Contested discourses, knowledge, and socio-environmental conflict in Ecuador

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  • Contested discourses, knowledge, and socio-environmentalconflict in Ecuador

    Karen S. Buchanan *

    Centre for Development Innovation, Wageningen University and Research Centre, The Netherlands

    e n v i r o n m e n t a l s c i e n c e & p o l i c y 3 0 ( 2 0 1 3 ) 1 9 2 5

    a r t i c l e i n f o

    Article history:

    Received 28 October 2011

    Received in revised form

    11 December 2012

    Accepted 14 December 2012

    Published on line 20 March 2013


    Discourse analysis


    Socio-environmental conflict

    Political ecology


    a b s t r a c t

    This paper explores how multiple types of knowledge epistemic, technical, and anecdotal

    are combined and used discursively within the claim-making process of a long-running

    socio-environmental conflict concerning copper extraction and its threat to biodiversity

    conservation in Ecuadors Intag valley cloud-forest. The contentions at play in this highly

    polarised dispute are broadly speaking either developmental or environmental in nature.

    This article examines the forms of knowledge that are mobilised in environmental discourse

    and the ways in which claim-makers deploy different types of knowledge to advance their

    political and policy interests. It contends that the success of the environmental claim-

    makers in protecting the cloud-forest so far derives from their political mobilisation around

    strategic and dynamic combinations of different types of environmental knowledge.

    Through including the hegemonic neoliberal biodiversity discourse in their anti-mining

    and pro-conservation environmental discourse and policy advocacy, environmentalists

    from the local to the global level were able to use neoliberal arguments as counter-claims

    against the neoliberal pro-extractives rhetoric of economic development. In practice, this

    was achieved both by enacting local environmental policies and practices to protect the

    Intag area from large-scale open-cast mining activities, and by leveraging power through

    spreading social media based information to undermine the viability of successive mining

    concession-owners at the international level. The gap between science and policy therefore

    was, and continues to be, transcended by the nature of the urgent political expediency of the


    # 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

    Available online at

    journal homepage: Introduction: socio-environmental conflictand extractive industries

    Large-scale mining is one of the most contentious human

    activities on the planet, indeed perhaps no single industry has

    precipitated more disputes over land use than mining (Hilson, 2002).

    In the short- to medium-term, extractive industries and their

    associated social and economic infrastructure bring certain

    economic benefits to the national economy and selected

    sections of the local economy and community such as through* Tel.: +31 317486866; fax: +31 317486801.E-mail address:

    1462-9011/$ see front matter # 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved and land title purchases. Simultaneously miner-

    al extraction activities cause the land required by open-cast

    mining and surrounding socio-economic communities un-

    avoidable alteration through natural resource degradation and

    social change (Hilson, 2002). While bringing socio-economic

    infrastructure to the area around the mine e.g. medical

    facilities, housing, roads, and schools, the socio-environmen-

    tal consequences of conflicts can be severe and irreversible,

    and even result in violence, resource degradation, the undermining

    of livelihoods, and the uprooting of communities (Castro and

    Nielsen, 2001)..

  • e n v i r o n m e n t a l s c i e n c e & p o l i c y 3 0 ( 2 0 1 3 ) 1 9 2 520Frequently disputes arise in developing countries between

    existing land-use policies and practices such as agriculture,

    forestry, water catchment, and nature conservation, and new

    extractive land-uses such as large-scale open-cast copper

    mining. These policy conflicts reflect the irreconcilable nature

    of such competing land-uses. Where mineralised deposits of

    copper and other metal ores lie beneath the surface, open-cast

    mining necessarily involves the removal and destruction of

    this surface including the natural resources, human settle-

    ments and cultural and economic activities it contains and

    affords. These socio-environmental conflicts around mining

    activities can be understood as the result of interactions

    between different claim-makers who advance a particular set

    of interests as part of their struggle for control of certain

    natural resources. Often, they are highly polarised where

    claim-makers position themselves either in favour of or

    against mining activities. Generally, those against mineral

    extraction promote environmental and economic alternatives

    to mining such as biodiversity conservation, agriculture and

    forestry activities while those in favour of mining activities

    highlight the social and economic development mining brings.

    In the Andean regions of Latin America mining conflicts are

    multiplying (Urkidi and Walter, 2011) with anti-mining social

    movements emerging alongside (Bebbington et al., 2008). In

    Intag, the case study of this paper, a broad range of claim-

    makers1 express their contested visions of the future

    development of the cloud-forested slopes of the Intag valley

    by drawing on selected environmental discourses. Mobilising

    around shared values and identities, Intags society is now

    characterised by social divisions that reflect deep-seated conflicts

    over power and resources both between groups and (more pertinent

    still) within groups (Hildyard, 1999). In the Intag valley, these

    conflicts have resulted in people developing a clear sense of

    identity, as mineros and ecologistas.2 The pro-mining faction

    argues that the rural area is economically under-developed,

    that local people are under-served by public health, education

    and transport services and infrastructure, and also have few

    business and employment opportunities outside small-scale

    farming and logging. They contend that implementing a policy

    of large-scale open-cast copper mining can only improve

    living conditions in the rural communities. The environmen-

    talists assert the global, national and local significance of

    keeping the cloud forest intact, with the ecosystems services

    and local livelihoods it provides. Implementing a policy of

    protecting this unique environment from irreversible destruc-

    tion by large-scale mining would not only preserve environ-

    mental goods for the benefit of the planet but also defend and

    maintain local quality of life3 and minimise damage to the social

    fabric and general well-being of local farming communities.

    This illustrates that what is at stake here is not just a matter

    of objectively assessing the effects of the mining project and1 Local communities and local level grassroots groups; thewider community of interested parties which includes non-gov-ernmental organisations (NGOs); the State; the municipality andprovince; local level and multi-national business, including themining exploration company; national and multi-lateral institu-tions, and international organisations.

    2 Miners and environmentalists respectively.3 Defensa de la vida y la naturalesa(defence of life and nature).accuracy of the different claims, but also the way in which the

    ecological and social conditions in Intag valley are framed.

    Sociologists investigating environmental issues highlight how

    claim-makers try to influence policy by convincing decision-

    makers of the validity of whatever is being defined as an

    environmental problem (Morris and Wragg, 2003). They show

    how in these issues it is not an environmental phenomenon itself

    that is important, but the way in which society makes sense of this

    phenomenon (Fortmann, 1995). Following these insights, this

    article analyses the ways in which the claim-makers in a

    contentious proposed open-cast copper mine in Intag mobilise

    different environmental discourses and deploy types of

    knowledge to advance their policy and political interests. As

    such, it addresses the intricate dynamics between knowledge

    politics, discourse and power as they took place in encounters

    between pro- and anti-mining groups and the negotiation and

    re-negotiation of their respective positions as the conflict


    2. The discursive use of environmentalknowledge

    The Intag valleys scattered rural farming communities live in

    the Choco-Andean range of north-west Ecuador. For nearly 20

    years since the discovery of valuable mineral deposits in the

    hills several of these communities have been under the threat

    of their lands being lost to a succession of firstly private

    mining interests, from Japanese, to Canadian, and then to

    todays Ecuadorian-Chilean alliance between the 2 countries

    state owned mining companies. Throughout this time

    combinations of different forms of environmental knowledge

    and different environmental and developmental discourses

    were strategically deployed by the claim-makers contesting

    the future of the Intag valley. Consequently, the mining

    conflict has developed into a complex and multi-scalar

    struggle for power. The anti-mining coalition continues to

    resist the ever-present threat of mining, with the support of

    the Canton Cotacachi Peoples Assembly which annually

    renews its resolution to reject mining in Intag, a resolution

    which must be adhered to by the local authority.

    This article is framed within a political ecology approach

    where the goal is to explain environmental conflict especially

    in terms of struggles over knowledge, power and practice and

    politics, justice and governance (Robbins, 2012), and to seek to

    understand the complex relations between nature and society

    through a careful analysis of what one might call the forms of

    access and control over resources and their implications for

    environmental health and sustainable livelihoods (Watts,

    2000). It also applies a discourse analytical perspective to

    investigate these struggles. It considers discourse as a shared

    way of apprehending the world. . . [which is]. . . bound up with

    political power (Dryzek, 2005). The struggles between the claim-

    makers involved in Intag are thus understood as struggles to

    get specific discourses accepted in policy while others are

    ignored or rejected.

    The importance of discourse is increasingly recognised in

    studies of political ecology, humannature relationships and

    environmental conflicts. They emphasise the relationships

    between discourse and power as central dialectic moments of

  • 4 . . .estamos defendiendo lo que es de medio ambiente. . . esque nosotros luchamos en defensa de nuestra naturaleza es por-que necesitamos para sobrevivir aqu.

    e n v i r o n m e n t a l s c i e n c e & p o l i c y 3 0 ( 2 0 1 3 ) 1 9 2 5 21the social process (Harvey, 1996) of environmental claim-

    making. In the so-called discursive turn in political ecology,

    discourse is described as how desires, imaginaries, ideologies

    and metaphors work to produce textual products that both reflect and

    shape relations of power. (Neumann, 2005). Thus, for the study

    of environmental politics and policy-making it is important to

    focus on the different ways in which the environment is interpreted

    and explained by the various people involved in its management,

    including government officials and policy-makers, local civil society

    [and] how these views inform (or fail to be heard in) environmental

    policy-making in the developing world (Blaikie, 2001).

    Technical knowledge about the state of the environment

    and its connection to human activities plays an important role

    in environmental struggles (Wesselink et al., 2013; Turnhout

    et al., 2008). Environmentalists recognise that truth talking to

    power Wildavsky (1979), can aid their cause and that

    knowledge lends credibility to certain claims and can be used

    to criticise or advocate specific courses of action. As

    environmental knowledge informs and constitutes the dis-

    courses in which it is used, it is pertinent to reflect that: whose

    discourse is accepted as being truthful is a question of social struggle

    and power politics (Castree and Braun, 2001). In a similar vein,

    Bingham (2003) emphasises the relationship between dis-

    course and knowledge when he identifies the following three

    requirements for successful claim-making in the public arena:

    (1) a generalised argument or discourse designed to justify the

    claim-makers position; (2) evidence of some sort to back up

    the claim; and (3) an assemblage of resources to support the

    claim. He argues that these are . . .components that different

    interests can bring together and display in order to exert leverage,

    influence or force (Bingham, 2003). Ockwell and Rydin (2006)

    show how analysing the discursive nature of environmental

    policy conflicts can lead to a fuller understanding of how

    contested knowledge claims become accredited and established in

    policy. Importantly, environmental claim-making not only

    involves the use of technical knowledge access to which

    often is privileged by power but also local and anecdotal

    knowledge. In some cases these forms of knowledge can even

    be used to reject hegemonic discourses (Neves-Graca, 2004).

    Consequently, it is important to focus the analysis on the use

    of different forms of knowledge including epistemic, technical

    as well as anecdotal knowledge (Flyvbjerg, 2001; Tenbensel,


    This article presents the results of an analysis of the

    different environmental discourses and forms of knowledge

    used by the claim-makers in the Intag mining controversy.

    The findings are based on interviews with all actors involved

    undertaken during 9 months of fieldwork in 20052006. In

    addition to the interview transcripts, the analysis is based on

    fieldwork notes, policy documents, local newspapers, web-

    sites and other media sources. Qualitative Data Analysis

    Software was used to support the management and analysis of

    the data. To typify the different positions in the debate, the

    article uses Hajers (1995) concepts of discourse coalitions and

    storylines. In Intag the claim-making groups have each

    formed a discourse coalition as mineros or ecologistas. These

    coalitions present themselves as united voices to key institu-

    tions but they comprise a wide variety of claim-makers

    including activists, scientists, politicians, and their represen-

    tative organisations. These coalitions are politically powerfulbecause their constituent claim-makers unify around partic-

    ular story-lines, which they however may interpret differ-

    ently (Hajer, 1995). The analysis of the coalitions and the

    claims they make focuses on identifying the types of

    knowledge used and assessing how these forms of knowledge

    are deployed in environmental discourse.

    3. Knowledge, discourse and claim-making inIntag valley

    Typically, environmental truths, such as critical species lists

    based on field data collected by natural scientists who

    establish supposedly objective facts using scientific methods,

    are accepted in a style of policy-making described as top-down,

    state-led, and authoritarian (Blaikie, 2001). Scientific data about

    trends in the distribution of species and the functioning of

    ecosystems have prompted worldwide concerns over the

    extinction of species and the critical functions of biodiversity

    to support all life forms on Earth. The UN Convention on

    Biodiversity Conservation (1992), together with large global

    conservation NGOs, popularised the term biodiversity. Subse-

    quent environmental education and political campaigns have

    established this as a dominant environmental discourse used

    almost universally in local to international policy-making

    processes. Intags tremendous and unique biodiversity is

    expressed discursively by national and local environmental

    NGOs in Ecuador.

    Despite its initial international origin and association with

    top-down policy, this biodiversity discourse is now used in the

    everyday rhetoric of Intags anti-mining communities as an

    international political weapon to oppose destruction of their

    natural environment by large-scale copper mining. However

    the different actors involved in the coalition have different

    interpretations of the story lines used. While for conservation

    NGOs, they may reflect their commitment to protect the

    intrinsic values of nature, this may be different for other

    actors. As one resident of the rural communities said, their

    environmental protection claim is a question of survival . . .we

    are defending the environment. . .we are fighting to defend our natural

    environment as this is what we depend on to survive here.4

    The ecologistas discourse coalition, that has formed around

    common ground of pro-conservation and anti-mining inter-

    ests and has organised itself around the global story-line of

    biodiversity and its conservation translated to their local

    level, is characterised by links between local and interna-

    tional levels from local communities to international envi-

    ronmental NGOs. This connection has opened up new

    sources of different types of environmental knowledge for

    the local communities, and also provided an additional media

    outlet for publicity of and advocacy on behalf of the anti-

    mining campaign. Early studies of environmental claim-

    making over biodiversity focus on the role of the media in the

    production and representation of environmental claims,

    their delivery and the creation of meaning, seen as a cyclical

    process (Burgess and Harrison, 1993). More recent research

  • 6 Y luchamos para las futuras generaciones, que han de venir.Nosotros ya estamos a media edad, pero los ninos que estan por

    e n v i r o n m e n t a l s c i e n c e & p o l i c y 3 0 ( 2 0 1 3 ) 1 9 2 522shows how the advent of the world-wide web and digital media

    tools has since added to the tactical arsenal available to groups

    wanting to infiltrate and disrupt government and corporate

    networks of power (Lester and Hutchins, 2012). In the Intag

    conflict the internet has been the main medium used for local

    to global communication. The autonomous local environ-

    mental organisation that was set up to represent the local

    communities used their bi-lingual website to access not only

    the Spanish-speaking but also the English-speaking conser-

    vationist world. Thus using bi-directional information chan-

    nels, the local environmentalists gained exposure to

    concerned environmentalists and NGOs in developed coun-

    tries such as Canada and the United Kingdom. Equally these

    environmental NGOs used empirical data from the Intag case

    as epistemic information to bolster their campaigns to

    change the policies and practices of the mining companies,

    many of which are stockmarket-listed in their own countries

    when operating in developing countries. However, as Lester

    and Hutchins point out (Lester and Hutchins, 2012), while the

    visibility that social media offers is a politically valuable tool

    for less empowered groups such as in the Intag case, the exact

    opposite is often sought by the companies and governments

    on the other side of an environmental conflict. For these

    parties, the function of invisibility or the coordinated avoidance of

    media communication, attention and representation in order to

    achieve political and/or social ends is a most sought-after feature

    of contemporary environmental politics. As was the case

    during the fieldwork period where the exploration company

    website provided minimal information, only in English, and

    for its shareholders, with minimal reference to the ongoing

    conflict and difficulties the companys staff and consultants

    were having in gaining access to their property in Intag and to

    being able to communicate the findings of their EIS5 as

    required by law to secure the mining concession.

    Closely linked to environmental knowledge and discourse

    are the ways that claim-makers see themselves and each

    other and the reasons why. For example, the reasons for which

    people self-identify and want to be seen as environmentalists

    or miners in this conflict. Civil society in Intag is being

    restructured as interested individuals, families and groups

    align themselves in discourse coalitions along their position in

    the conflict. This results in a simultaneous process of fissures

    forming throughout the existing social fabric while deep

    bonds are forming across communities. As we have seen in the

    composition of the discourse coalitions, both the divisions and

    the connections are multi-scalar in nature. Within these

    coalitions, strong links are forged between shared, adopted

    identities and this forms the basis for the sharing of

    knowledge, predominantly epistemic and technical in nature.

    The mineros discourse coalition expresses scepticism about

    how the rural anti-mining claim-makers developed their

    apparently deeply held convictions of the importance of nature

    and biodiversity conservation. One informant referred to the

    four main families opposing the mining project as brain-

    washed by a trip to a copper mine and smelter in Peru . Another

    informant gave an example of information being given to the

    rural communities by a local environmental organisation,

    implying that it had gained almost mythological status.5 Environmental Impact Statement.He described this as purely anecdotally based information,

    without verifiable scientific bases in epistemic or technical

    knowledge. He portrayed the convictions of the people as

    ridiculous and ill-founded: . . .people are telling all their people that

    the desert in Peru is caused by mining, and people believe them. Theres

    even one story that came out, this came to me fourth-hand, that

    underneath the copper deposit there is a big nuclear uranium deposit,

    and when you dig too deep into the copper, this uranium bursts out and

    causes a desert like the one that was created by the mining companies in

    Peru . A further informant simply called the people of the area

    mis-informed and in this way the power of the anti-mining

    claim is undermined by the questioning and ridicule of the

    accuracy of the technical information on which their thinking

    about the effects of mining is based. This same tactic,

    dismissing conviction and claims as based on mere anecdote

    is used by the anti-mining environmental alliance to under-

    mine the pro-mining alliances equally strong belief in the

    benefits of mining by claiming their lack of epistemic and

    technical information on the socio-environmental risks of

    mining to the health and well-being of proximate rural


    However anecdotal knowledge is very important in the

    promotion of action. One Intag resident told me that her

    determination to work against the mine comes from the deep

    feeling she has for nature conservation and a heart-felt

    conviction that the mine would be bad for her family and the

    future of the village Were fighting for future generations to come.

    We are already middle-aged but the children need clean rivers

    without contamination, and peaceful hills.6 She is one of the

    group of women who visited Peru as part of building

    awareness of the impacts of open-cast mining and saw an

    operational copper mine, the extent of the excavation works,

    the rock spoil, and the tailings dam, and so is concerned about

    how mining will destroy the Intag landscape and existing

    economic activities. This type of anecdotal information is the

    basis for the stories often re-told and relayed between claim-

    makers based on their experiences and observations and their

    own interpretation of reality.

    Extensive capacity-building in all rural communities in the

    Intag valley has ensured that information on causal links

    between mining and environmental, health and social

    impacts is clearly understood by the anti-mining alliance

    who use this epistemic information in their discourses against

    the mine. In the Intag conflict claim-makers use both

    generalised and specific environmental discourses, with

    information and knowledge from multiple sources as evi-

    dence to substantiate the argument behind each claim, and

    each claim-maker assembles and deploys their own battery of

    resources to lever influence and power over the policy process

    and its eventual outcome, as well as its impacts. The epistemic

    knowledge in this case is derived from a range of sources: from

    the EIS produced for the Japanese International Cooperation

    Agency (JICA); from scientific reports produced by national and

    international environmental NGOs; from the World Bank;

    from various national Ministries; from the mining companyvenir, se necessitan los ros limpios sin contaminacion, las mon-tanas libre de ruido.

  • e n v i r o n m e n t a l s c i e n c e & p o l i c y 3 0 ( 2 0 1 3 ) 1 9 2 5 23engineers and corporate social responsibility managers; also

    from site visits to mining areas in Chile and Peru . This type of

    knowledge is used to inform the policy positions of the anti-

    mining claim-makers and articulated using environmental


    The epistemic knowledge contained in JICAs EIS became

    available to the national environmental campaigning organi-

    sation Accon Ecologica. This Ecuadorian NGO first alerted the

    Intag communities to the threat of mining. It did this through

    an initial environmental awareness campaign run in con-

    junction with the newly formed local environmental organi-

    sation DECOIN that was formed to represent the interests of

    the residents of Intag and promote sustainable alternative

    economic forms of development to copper mining. Specifical-

    ly, they introduced the particular hegemonic neoliberal

    discourses of biodiversity conservation and sustainable

    development (Fletcher, 2011; Igoe et al., 2010), which advocate

    solutions for conservation that simultaneously stimulate

    economic development. There are some dissenting views on

    how this information should have been used7 as not all anti-

    mining environmentalists agree how the knowledge should be

    used as a strategic tool for organising local communities.

    However the use of the environmental discourse of biodiver-

    sity conservation has been chosen by the local environmental

    NGO to frame the aims of the future development of Intag by

    the anti-mining alliance. The technical knowledge that is

    deployed in these discourses was shared through these

    workshops and meetings and they had a strong influence

    on the development of a shared worldview within local

    environmental groups. They have shaped local thinking and

    are reflected in policy options and preferences. Biodiversity

    conservation has become their point of departure in the

    development of environmentally sensitive enterprises such as

    shade-grown organic coffee for export to Japan and Germany,

    loofah-based products, organic soaps, and flour. Most initia-

    tives are run by local women who for the first time have their

    own income.7 I was present when the original EIS came out from the Ministryof Energy and Mines, when we were given that document; I waspresent at the DECOIN meeting where we went over that study; Isays, these guys are beautiful, theyve just given us the best toolwe have for building awareness, these folks just dont want toleave their land, theres nowhere else to go; these guys are allcolonists, they will not want to be just tossed off their land, just fora mine; and they were offering to relocate all 200 families orsomething like that that would have to be relocated, they weregoing to give them public housing, a small house on a 20 by 20 lotin the new mining town that was going to be developed in order toprocess the slurry and send it down the tube to the coast; that wasthe trade-off they were offering, I just thought that, it was a greatorganising tool you know, theyre not going to get our land, thatssomething people can understand. There are people who dontagree with me on that; they say weve got to build an anti-miningconsciousness! and all that, it was just artificially imposed, I wasalways saying weve got to legalise these peoples land; thatswhere weve got to put the money, raise money and well legalisetheir land with INDA before the big company gets in here and buysit all up; just never went ahead, thats one of the things whichwould have been, I think, a much more positive direction, wouldhave helped.4. Environmental discourse and policydevelopment

    As Hajer and Versteeg (2005) write: environmental discussion

    can lead to the revision of rules, the enactment of laws, or the creation

    of institutions but underlying these visible changes, there is the

    creation, thickening or discarding of meanings. Environmental

    arguments might seem factual and scientific, but they are also

    meaningful, suggestive and atmospheric. Indeed, the study of

    nature and society relations has several approaches which

    reflect how claim-makers advocate particular environmental

    policy alternatives based on the different forms of environ-

    mental knowledge they have acquired through environmental

    education, capacity-building, and multi-level international

    alliances. Castree and Braun (2001) write that: . . .knowledge of

    nature is invariably inflected with the biases of the knower. . . [i.e.]

    . . .only particular, socially constituted knowledges. . .are. . .seen as

    implicitly and explicitly reflecting the wider. . .interests of the most

    powerful groups in Western and non-Western societies. Intags

    anti-mining environmental discourse uses epistemic knowl-

    edge of nature derived from empirical scientific studies carried

    out by national and international experts citing the incredible

    biodiversity of the area. In contrast to what Castree and Braun

    appear to suggest, the Intag case demonstrates that also

    traditionally less powerful groups were able to benefit from

    the mobilisation of this knowledge. They were also able to

    mobilise the technical knowledge about presumably sustain-

    able alternatives for economic development that was associ-

    ated with the neoliberal discourses of conservation and

    sustainable development. However it is not only epistemic

    and technical but also local forms of knowledge that are used

    in supporting claims within the struggle at the local level.

    Rural communities in Intag understand and relate to their

    environment as something they are part of. They express this

    relationship through their claims and self-identification as

    environmentalists living in mutual respect with nature. The

    Parish magazine El Inteno explains that the majority of local

    farming people are accustomed to the rural way of life which

    they would like to continue to enjoy in peace: . . .the majority of

    Intags residents are farmers. This has been our life and we would like

    to continue living in peace. We Intenos are environmentalists by

    nature due to being born in the countryside.8 This position is

    clearly based on their understanding of the values of the Intag

    people and their local knowledge.This social nature approach

    sees nature as essentially social and . . .defined, delimited, and

    even physically reconstituted by different societies, often in order to

    serve specific. . .interests. . . (Castree and Braun, 2001). This

    assertion fits well with this study presented here and gives

    recognition to unequal positions of power and resources

    among those either advocating or contesting environmental

    claims and seeking opposing policy outcomes. In Intag the

    environmental policy-making process uses the word la

    naturaleza to describe their natural environment. This term,

    despite its multiple and overlapping meanings, is used8 La mayora de los/las Intenos somos campesinos, agricultoresy ganadores. Es ha sido nuestra vida y queremos seguirla viviendoen paz. Los Intenos somos ecologistas por naturaleza, porquenacimos en el monte. El Inteno, 2006.

  • e n v i r o n m e n t a l s c i e n c e & p o l i c y 3 0 ( 2 0 1 3 ) 1 9 2 524deliberately and consistently to achieve a common purpose of

    defeating the mining policy advocates. The intention of the

    claim-makers in this particular conflict demonstrates this

    selectivity in practice as their environmental claims are

    discursively constructed using different forms of knowledge

    in order to achieve their policy and political objectives.

    In Intag the claims and counter-claims are formed from

    different forms of environmental information communicated

    by organisations at all levels from local to international. The

    claims are used to create a dynamic knowledge base which

    informs the evolution of discourses used by claim-makers.

    New institutions have emerged in Intag to represent the

    coalitions and articulate the associated discourses. The

    analysis presented here shows that DECOIN was instrumental

    in the introduction of new epistemic and technical knowledge.

    This knowledge was used in its environmental-awareness

    campaign to educate the local farming communities, some of

    which took on these new discourses and used them to express

    feeling and beliefs which had not been vocalised previously.

    The Cantons Environmental Committee has since supple-

    mented this initial campaign with a universal environmental

    education programme targeted primarily at those in the first 5

    years of education (children and adults alike in the parallel

    local campaign for universal literacy). There is now a growing

    body of rural people who have adopted this way of thinking

    and have started to employ environmental discourses from

    the North of sustainable development, biodiversity conserva-

    tion, ecology, water protection and so on, through their own

    narratives and accounts of the conflict in order to influence

    policy outcomes. Their discourses, and the strong interna-

    tional political links made from using these imported concepts

    and terminology, have empowered the rural communities to

    make changes to their own social and material practices, and

    to take direct action to achieve a mining-free future in Intag.

    Multi-dimensional and multi-sector resistance move-

    ments, such as the ecologistas discourse coalition, have

    emerged in response to ecological distribution conflicts where

    there is a perception that environmental risks and hazards are

    unequally distributed across human populations. As this

    paper has shown in the analysis, the coalition was able to

    integrate epistemic, technical and anecdotal knowledge, and

    connect it to specific discourses of biodiversity, sustainable

    development, and neoliberal conservation. In so doing, they

    have been able to make a number of claims: about the high

    biodiversity values of the area; about the extent of environ-

    mental degradation caused by the large-scale copper mine

    planned for the area, including the degradation from the waste

    produced from the extraction process; about how the copper

    mine would affect their relation with nature and threaten

    their way of life; about the problematic assumptions under-

    pinning the mining project and about sustainable alternatives

    for local economic development in Intag and the wider region.

    While on initial inspection it may appear that there is little

    connection between local and global ecological distribution

    conflicts, in terms of the local movements and global issues,

    global ideas are being used in Intags local and Ecuadors

    national environmental debates and struggles. In the Intag

    case global to local links are driven by the global market for the

    products of the copper mining industry; local to global links

    are promoted by the local communities who resist thepressures of global forces to exploit mineral resources

    underneath their farmland and cloud-forests.

    Despite inequalities based on gender, socio-economic

    class, and level of education, the powerful unifying identity

    of the conflicts main groups is around their unique dis-

    courses. This strong self-identity of an otherwise heteroge-

    neous alliance determines their degree of bargaining power

    and the extent of control over resources such as land and its

    environmental degradation on which their livelihoods de-

    pend. In terms of multi-scalar connections, Intags claim-

    makers situate the process in the context of global economic

    demands for copper, and also the associated political

    pressures for mineral development tied in with national

    economic development, local social forces of resistance to

    change and environmental degradation, and hegemonic

    environmental discourses. These contested policy discourses

    are the very substance of political developments, negotiations

    and power relations.

    5. Conclusions

    As this article has demonstrated, multiple forms of environ-

    mental knowledge are being used by each claim-maker as they

    try to exercise power by using environmental discourses

    which can then affect their relative and dynamic positions of

    empowerment and disempowerment within the conflict. This

    position changes according to the control and use of

    environmental knowledges and discourses; and ultimately,

    also the degree to which each claim-maker is able to advance

    their own policy and political interests. The discourses used,

    particularly the hegemonic neoliberal discourse of biodiversi-

    ty conservation, are actively shaping and defining the

    boundaries of expression and language used by the local

    claim-makers, and in turn delimiting their claims for the

    protection and preservation of the cloud-forest. Supporting

    Hajer and Versteegs contention (2005), these discourses serve

    to shape what can and cannot be thought by the environmen-

    talists in the Intag conflict; they also delimit the range of policy

    options, and thereby serve as precursors to policy outcomes that

    claimants in this discourse coalition seek which ultimately

    defines the range of environmental policy options that they

    seek to influence.

    Intags claim-makers deliberate use of combinations of

    epistemic, technical, and even anecdotal knowledge through

    dynamic environmental discourses demonstrates the dialec-

    tical relations between claim-makers in the two coalitions as

    claim-makers are dynamically defining and re-defining claims

    in connection with the different environmental and develop-

    mental discourses mobilised in the conflict. Thus what this

    paper has shown in the Intag case is the co-evolution of

    discourse and knowledge whereby the knowledge ingrained

    within the discourse either promotes or inhibits the power of a

    discourses use as a claim; in turn strengthening or weakening

    specific claim-makers within the conflict. Ultimately the

    success of the ecologistas coalition in protecting their cloud-

    forest from large-scale open-cast copper mining, until today,

    derives from their active mobilisation and strategic combina-

    tion of different forms of environmental knowledge

    epistemic, technical and anecdotal in their anti-mining

  • e n v i r o n m e n t a l s c i e n c e & p o l i c y 3 0 ( 2 0 1 3 ) 1 9 2 5 25and pro-biodiversity conservation discourses and policy


    Finally, the paper can conclude that through including the

    hegemonic neoliberal biodiversity discourse in their anti-

    mining and pro-conservation environmental discourse and

    policy advocacy, environmentalists from the local to the global

    level were able to use neoliberal arguments as counter-claims

    against the neoliberal pro-extractives rhetoric of economic

    development. In practice, this was achieved both by enacting

    local environmental policies and practices to protect the Intag

    area from large-scale open-cast mining activities, and by

    leveraging power through spreading social media based

    information to undermine the viability of successive mining

    concession-owners at the international level. The gap be-

    tween science and policy therefore was, and continues to be,

    transcended by the nature of the urgent political expediency of

    the conflict. Until today no copper exploration activities have

    begun in the Intag valley however the threat is always there. In

    July 2012 the Ecuadorian and Chilean governments signed an

    agreement to activate the copper mining project by beginning

    exploration activities in this richly biodiverse area in 2013,

    despite the prolonged resistance from environmentalists

    within the local communities, the Cantonal Assemblys and

    the wider international community. Unlike the previous

    attempts by 2 non-Ecuadorian companies to start exploration

    in Intag, this time the threat comes from the state mining

    company. With this new power constellation of national

    versus local interests and the rhetoric of economic develop-

    ment in the interest of Ecuadors national economy, the

    struggle for Intags environmental discourses, policies and

    practices to still prevail within the claim-making process will

    be tested to a far greater extent than ever before.


    A first version of this paper was given at the Sixth Interpretive

    Policy Analysis Conference in Cardiff in June 2011. The author

    would like to express her gratitude to Esther Turnhout for her

    support in preparation of this article for submission and her

    thanks to the two anonymous reviewers for their comments.

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