Monica Asencio - Level of Access to Autism Spectrum Disorder Resources and Types of Interventions in Peru
This pilot study examined the level of access to autism spectrum disorder (ASD)-related resources and services and the types of ASD intervention in Lima, Peru. A total of 24 ASD specialists participated in this pilot study and completed a survey that contained 20 questions, which were designed to collect information on the level of access to ASD resources and types of ASD interventions they currently offer to their clients with ASD. Also, this survey gathered information on the benefits of their services, cost of interventions and barriers they encounter.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that affects social and communication skills and usually begins from infancy to the first three years of life (Lord Cook, Leventhal, & Amaral, 2000; Phetrasuwan, Miles, & Mesibov, 2009). The number of children diagnosed with ASD or related disorders has grown dramatically in the last decade. It is estimated that today in the United States about one in every 68 children are diagnosed with ASD (Christensen et al., 2016).
Despite the fact that research has generated much understanding of the biology of ASD and underlined the importance of early intervention, in developing countries access to effective interventions and services remains a challenge for people with ASD and their families. In 2006, the World Health Organization identified Peru as one of 57 countries with a critical deficit in the supply of skilled health workers (Boslaugh, 2013).
Research shows that early intervention for children with ASD can make a considerable difference in the child’s development (Moore & Goodson, 2003). Currently, there are many interventions used with children with ASD, however, not all of them can be effective. What works best for one child on the autism spectrum may not work for another child (Corsello, 2005). In the United States, interventions for ASD range from medical to educational, which include the use of methods based on applied behavior analysis (ABA), speech and language therapy, occupational and physical therapies, psychopharmacology, and complementary and alternative medicines (Myers & Johnson, 2007). ASD interventions, appropriate services, training and information for families and school personnel reduce the risks of social exclusion of children with ASD and increase their ability to learn and succeed.
However, access to health care services is one of the major issues in developing countries. O’Donnell (2007) identifies four dimensions of access to health care services: availability, accessibility, affordability, and acceptability. O’Donnell states that in most developing countries, appropriate healthcare interventions are not provided, and a major reason is the lack of resources. Moreover, he suggests that although healthcare services are available, their quality is poor or the access is reserved for more affluent people, rather than for those from low-income families.
Samadi and McConkey (2011) state that most research on ASD has been conducted in affluent English-speaking countries, which have extensive professional support services. In contrast, in developing countries, there are three main issues regarding research in ASD. First, developing countries lack data on the prevalence of ASD nationally. Second, research should elucidate the parental understanding of ASD and the impact it has on these individuals. Finally, education and training should be provided to families when professional supports are sparse.
Lima is expected to become a megacity in the next few years and despite its economic growth, health inequality remains an important issue. For this reason, I conducted a 6-week (May 11th - June 24th, 2017) pilot study in Lima, Peru, which examined the level of access to ASD-related resources and services and the types of ASD intervention in Lima, Peru. Thus, the purpose of this pilot study was to examine the level of access to ASD-related resources and services and the types of ASD intervention in Lima, Peru.
Thanks to the Latin American & Iberian Institute and the Tinker Foundation’s Field Research Grant, I spent six weeks (May 15 to June 21, 2017) in Lima, Peru, conducting a pilot study on the level of access to ASD resources and types of ASD interventions available to individuals with ASD and their families. To recruit participants for my study, I sent emails to centers specialized in ASD. The only requisite for participation was to have experience providing services for individuals with ASD. A total of 24 ASD specialists agreed to participate in this pilot study and completed a survey that contained 20 questions which were designed to collect information on the level of access to ASD resources and types of ASD interventions they currently offer to their clients with ASD. Also, this survey gathered information on the benefits of their services, cost of interventions and barriers ASD specialists encounter.
The average age range of the respondent was 25-30 years old. 87% of the sample were female, 13% were male. The majority (71%) of respondents indicated they had a bachelor’s degree, and 29% reported an advanced degree, such as a master’s or doctorate degree.
Types of Interventions
31% of the respondents reported that they offer Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) to their clients. The second most common offered intervention (18%) is Floortime (DIR), followed by Training and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children (TEACCH), Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), and others such as Theory of Mind.
Cost of Interventions
71% of those surveyed responded that each intervention session cost around 50-100 Peruvian Nuevo Soles (US $15-30). If we consider that literature recommends 40 hours a week of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), and if we also take into consideration that in 2016 the World Bank estimated that the Peruvian Gross Domestic Product per capita was 6,045.70 US dollars (19,131.60 Peruvian Nuevo Soles) it follows that only a small portion of the population can access these interventions.
Coverage of Interventions
87% of those surveyed responded that the interventions are not covered by the public system. 21% of the respondents stated that the interventions are covered by a private system, and 50% responded that the interventions are not covered by a private system. Apparently, the government does not cover the cost of these interventions and very few private health insurances cover the cost of the interventions, which can limit the access to these services.
The majority of respondents (45%) felt that the cost of the interventions is the main barrier for individuals with ASD and their families to obtain services. What caught my attention is that 9% of respondents reported that language barriers prevent individuals with ASD and their families from getting services. Although Peru’s official language is Spanish, there are other predominant languages, such as Quechua, Aymara, and Shipibo. In the last decade, a large number of indigenous peoples migrated to Lima in search of jobs and educational opportunities. However, they face language exclusion on a daily basis, especially in the area of health. The Peruvian Government should address this barrier by providing training to health professionals in order to offer equal access to health services.
Resources for Parents
Since parent involvement is essential to the child’s progress, I asked two questions to find out if respondents provide training and education for parents whose children are receiving their services. 50% of the respondents stated that they do provide education and training for parents and the other 50% reported that they do not offer these services. Previous research has shown the importance and effectiveness of parental involvement. Kaminski et al. (2008) reviewed several studies related to parent training and found that it has a positive effect on the child. It is for this reason that ASD interventionists should emphasize the importance of providing education and training for parents. When respondents were asked whether or not they provide educational materials for families on how to cope with their child’s diagnosis, 83% reported that they do not offer educational material on this matter.
Overall, ASD specialists in Lima, Peru offer a variety of evidence-based interventions for individuals with ASD. However, this pilot study identified the following barriers for individuals with ASD and their families: (a) high cost of ASD interventions; (b) lack of educational materials and training for parents; and (c) language barriers. I believe that public agencies should consider these barriers in the planning and implementation of policies at both national and local community levels.
Experience as a researcher
As a Peruvian, having familiarity with the country and the language definitely helped, but there were times where I had to brainstorm to resolve a problem quickly. For example, to save money I decided to use public transportation. Public transportation in Lima is also the most common, easy and cheap way to get around the city. However, I founded it difficult to solely rely on public transportation, especially if I had meetings in several places on the same day. A couple of times I had to reschedule a meeting with a participant because the bus was so crowded that I had to wait for a long time for the next bus. After that, I decided to take taxis and leave at least 2 hours before a scheduled meeting. Also, in the beginning, it was difficult to get my initial contacts for this pilot study. Some of the centers I contacted took several days to reply to my emails, and others did not reply at all. Therefore, in order to resolve this issue, I called to those centers to verify that I got the correct email addresses. Overall, I can say that my “Peruvian experience,” as a researcher, provided me with a variety of skills in research, survey design, report-writing and interviewing of professionals. My trip to Peru was truly an experience, and I will be forever grateful for what I have learned.
I would like to thank Dr. Cathy Qi and Dr. Ruth Luckasson from the University of New Mexico for providing me the guidance throughout this project. This pilot study would not have been possible without their immense support. I would also like to thank the Latin American and Iberian Institute and the Tinker Foundation for having funded my study.
Boslaugh, S. E. (2013). Health care systems around the world: A comparative guide. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Christensen, D. L., Baio, J., Van Naarden Braun, K., Bilder, D., Charles, J., Constantino, J. N.,
Yeargin-Allsopp, M. (2016). Prevalence and characteristics of autism spectrum disorder among children aged 8 years- autism and developmental disabilities monitoring network, 11 sites, United States, 2012. MMWR Surveillance Summaries, 65(3).
Corsello, C. M. (2005). Early intervention in autism. Infants & Young Children, 18(2), 74-85.
Kaminski, J., Valle, J., Filene, J., Boyle, C. (2008). A meta-analytic review of components associated with parent training program effectiveness. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 36(4), 567-589.
Lord, C., Cook, E. H., Leventhal, B. L., & Amaral, D. G. (2000). Autism spectrum disorders. Neuron, 28(2), 355-363.
Moore, V., & Goodson, S. (2003). How well does early diagnosis of autism stand the test of time? Follow-up study of children assessed for autism at age 2 and development of an early diagnostic service. Autism, 7(1), 47-63.
Myers SM, Johnson CP, & American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Children with Disabilities. (2007). Management of children with autism spectrum disorders. Pediatrics, 120(5), 1162-82.
O'Donnell, O. (2007). Access to health care in developing countries: Breaking down demand side barriers. Cadernos de Saúde Pública, 23(12), 2820-2834.
O’Haire, M. E. (2013). Animal-assisted intervention for autism spectrum disorder: A systematic literature review. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 43, 1606–1622. http://
Phetrasuwan, S., Miles, M. S., Mesibov, G. B., & Robinson, C. (2009). Defining autism spectrum disorders. Journal For Specialists In Pediatric Nursing, 14(3), 206-209.
Samadi, S. A., & McConkey, R. (2011). Autism in developing countries: Lessons from Iran. Autism Research and Treatment, 2011. doi:10.1155/2011/145359
Valerio Di Fonzo - The Role of Catholic Church in Peru: Searching for Religious Discourses in the Era of Neoliberal Reforms
The Catholic Church has played a central role among the social and political institutions in Latin America since colonization in the 15th century. Despite the fact that the religious presence among Latin American countries has endured for more than five hundred years, the nature and manifestation of the Catholic Church in the political and social life has changed dramatically throughout this time. From the time of the conquest of Inka Empire, when missionaries were complicit with Spanish soldiers in the colonization and christianization of the Americas, to the twentieth-century struggles for liberation of the poor from the injustices, in which the Church was directly involved, the Catholic presence has undertaken a continual process of redefinition of its role in society (Brooks 1999). During the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), and particularly during the Conference of Latin American Bishops in Medellin (1968) and Puebla (1979), the Catholic Church established its preferential option for the poor and vulnerable, marking the beginning of liberation theology. In the last decade, Peru and Latin America as a whole have been experiencing new ethnic oppressions, gender discriminations, and ecological and human rights threats that warrant research and study. All of these factors are important to address in society and in research, however, due to the vast scope of topics that need to be addressed, I focus on ecology discourses.
A significant proportion of Peru’s mineral and hydrocarbon deposits are located on or near lands owned by peasant and indigenous communities (Bebbington and Williams 2008). Peru’s significant amount of resources unravels conflicts. In fact, over 50% of reported conflicts are caused by socio-environmental disputes. For example, in the Amazon, the Asháninka, Shawi, Wampis and Awajun indigenous communities live in the rainforests between Peru and Brazil; despite legal protections of their lands, they still face external threats from extractive industries. (Bebbington 2009; Salisbury, Lopez and Alvarado 2011). In addition, urban populations also face environmental issues. One issue is the lack of access to clean water resulting from poor quality housing and the exclusion of grassroots communities from decision-making processes over how to distribute water (Ioris 2012).
This raises questions for me-, how has the progressive wing of the Peruvian Catholic Church become involved in environmental issues? How are Peruvian Catholic communities processing the conditions of global capital and modernity through engaging with ecological discourses? How are rural and urban communities, indigenous groups, and the Catholic Church coming together to oppose new investment projects involving extractive industries? Looking for ethnographic answers, I undertook fieldwork in Peru between May and June of 2017. The aim of my preliminary research trip to Lima, Cusco, and Jaen, Peru was to establish contacts with members of the Catholic Church and explore the connections fostered through the Catholic Church between urban and rural communities centered on environmental concerns.
Planning my Fieldwork
Since I planned to arrive in Peru during the summer of 2017, I started to organize my fieldwork around October of 2016. This gave me enough time to read the relevant literature and send emails to people in Peru to explore the feasibility of my research and establish contacts. Sending emails to create a connection with local leaders in Peru was an essential part of my project and made it easier to me to get oriented once I arrived in Lima.
I should admit that at the beginning I was discouraged by the lack of email replies. I started questioning the possibility of making contacts with people in another country who do not have any idea about my aims. Surprisingly, when I was about to give up, I received an email from a person I had contacted several months earlier. In the email, this person replied enthusiastically about my research project and offered to collaborate with me. I felt invigorated and with the help of this person I was able to contact more people; I then received additional replies.
For those undertaking fieldwork, making preliminary connections is very important for several reasons. First, since one may be arriving to a country that one may be unfamiliar with, it is important to know where to go and with whom to meet. Second, preliminary research usually covers a short period of time and getting preliminary contacts can save a lot of precious time. Third, in the case of Lima, it is a big city with a population of more than ten million. It is certainly safer to know someone for city orientation. Finally, but not less important, the Field Research Grant application requires proof of in-country support. Therefore, making contacts by sending emails helped me with my grant application because it indicated my efforts in searching out support for my research project, and it also helped me once I arrived in Peru.
Into the Field
Since I was looking for ethnographic answers, my methodology basically consisted of participant observation and unstructured interviews. In order to orient myself to the Catholic communities in Peru, I spent six weeks conducting ethnographic research between the provinces of Lima, Cusco, and Jaen. As this was a preliminary and exploratory research trip, in each site I worked to orient myself to the history of the Church in each province. To this end, in Lima, I visited the Archivo Arzobispal, Archivo Nacional, the Biblioteca Nacional, the Bartolome de Las Casas Institute, and the Episcopal Commission for Social Action (CEAS). In Lima, I interviewed members of Catholic communities in the districts of Los Olivos and Surco, and I explored how the Church is involved in the problem of environmental degradation. I also interviewed members of the Red Muqui and CEAS.
The Red Muqui is a nonprofit organization born with the support of CEAS, and its members represent several Peruvian institutions that advocate for sustainable development and social justice. I was able to connect with the members of the Red Muqui, who introduced me to the work of the organization. I had long conversations with them regarding the role of the Church in Peru and its involvement in environmental issues. Their help has been crucial in understanding how the Catholic community is processing environmental disputes in Lima and other Peruvian rural places.
In the province of Cusco, I visited the Archivo Arzobispal and Archivo Departamental with special attention to the representation of the historical development of the Catholic religion in the region, and of the progressive Church in particular. I also attended everyday activities and organized religious events such as Corpus Christi, which is one of the biggest and most important religious festivals of the calendar year. The celebration of Corpus Christi used to be celebrated in the whole country, but the Fiesta is most impressive in Cusco. Fifteen saints and virgins, organized in several processions, arrive from different places to the cathedral of Cusco where to came to “greet” the body of Christ, sixty days after Eastern Sunday. It mixes indigenous and Catholic practices. This festival provided an important opportunity for me to establish contacts with groups of comuneros (communities of farmers) and religious organizations in predominantly Catholic communities in the southern Andes of Peru, as well as to note any reference to environmental issues.
In Jaen, located in the Amazon jungle of Peru in the border region with Ecuador, I visited the local Catholic community, Caritas of Jaen, and a cooperative of farmers. Though Jaen is just one hour by plane from Lima, it presents a very different landscape; it is smaller, rural, not without as much traffic, smog, and buildings found in Lima. Nonetheless, what it surprised me the most was the charisma of the Catholic leaders. They have a lot of energy and passion. It would be impossible to summarize even briefly the history of their activism, and I plan to discuss the details of my conversations with them in a more structured and focused article.
For now, it is worth mentioning the history of the cooperative Sol Y Café that was founded in 2005 with the support of the Caritas Jaen technical team. The cooperative, which includes small local producers of coffee and cocoa, acquired the necessary organic and sustainable trading certificates to sell into North America and Europe. For the members of the cooperative and for the Caritas of Jaen, it represents a sustainable alternative to the mining industries.
I would like to stress again the importance of establishing contacts in the place one wants to conduct fieldwork. They are not only important for orientation in the country and for making grant applications stronger, but they also are an essential part of one’s research. Checking websites, universities, magazines related with one’s research, and literature reviews can surely help one find people that are interested in one’s research and that are willing to provide support during fieldwork. Also, from my personal experience I can say that time runs out very fast in the field, so it is best to be organized and make a timeline of goals and activities. Finally, in this document I did not outline the IRB process (IRB approval or exemption is required for the Field Research Grant) because the information regarding it can be found online. However, in regards to the IRB, I suggest filling out all the required documentation as soon as possible because the process requires time.
To conclude, this fieldwork experience has been an essential part of my anthropology training. It allowed me to explore, engage, listen, observe, understand, and establish contacts with the members of the communities with whom I want to do research. Also, this fieldwork experience was crucial for collecting data that will inform my future research.
This preliminary fieldwork was made possible by funding from the Latin American & Iberian Institute and the Tinker Foundation Field Research Grant (FRG). I am also thankful to my professors, in the department of Anthropology at UNM, Dr. Suzanne Oakdale, Dr. David Dinwoodie, and Dr. Les Field, the member of CEAS, Red Muqui, and Caritas Jaen for guiding and supporting my research interests.
Valerio Di Fonzo
Department of Anthropology
University of New Mexico
Bebbington, Anthony, and Mark Williams. "Water and mining conflicts in Peru." Mountain Research and Development 28, no. 3 (2008): 190-195.
Bebbington, Anthony. "The new extraction: rewriting the political ecology of the Andes?" NACLA Report on the Americas 42, no. 5 (2009): 12
Brooks, Sarah. "NEW STRATEGIES FOR THE NEOLIBERAL AGE." Latin American religion in motion (1999): 67.
Ioris, Antonio AR. "The geography of multiple scarcities: Urban development and water problems in Lima, Peru." Geoforum 43, no. 3 (2012): 612-622.
Salisbury, David S., Jose Borgo Lopez, and Jorge W. Vela Alvarado. "Transboundary political ecology in Amazonia: history, culture, and conflicts of the borderland Asháninka." Journal of Cultural Geography 28, no. 1 (2011): 147-177.
Zsofia Johanna Szoke - Preliminary Fieldwork Experiences: The Anthropology of Precious Metal Extraction At One Corner of the Lithium Triangle
The Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia is the planet’s largest salt flat, a cold and terrestrial lunar landscape. Inhospitable and reminiscent of an ancient long forgotten lake, the salt here holds the world’s principal supply of lithium, the metal that promises to transform the storage of electricity for transportation and other uses. For Bolivia, this is a great deal of attention from private foreign investors who are competing to exploit this strategic resource.
The first indigenous president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, asserts that he is committed to ensuring that the Bolivian people fully earn the benefits of the country’s lithium, and has nationalized ownership of that metal as well as other natural resources. Changes in Bolivia’s political economy under the Morales regime create new theoretical as well as empirical challenges for workers, investors, social movements and for scholars who work to navigate and to understand the unfolding developments. Thus, the Bolivian lithium industry is an ideal lens to explore an emerging energo-politics intertwined with indigeneity, knowledge production and territoriality in relation to a plurinational state and the struggles over Bolivia’s natural resources in a globalized economy.
This project asks the following research questions: What are the ontological underpinnings of extraction and what kinds of vulnerabilities and opportunities can be created by the nationalization of the lithium industry in Bolivia in the 21the century?
The election of Evo Morales to the presidency of Bolivia in 2005 was both a critical and historic moment of political and cultural transformation in the country in the context of new forms of capital accumulation (Harvey, 2005) and neo-liberal politics. His election brought an end to two decades of neoliberal economic policies that had privatized state industries, increased labor exploitation, deregulated industries, and encouraged foreign investment in natural resource extraction that is embedded in the global world economy (Fabricant et al, 2011). The transformation in the lithium industry’s political economy under Morales is contextualized by long histories of labor exploitation during the colonial period (1545 - c. 1795) and uneven economic development post-independence (1825 – 2000s).
Anthropologist June Nash (1993), in her analysis of dependency and exploitation in Bolivian tin mines, focused upon indigenous miners whose analysis of class, race, and gender-based oppression fueled decades of radicalization and political organizing in the mid-twentieth century. Here, the stratified political and economic system hinges upon a class hierarchy marked by a racialized and racist social system. Alongside a solid contribution to the ethnography of mining communities Nash presents Bolivia as the foremost example of the South American paradox: a country extremely rich in natural resources, which also has one of the lowest indices of per capita income, literacy and life span in the world. Accordingly, in Nash’s Bolivia Spanish colonialism and the 20th-century penetration of foreign capital have produced an exploited indigenous working class with a history of struggles dating back to the 18th century at least.
Taussig (2010) on the other hand, in his Marxist and rather representationalist analysis of indigenous Bolivian tin miners, argues that the complex articulation of the pre-Conquest, pre-capitalist mode of production and social order, and the post-Conquest capitalist modes of production are reflected in everyday practices and signify that contemporary indigenous culture is intertwined with the effects of European colonization. More specifically, Taussig (2010) explores the social significance of the Devil (el Tío) worship in the lives of tin miners around the city of Oruro, where miners conduct rites and participate in gift exchange to the spirit of the underworld ruling over life and death as the owner the mines.
Here, the icon of the Devil is the expression of the pre-colonial power of the mountain, and the mining rituals are an attempt to transcend the proletarianization and modernization of peasants into miners who have a growing sense of this process’ evil destructiveness. Hence, in Taussig’s Bolivia mining rituals crystallize as the “rituals of the oppressed” (Taussig, 2010, p. 155), and the figure of the Devil emerges as an icon of a social group losing control over its means of production.
In my view, natural resource conflicts in Bolivia must be understood both in the context of historical cycles of colonial and neocolonial projects, as well as processes of internal class formation and a political economy based on a system of ethno-racial stratification initiated by the Spanish (Spronk, 2007). Accordingly, contemporary anthropological work must be attentive to the ways in which the agency of workers is expressed in contexts where the struggle against neoliberal markets and over natural resources produce both opportunities and vulnerabilities. On the other hand, I also agree with Pink (2008) drawing on Lee and Ingold (2006) in that it is also important for anthropologists to understand routes, movement and mobilities, as well as place making processes if they want to understand others.
Further, as Ingold (2007) highlights it is also time to reverse the emphasis in current studies of material culture, and the “materiality of objects” as against the properties of specific materials. In this regard it is significant that studies of so-called “material culture” have focused overwhelmingly on processes of consumption rather than production, hence materials seem to vanish, and absorbed into the very objects to which they have given birth. Therefore, I agree with Ingold (2007) in that anthropologists need to redirect their attention from “materiality” to the properties of materials. However, in my view we must also find new, inventive, meaningful and rigorous ways to talk about these materials. In the meantime, anthropologists also need to finally start to take their local interlocutors indeed a little bit “more seriously” (Viveiros de Castro, 2014). Hence, rather than hypothesizing about what the Devil might represent in the mines, researchers should finally talk about what it means that the Devil is in the mines if his or her interlocutors say so.
Preparation and Goals
To orient myself to this research topic and to prepare myself for conducting this research project I took a course at UNM entitled “Chemistry in our Community” which introduced me to the science of global warming, nuclear energy, and environmental resource extractions and how they can affect communities. In 2015, I conducted research in a material science laboratory focusing on how silica is utilized. This gave me experience conducting research with scientific experts in professional settings. Further, my previous academic experiences in the US and in Spain equipped me to conduct research both in English and in Spanish. Because of these research experiences, along with my theoretical and methodological training at the University of New Mexico I was prepared to make the most of this research opportunity.
The primary purpose of my preliminary research trip was to create the foundation for my object oriented multi-sited dissertation project in Bolivia and the Salar de Uyuni region. Additional goals were to establish contacts and experience the field with its extreme conditions to decide whether conducting further research was feasible. To this end, after obtaining the Field Research Grant from the LAII and the Student Research Grant from the GPSA at UNM, I visited and conducted ethnographic fieldwork in the capital La Paz, the Salar de Uyuni and in Potosí between May 27th and July 10th, 2017. In each site I turned my attention to the history and current context of each area. Furthermore, at each location I visited museums where I observed official representations and narratives of mining and resource extraction.
For this preliminary research trip, I proposed to spend four weeks conducting multi-sited ethnographic research in southwestern Bolivia, splitting time between La Paz, Potosí, the City of Uyuni, Oruro, and the Salar de Uyuni. During this exploratory research, the objective was to visit each site and turn my attention to the history and current context of each area. At each location, the plan was to visit museums, and to establish contacts. In the various museums, I suggested to observe narratives of mining and resource extraction during three epochs in Bolivian history: the Silver/Potosí era, the Tin/Oruro era, and the Lithium/Uyuni era.
At the Salar de Uyuni, the most important site of my research, my objective was to start to explore what the nationalization of the lithium industry means for local communities. Accordingly, one of the main goals was to visit cooperatively owned salt mining facilities extracting salt from the Salar de Uyuni. I hoped that attending these small salt processing plants would give me the opportunity to speak with salt miners about how they relate to the recent shifts in the salt flat’s political economy. In addition, I hoped that visiting these sites would provide an important opportunity to establish contacts with individuals directly affected by the local lithium mining industry and to interview willing participants.
This study draws on several bodies of literature including philosophy, anthropological literature, and science and technology studies. In the future, with a focus on lithium as a specific material this project will also be ontological and heuristic in its approach. By shifting my attention from questions of epistemology (theory of knowledge) to questions of ontology (theory of being), I hope to further problematize recent writings associated with anthropology’s “ontological turn” working to transform the familiar trope of ethnography as a mode of translation. While I do not think that questions of epistemology can be fully separated from questions of ontology, I also think that the exclusive interrogation of epistemological access easily triggers a “many cultures” vs. “one unified (Western) nature” account which, and here I am on board with Latour (1993), must be avoided.
Hence, in order to de-theorize lithium and render it a pure ethnographic form I will try to free it from any ontological determination and ethnographic prejudice whatsoever. In order to placate the dangers of metaphysical prejudice I will aim at letting lithium to become an empirical source of conceptualization. As a methodological intervention, I will treat lithium as “heuristic means” i.e. identify it as an ethnographic object of study while not allowing my language to prejudice my analysis what it might be. Therefore, I will consider it as a mode of defining instead of being a representation of a single unified Western reality in order to try to avoid re-producing the hegemonic one nature/many cultures divide. Instead of treating the metal as a mute object that is being signified or derived meaning from, I will do my best to take my interlocutors and their concepts about what lithium is “seriously” (Viveiros de Castro, 2014; Holbraad, 2017) and empty it out from all a priori metaphysical content accordingly.
My anthropological and ethnographic methods are essentially ontology driven, interpretative and based on participant observation conducted across multiple-sites. Keeping multiple methodologies in mind, I will also aim at simultaneously immersing in the local while keeping in mind the importance of understanding of global frictions and interactions as they play out across multiple sites (Marcus, 1995, Tsing, 2005). Rather than perceiving the field fixed geographically, I will recognize communities as being embedded in a complex contemporary context that is characterized by mobility, entanglement, and friction.
During my preliminary research trip, in La Paz I visited the Museum of Precious Metals, the Coca Museum, the National Ethnography and Folklore Museum and the National Revolution Museum where I had the opportunity to engage in conversations pointing to further contacts about the 1952 revolt of armed miners that resulted in the nationalization of Bolivian mining interests. Most importantly I managed to visit and organize a meeting with the head of the Evaporation Department at the National Mining Corporation (COMIBOL) who not only assured me about the possibility of visiting Bolivia’ s first state owned lithium production pilot plant but also about the prospect of working with them in the plant as an anthropologist.
In Potosí I visited the National Mint of Bolivia where I learned about mint production and mining narratives during one of the most important epochs in Bolivian history: the Silver/Potosí era (1545- c. 1795). Further, I visited the mines of Cerro Rico also known as the “Mountain that Eats Men” famous for providing vast quantities of silver for Spain during the period of the New World Spanish Empire. Entering the dark sublunary world of the mine suffocated in the role of what Zoellner calls a “dark ecotourist” (2014), I met the Devil (el Tío) and I was able to ask miners about their views on their working conditions and on the lithium industry.
Figure 4. Cerro Rico also known as the “Mountain that Eats Men” Bolivia, Bolivia June 2017
Finally, at the Salar de Uyuni I visited the salt flat together with other tourists on a two days’ tour and a cooperatively owned salt mining facility in my original role as a researcher in Colchani. With the help of my local interlocutor, I had the chance to speak with salt miners about how they relate to the recent shifts in the salt flat’s political economy. Hence, at the Salar I successfully began to explore what it means for local communities that the lithium industry has been nationalized. Moreover, attending these sites provided an important opportunity to establish contacts with individuals directly impacted by the local lithium mining industry.
This preliminary field trip is laying the foundations for an independent research project, and the data gathered is currently being analyzed based on qualitative data i.e. my notes, my observations and my personal photographs. While I did not conduct any interviews during this preliminary phase, initial contacts were made via e-mail, via phone and via direct approach in public situations. I also made contacts with future participants through snowball sampling who were identified based on their involvement in the Bolivian lithium industry. As for the future, data will be collected through semi-structured interviews that may be tape recorded if permission is granted to do so. Apart from interviews, I will further collect data by attending public events, taking field notes and digital photographs, while also conducting participant observation.
A Preliminary Sensory Analysis:
Forced Perspective a.k.a Engaging Open Space
at the Salar de Uyuni
Concerning space and place, as anthropologist Tim Ingold (2008) highlights philosophical attempts to characterize “the open” lead to a paradox. The term “dwelling” for Heidegger refers to an indoor space and it captures the distinctive way Dasein is in the world. In the Kantian cosmology, creatures do not live within the world but up on its outer surface hence, life is played out upon a stage. Whereas Heidegger opens the world to occupation by imagining the horizon as a boundary of enclosure, for Kant horizons are not enclosed. Yet, Kant allows beings into the open only by expelling them from the world. As Ingold (2008) further contends, Kant’s Copernican Revolution also dominates the project of modern science envisioning a world of nature that is set over against the mind of the knowing subject situated in a material world as an “exhabitant” as opposed to an “inhabitant”. In this context:
The global topology of the earth's surface then comes to stand for the fundamental idea, which the mind is said to bring to experience, of the unity, completeness, and continuity of nature. It is at this surface conceived as an interface not just between the solid substance of the earth and its gaseous atmosphere but between matter and mind, and between sensation and cognition that all knowledge is constituted (Ingold, 2008, p. 1797).
Gibson’s (1979) ecological approach to perception offers an alternative. Drawing on Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology, to inhabit the open is not to be stuck on the outer surface of the earth but to be caught up in the fluxes of the weather-world. For Gibson an open environment is seldom or never realized since ordinary environments on the surface of the Earth are “cluttered” with things and objects. The environment is furnished, and this is what makes the Earth a liveable place. In a completely level earth, under a cloudless sky extending in all directions to the horizon without any obstruction i.e. out in the “open” life would be impossible. One could stand up in it, walk, and breathe but not do many other things. As Gibson (1979) puts it:
It would be a desolate place indeed! ... It would not be quite as lifeless as geometrical space…but almost (Gibson 1978 in Ingold 2008, p. 1800).
Fig.6. The world sphere according to (a) Kant and (b) Gibson in Ingold, T. (2008). Bindings against Boundaries: Entanglements of Life in an Open World. Environment and Planning A, 40(8), 1796-1810.
There are four main activities or “modes of engagement” with the Earth that I have encountered and know of so far at the Salar de Uyuni in Southwestern Bolivia so far. These are (a) lithium extraction, (b) salt mining, and (c) tourism, and (d) satellite calibration. While my primarily interests involve metal extraction, my first encounter with the Salar took place as a tourist. Analyzing this experience my research question is informed by Ingold (2008):
Do we encounter “the open” as an enclosed space cleared from within following Heidegger, or Kant and conventional science in placing the open all around on the outside? In this analysis, I argue that something else happens.
As demonstrated above, during this preliminary field trip my primary goal was (1) to contextualize lithium extraction and industry, (2) visit other important mining locations, (3) to create the foundation for my multi-sited dissertation project in Bolivia (4) and to further develop research questions. During my first encounter with the Salar however, I could only visit the Salar and engage in participant observation as a tourist on a two days’ tour with a group of five people. To analyze data to answer this analytic research question I examined photographs taken by other tourists I found on the Internet and photographs taken by our own tour guide with my Samsung Galaxy J3 6 cell phone at the Salar de Uyuni.
The exceptional flatness of the Earth’s surface makes the Salar not only an ideal object for calibrating the altimeters of Earth observation satellites, but it is also a tourist attraction. As a tourist participating on a two days’ tour, I spent 2-3 hours at the Salar following a very strict agenda. Since there was no electricity and there was a sudden drop in temperature we had to leave the salt flat by sunset. Overall, activities were geared towards having “fun”. Above all, I was expected to participate in so called “forced perspective” photo shoots as the main attraction in a very controlled way amidst what I perceived as constant noise pollution.
Figure 7. and Figure 8. Forced Perspective and Godzilla Attack at The Salar de Uyuni in Southwestern Bolivia, Bolivia June 2017 Photo Credit © Red Planet Tours
As a tourist I argue, I was expected to treat the “the open” following neither Kant, nor Heidegger but something else happened in a very specific way. The forced perspective photo shoots involved a technique employed by our tour guide using optical illusion to make an object appear farther away, closer, larger or smaller than it is. Because there was a lack of visual reference point in the horizon, our eyes were tricked and our point of view conjointly with our positionality were skewed. Thus, engagement with the Earth involved the manipulation of light and human visual perception using scaled objects i.e. me and my fellow group members and other objects such as a Godzilla. Active participation in the process of creating the optical illusion also involved the manipulation of the correlation between Us vs other objects and the vantage point of the spectator or the camera.
Figure 9. and Figure 10. Dinosaur attack and Coca-Cola at The Salar de Uyuni in Southwestern Bolivia, Bolivia June 2017 Photo Credit © https://aworldextraordinary.wordpress.com/tag/salar-de-uyuni and Red Planet Tours
The result was looking at ourselves positioned in a digital photograph on the screens of our cell phones mediating a caricatured reality that is weird, trippy, funny, ridiculous, and has a comic and grotesque effect. The visual-comedy effect was achieved by upsetting what we perceived as objective reality amidst what I would say was a very specific and controlled engagement. Scientifically speaking one could argue that we were fooled through the manipulation of our 3D depth perception caused by our visual system interpreting the open environment by means of light in the visible spectrum reflected by objects where the objects turn out to be ourselves.
For Wiesing (2016) the myth of the mediate, is the myth of being-in-the-world as a “mediated being-in-the-world" (Wiesing, 2016, p. 3). The myth of the mediate is widespread in philosophy in various forms in the thoughts of Hegelians, Kantians, pragmatists, deconstructivists and ever so popular amongst analytic philosophers of various types. Its causes are to be found in the overwhelming focusing on how perception comes about. This is erroneous and, in fact, all philosophy that attempts to build third-personal models, in a similar fashion to how science builds models engages in a rather questionable and dubious enterprise.
Wiesing (2016) in his The Philosophy of Perception further argues that perception requires us to be embodied, to be visible, and to continually participate in the public and physical world we perceive. Only in looking at images can we achieve a break in participation from perception's continuous demands, hence the question shifts from how perception comes about to what perception obliges us to be and do. Meanwhile, as Ingold (2008) highlights, while Heidegger conceives of place in terms of limit, Kant describes the Earth as a flat surface where the horizon is circular. As he is always in the center, the circle around him moves as he moves and positions his body.
As Ingold (2208) contends:
Thus, while he is always at the center of his circular field of vision, that field is
nowhere. He cannot position it. Were he dependent on his senses alone, he could
position himself only in relation to his own body, as if to say “I am where I am”, and
not in relation to the world which appears to spread without limit in all directions (Ingold, 2008, p. 1797)
Figure 11. and Figure 12. Forced Perspective and the Anthropologist Emerging as a “Weird” Object at The Salar de Uyuni in Southwestern Bolivia, Bolivia June 2017 Photo Credit © Red Planet Tours
As opposed to this, at the Salar during the forced perspective photo shoots our engagement with the Earth is primarily controlled, dominated and mediated amongst others by our tour guide and our own lithium powered cellphone technology. The anthropologist becomes the weirdly-positioned object of perceptive delusion where size gets defined by the surroundings. Represented by the local tour guide or rather the skilled local artist, as “I” the anthropologist become the odd object of an optical illusion, my being in the world is dispositioned from the Kantian center and emerges as the imitation of a preposterous character in a caricatured, rectangular and irrational space instead of what we might perceive as objective reality.
Hence, the Salar is not an ordinary space as Gibson (1979) would have it. Extending in all directions to the horizon without any obstruction, engagement with the Earth as a tourist involves the manipulation of human visual perception and the senses. Here, instead of treating the “open” following Kant or Heidegger I argue that sense is made from an “open” and “empty” space through the controlled upsetting of what we might perceive as objective reality resulting in a comic effect involving the reversal of anthropological translation and a “weird” positionality. The anthropologist becomes an uncanny object of attraction in a distorted and unsound space profoundly challenging metaphysical theorizing about the nature of space, place and our very notion of “world” and reality.
One of the most important lessons I learned during this preliminary research trip is that under extreme environmental conditions one has to be brave, creative and flexible since things will not necessarily go exactly according to the itinerary. At the beginning of my trip I had to overcome both diarrhea and altitude sickness. I was sick for nearly twelve days hence, from Potosí (13,420 ft) I had to descend to Sucre (9,214 ft) which was originally not in my schedule. I had to be able to make quick and creative decisions so as to make the most of the situation. In Sucre for example, where with the generous help of locals I got better from my altitude sickness, I visited the Treasure Museum where I learned about Bolivia’ s gems and precious metals. The visit was very interesting and informative, and I could not have done it without being creative, ambitious and sturdy.
Transitioning from place to place in Bolivia’ s extreme altitudes was not only challenging but turned out to be not always feasible without prior experience. I had to be courageous, bold and smart to accept that I am an anthropologist but I also have a body, and that at such extreme altitudes I am not necessary always in charge. Yet, not giving up and with the aid of my local interlocutors I managed to make the most of this opportunity and to return with very rich data about what is possible in the future. Moreover, I gained invaluable lessons on how to work effectively under extreme conditions. All in all, I fulfilled all my main objectives, thus thanks to the GPSA and the LAII this preliminary ethnographic research trip will provide a necessary foundation from which to construct a multi-sited dissertation project.
As for this project’s primary significance, research about lithium mining represents a new chapter in the scholarship of Bolivia’s mining history. Additionally, the study of the 21st century lithium industry is also a study of struggle against neoliberalism, new forms of “resource nationalism”, the changing role of the state and the continued importance of mining in the era of intensive globalization. The special case of lithium, embedded in the changing dynamics of a global economy, may also demonstrate the shift towards a new, sustainable energy regime in the current century.
Eduardo Viveiros de, C., Cannibal Metaphysics. (2014). S.l.: Univocal Publishing LLC.
Fabricant, N., & Gustafson, B. D. (2011). Remapping Bolivia: Resources, Territory, and Indigeneity in a Plurinational State (1st ed.). Santa Fe: School for Advanced Research Press.
Gibson, J. J. (1979). The ecological approach to visual perception. Boston : Houghton Mifflin.
Harvey, D. (2005). The New Imperialism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Holbraad, M., & Pedersen, M. A. (2017). The Ontological Turn : an anthropological exposition. Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 2017.
Ingold, T. (2007). Materials against materiality. Archaeological Dialogues, 14(1), 1-16. doi:10.1017/S1380203807002127
Ingold, T. (2007). Earth, Sky, Wind, and Weather. The Journal Of The Royal Anthropological Institute, S19.
Ingold, T. (2008). Bindings against Boundaries: Entanglements of Life in an Open World. Environment And Planning A, 40(8), 1796-1810.
Latour, B., & Porter, C. (1993). We have never been modern. Cambridge, Massachusetts : Harvard University Press, 1993..
Lee, J., & Ingold, T. (2006). Fieldwork on foot: perceiving, routing, socializing. In P. Collins, & S. Coleman (Eds.), Locating the Field. Space, Place and Context in Anthropology (p. 67-86). Berg, Oxford.
Marcus GE (1995) Ethnography in/of the world system: The emergence of multi-sited ethnography. Annual Review of Anthropology 24: 95–117.
Merleau-Ponty, M., & Landes, D. A. (2012). Phenomenology of perception. Abingdon, Oxon ; New York : Routledge, 2012.
Nash, J. C. (1993). We Eat the Mines and the Mines Eat Us: Dependency and Exploitation in Bolivian Tin Mines. New York: Columbia University Press.
Sarah, P. (2008). Mobilizing Visual Ethnography: Making Routes, Making Place and Making Images. Forum: Qualitative Social Research, Vol 9, Iss 3 (2008), (3).
Spronk, S. (2007). Roots of Resistance to Urban Water Privatization in Bolivia: The “New Working Class,” the Crisis of Neoliberalism, and Public Services. In: International Labor and Working-Class History, 71(1), 8-28.
Taussig, M. T. (2010). The Devil and Commodity Fetishism in South America. University of North Carolina Press
Tsing, A. L. (2005). Friction : an ethnography of global connection. Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, ©2005.
Zoellner, T. (2014). The mountain that eats men: Dark ecotourism in Potosí, Bolivia. World Literature Today, 88(3), 83-87. Retrieved from http://libproxy.unm.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1542385621?accountid=14613
Wiesing, L. (2016). Philosophy of perception: Phenomenology and Image theory. UK: Bloomsbury Academic.