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Summary of the 2nd International Workshop: The Political Economy of Contested Territories

A group of interdisciplinary scholars from the arts, humanities, social sciences and sciences met in the University of York from 26 and 27 September 2019 to continue discussions on Contested Territories in Latin America. While the first workshop at the University of Leeds focused on how the concept of Contested Territories centres on the production and appropriation of space and knowledge(s) in and through often overlapping conflicts, this second workshop further developed the concept of Contested Territories through a focus on political economy. In particular, the workshop examined how the contestation of territory is deeply connected to the production, circulation, and consumption of value. The different contributions examined, among others, the relation between Contested Territories and the political economy of natural resource governance and infrastructure speculation and interrogated how different actors contest the commodification of urban and rural territories, spaces, and eco-systems.
Two keynote speakers, Penelope Anthias (University of Durham) and Leandro Vergara-Camus (SOAS) offered entry points into the workshop discussions. Penelope Anthias explored the concept of Contested Territories in relation to her ongoing work on indigenous land titling processes and ‘hydrocarbon citizenship’ in Bolivia, informing a subsequent panel which focused on the links between Contested Territories and natural resource governance and the politics of extraction. Leandro Vergara-Camus reflected on historical shifts in territorial struggles of agrarian and peasant movements throughout the wider Latin American region, issues that were further elaborated in a panel on agrarian systems. Two further panels focused on the political economy of Contested Territories in relation to (1) urban systems and (2) infrastructure, energy and land. In addition to keynotes and panels, Prof. Jean Grugel delivered a talk on grant writing and, as part of a half-day workshop, participants engaged in discussions around future research collaborations.
The different workshop panels departed from a conventional format of oral presentations aided by PowerPoint. Instead, contributors were asked to produce a short communication which was shared with all participants prior to the workshop. Panel chairs used these written communications to instigate a panel conversation amongst the speakers and wider participants. Five contributors agreed to have their communication published on this website and it is their contributions that follow this brief introduction. The different papers reflect on different themes discussed during the workshop. Focusing on urban systems, the blogs by Schappo and Tellez both focus on conflicts and struggles around public markets. Writing on Belo Horizonte, Schappo explores how the governance rationale towards public markets shifted away from a focus on cultural heritage and social service provisioning to a more profit-oriented approach which further exacerbates inequalities. Meanwhile, writing on Mexico City, Tellez depicts public markets as Contested Territories where traders “subvert state control and challenge existing neoliberal tendencies in urban food and basic staples supply”.
Focusing on agrarian systems, Cottyn’s blog takes a historical perspective towards land grabbing processes in the Andes and interrogates the “dialectical relation that binds commodification and community”. In doing so, Cottyn argues that the commodification of land undergoes a constant process of contestation and (re-)negotiation. Finally, the remaining two blogs focus on social, economic and cultural practices and (decolonial) alternatives – namely, community-based tourism (Pineda) and community development based on agro-ecology along with environmental and social restoration (Einbinder)- which actively challenge neoliberal development policies unfolding within local territories in Mexico (Pineda) and Guatemala (Einbinder).
We invite the reader to have a look at the five contributions and to engage in future discussions around Contested Territories, for example as part of a third international workshop on “Development Alternatives within Contested Territories in Latin America” taking place at the University of Sheffield from 29-30 January 2020. For details on this forthcoming event and how to get involved, click on the following link.