The meaning of mining, the memory of water: Collective experience as environmental justice

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Introduction: Memory, Environment and Justice This chapter examines the relationship between memory and environmental justice. It does so by exploring the memory narratives of people affected by acute mine-related water contamination in the Huanuni river valley on the Bolivian Altiplano. Although there has been mining activity in the Huanuni valley for centuries, technological changes in ore processing during the 1960s, and more recently the mining boom of the 2000s, have resulted in widespread, acute water contamination. Residents of the valley recall the period before the river was polluted as a time of plenty, with clear water and verdant pastures. As I argue below, however, memory narratives filter the past through collective cognitive frames that tell us much about present conditions. Further, I suggest that memories of the past can serve as conceptual bases for making claims to environmentally just futures. In this sense, the chapter examines water justice by exploring the relationship between the past and the present, and the individual and the collective, as captured in memory narratives. Individual memories are recalled, interpreted, understood and represented in the context of contemporary social relations, what Maurice Halbwachs referred to as “collective frameworks.” Halbwachs (1992: 40, cited in French, 2012: 339) argued that, “The past is not preserved but is reconstructed on the basis of the present… Collective frameworks are… precisely the instruments used by the collective memory to reconstruct an image of the past which is in accord, in each epoch, with society’s predominant thoughts.” In this view, even individual recollection is a social act, insofar as personal memories can only be understood in the context of collective discourse and representation (Canessa, 2012). As Molden (2016) argues, the past is always represented in a way relevant to, and even in the service of, the present. This understanding of collective memory helps shift analytical focus from individual recollection to constructing collective cognitive frameworks that filter, shape and give meaning to personal memories. Such collective memories are often given material form and literally take place as monuments, memorial sites or landscapes. In his study of memorialization practices in post-dictatorial Latin America, Andermann (2015: 6) notes that “places of memory” such as monuments and museums must be understood both in terms of the physical, material sites they occupy, and the symbolic forms and practices such sites represent (e.g. Foote and Azaryahu, 2007).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationWater Justice
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781316831847
ISBN (Print)9781107179080
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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