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Atmospheric politics : negotiating climate change in the Bolivian highlands Whitt, Clayton Abel


This dissertation examines the experiences of farmers and herders in the highlands of Bolivia’s central Andes, or Altiplano, as they face and respond to climate change and other environmental problems. This work is based on 12 months of fieldwork among Quechua- and Spanish-speaking people in a rural municipality called El Choro, located on the floodplain of the Desaguadero River and just north of Lake Poopó. Bolivia is already suffering impacts from climate change, including shifting precipitation patterns, such as floods and droughts that disrupt agriculture. The government of Evo Morales and the MAS party has positioned itself to be an international leader in the fight against climate change while also continuing to pursue wealth at the hands of high impact extractive industries such as hydrocarbons and minerals. This dissertation, then, is an attempt to take a closer view of one community that is simultaneously beset by the consequences of climate change and water pollution but also is presented with new opportunities for economic development and new investments by the government. I explore how environmental experiences and politics are entangled in different ways and the types of material and spatial linkages that refract politics through the changing environment and vice versa. I trace the spatial politics of climate change and other environmental transformations by focusing in on people’s daily experiences with environmental phenomena such as mud, floods, droughts, and lightning strikes. I draw on spatial theories, such as Doreen Massey’s conceptualization of space as composed of a multiplicity of intersecting trajectories, and affect theory, especially Baruch Spinoza’s notion of bodies affecting other bodies by increasing or decreasing their capacity to act. I use these theories to draw out a conceptualization of what I call atmospheric politics, which emerge in the material interactions of daily life. I argue that atmospheric politics manifest in people’s day-to-day negotiations with their changing environments. These negotiations reflect mutual entanglement between people and environments that open to a multiplicity of possibilities, despite the grim futures prognosticated under climate change.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International