds I had been familiar with for over 15 years. The voluntary work of members like myself and a vast network of individual supporters sustained the movement. Our position papers circulated widely, fostering an extended   xiii reconsideration of the country’s environmental framework. Gradually, the Valdivian mobilization became a “case study” and a landmark in Chile’s environmental trajectory. Despite this apparent “success,” and after five years of intense activism, the movement was deeply frustrated. Although a scientific report commissioned by the government established ARAUCO’s responsibility in 2005, authorities granted the company an ad-hoc permit allowing it to continue discharging the same compounds identified by the said report as causally connected to the disaster. Meanwhile, the government enrolled the sanctuary in Ramsar’s red list of endangered wetlands and committed a plan for its recovery. As the polluting discharges continued the plan no longer made sense and was abandoned. Despite the landmark crisis that the disaster had provoked, our purpose as a movement –to stop the disaster and recover the wetland– was far from being achieved. Having dedicated half a decade of my life to this struggle without getting even close to our purpose, I felt exhausted and devastated. In particular, I felt betrayed by the workings of public agencies, with whom I had previously worked to conserve natural areas. Instead of preventing the disaster or stopping it on time, environmental agencies had not only been involved in its fabrication, but were more interested in not affecting ARAUCO’s property rights than in protecting citizens or recovering the ecosystem. Unable to digest our failure and unprepared to see or value the broader consequences that our struggle was already provoking, I decided to take some distance in order to make sense of this experience. Seeking new grounds from which to remake myself, I decided to pursue a doctorate in Human Geography at the University of British Columbia, Canada. There, I became fascinated by posthumanist perspectives and their understandings of the political. I was   xiv especially attracted to the idea that humans are not the only actors of consequence and that the social is constituted and sustained by ties and relationalities that include all sorts of nonhumans. I came to understand that, through the bond that connected them to humans, Valdivian swans could be conceived as political actors in their own right. I could now analyze the disaster’s long-lasting effects in connection to their full-blown agency. The possibility of reflecting at a distance also allowed me to see that, despite our apparent failure, the Valdivian mobilization had provoked outstanding effects. Indeed, mediated by the agency of the citizens/swans association the Río Cruces disaster generated a dramatic breakdown of the country’s environmental framework and its consecutive reform. Similarly, after exposing the until-then dominant business model incarnated by ARAUCO, the disaster also forced the company to modify some of its deep-rooted practices. The posthumanist lens provided me with tools for addressing the most pressing of all the questions that had taken form within me: How was it that a strictly local, single-issue and relatively resourceless movement had become such a political whirlwind, totally messing up Chile’s environmental frame, provoking changes in the practices of the country’s major forest holding, and forcing powerful business associations to support a legal reform that they had opposed for years? I had so far conceived the Valdivian case as the “last straw” with regards to the country’s environmental framework (Sepúlveda and Villarroel 2012). My hypothesis was that the institutional consequences of the Río Cruces disaster could only be understood when considered along with dozens of previous environmental conflicts and their accumulated effects. However, this hypothesis didn’t explain why Chile’s environmental frame collapsed precisely with this disaster and not before or after.    xv At the same time I was completely unsatisfied by explanations that pointed to things like the movement’s “strategies” or “power” for explaining the visibility and outcomes of the Valdivian mobilization. I knew first hand how Acción por los Cisnes emerged, what it did and how it worked, and such strategic-like explanations did not