Ghostly Invasions/Political Theologies of Fire in Post-Coup Bolivia

Thu 5/18/2023 • 12:15PM - 1:45PM PDT

Haines Hall, Room 352

Part of Culture Power and Social Change, Dept of Anthropology
Massive wildfires erupted across Bolivia only months before the violent ousting of the country’s first Indigenous president, Evo Morales Ayma, in 2019. Media critics depicted his mainly Indigenous followers as ghostly "invaders” who, having received property through his government, were using fires to clear land for agriculture. This talk approaches these events as points of insight into the racialization of climate politics, including the authoritarian tendences of environmentalisms that preserve nature's purity and reproduce narratives of racialized guilt and responsibility. Conversely, I trace a set of grounded collaborations among Indigenous migrants and lowland Indigenous organizers who are elaborating conservation compatible both with anti-colonial land redistribution and climate justice. Renewed attention to what I term political theologies of fire—vernacular ideas of virtue, guilt, redemption, and more-than-human care at play in these scenes of destruction—complicate narratives of climate mitigation premised upon science’s singular capacities to secure future life. Unlike more familiar approaches to the climate crisis, Bolivian interlocutors challenge a vision of the present as exceptional. Recent wildfires, and their subsumption within broader climates of anti-Blackness, point to tenacious histories of colonial land dispossession, racialized enslavement, and religious assimilation. If fire frequently arises as a symptom of the end-times (waning democracy, global environmental crisis, and self-devouring capitalism) for Chiquitos activists it acts also as a redemptive force by which to contest settler fantasies of empty environments and of a future built upon the necessary erasure—and expelling—of living ghosts.

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