What Is the Urban?

Registers of a World Interior

Maximilian Viatori

Maximilian Viatori is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Iowa State University. His research explores ethnic, racial and class inequalities and their relationships to state politics, governance and the control of natural resources. He worked for many years on indigenous rights and social movements in Ecuador, which is the subject of his first book, One State, Many Nations: Indigenous Rights Struggles in Ecuador. He also conducted a multi-year project on race in Ecuadorian public discourse and another on conservation debates in Canada. Most recently, he has been studying artisanal fishers in Peru and their struggles to maintain access to productive marine resources and is writing a book manuscript on the subject. 

Ocean Internalities and Capitalism in Peru

Amidst growing concerns about the “Anthropocence”, the ocean has re-emerged as an actor in post-modern life, threatening to devour urban coastlines and swamp metropolitan centers around the world. However, discussions about climate change and rising sea levels continue to frame the ocean as an external nature, a sink that can no longer absorb melting glaciers and islands of plastic waste. In this guise the ocean functions as a fluid antithesis to the material and symbolic organization of terra firma through urban development. Such depictions deny the  “double internalities”, to borrow a term from Jason Moore, of ocean nature and capitalism. As existing literature demonstrates, shifting political economies have internalized ocean spaces in historically specific ways through processes of territorialization and development. In turn, “natural” marine environments have made capital accumulation possible through, for example, the production of resources such as fish or oil. Nowhere has this been more apparent than in Peru, where since in the 1960s the growth of one of the most productive fisheries in the world has made significant contributions to the country’s export-led economy. 

In this paper, I examine the co-production of ocean spaces and capitalism in Peru while considering capital’s ongoing need to secure the conditions for new waves of accumulation by discursively producing legal, cultural and natural (in all senses of the word) “exteriors” that can be appropriated through emerging technologies of scientific discovery, mapping, and governance. Over the course of the last century, state elites and representatives of the fishmeal industry have mapped and categorized Peru’s ocean spaces and significant portions of the coastline in ways that have denied the social and legal histories of these spaces, thus making their dispossession from small scale fishers possible or designating them as suitable zones for the dispersion of waste. This process has become more critical as previous modes of organizing ocean and coastal spaces have resulted in diminishing fish stocks and contaminated near-coast waters. A consideration of this dynamic is critical for analyzing the spatial production and maintenance of contemporary inequalities, and underscores the ways in which capitalism, power and knowledge combine in the present to concentrate wealth as well as harm in different spaces. Furthermore, such an analysis suggests how widely circulating concepts of urban/rural/wild spaces conspire to reinforce the production of “exteriors” that mask the historical coproduction and entanglement of such spaces. 

Iowa State University

Department of Architecture

April 4-5, 2016