Mining, meaning and memory in the Andes

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21 Scopus citations


This paper examines the relationship between mining, memory and environmental suffering on the Bolivian Altiplano (Andean plateau). Mining activity has had a long and well documented role in transforming landscapes throughout the Andean region, and Bolivia provides some of South America's starkest examples of mine-related water and soil contamination. In Bolivia, mining is publicly memorialised as central to the collective national experience, and public murals and monuments help construct a national identity as a país minero (mining country). Memory is similarly important, though less public, for populations impacted by mine-related pollution and their demands for remediation and reparation. In discussing these conditions, residents of the region draw on memories of past landscapes and waterscapes, which they often represent as verdant and bountiful. Such memory narratives are less important for what they tell us about the former landscapes – which were likely less pristine than reported – than what they tell us about contemporary conditions. Drawing on ethnographic research, I argue that memory – as represented in stories told about past experience – necessarily requires selective remembering and selective forgetting, and may function as a political and ideological resource in its own right. In this sense, memory can be mobilised in various forms and at a range of scales, from the individual to the national. As a representation of the past, memory is always also a representation of the present, and a reflection of contemporary realities, which in turn informs political demands. The paper ends by considering the potential and limitations of memory as a conceptual tool for envisioning environmentally just futures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)229-241
Number of pages13
JournalGeographical Journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2018


  • Bolivia
  • environmental justice
  • ethnography
  • memory
  • mining
  • water contamination

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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