Publications

Neoliberal commensuration and new enclosures of the commons : mining and market–environmentalism governmentalities

Duarte-Abadía, Bibiana; Boelens, Rutgerd; Buitrago, Emerson

Summary

Colombia’s Santurbán páramo wetlands are vital water supply sources for highland communities’ livelihoods and downstream cities such as Bucaramanga. Nevertheless, they face strong degeneration because of large-scale mining extraction. Seeking to harmonize divergent interests between conservation policies, domestic water supply and mining–energy development, the national government laid out land-use zones and delimited use of the Santurbán páramo since 2014. This article illustrates how hydro-territorial tensions between the mining company, the government and citizen mobilizations for water end up fencing in the collective assets of smallholder páramo residents. To understand this complex enclosure process, we show how foreign mining capital interests, urban citizens’ claims for water and government ecological boundary-making paradoxically converge. Commensuration of water meanings and values, while bridging diverse worldviews, generates new enclosures of the commons. Engaging with the conceptualization of ‘hydrosocial territories’ and neoliberal reconfiguration politics, we contribute to debates on how modernist commensuration works to commodify water and territory, disqualifying peasants’ territorial self-governance. We conclude that Santurbán páramo residents’ hydro-territorial rights are subject to the interests of social forces competing for control over this páramo territory, whether to transfer rural water to cities or to establish large-scale mining.