UBC Theses and Dissertations
Swans, ecological struggles and ontological fractures : a posthumanist account of the Río Cruces disaster in Valdivia, Chile Sepúlveda, Claudia
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.
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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada