Territories of Difference

Place, Movements, Life, Redes

Territories of Difference

New Ecologies for the Twenty-First Century

More about this series

Book Pages: 456 Illustrations: 5 tables, 2 maps, 6 figures Published: November 2008

Author: Arturo Escobar

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Latin American Studies, Sociology > Social Theory

In Territories of Difference, Arturo Escobar, author of the widely debated book Encountering Development, analyzes the politics of difference enacted by specific place-based ethnic and environmental movements in the context of neoliberal globalization. His analysis is based on his many years of engagement with a group of Afro-Colombian activists of Colombia’s Pacific rainforest region, the Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN). Escobar offers a detailed ethnographic account of PCN’s visions, strategies, and practices, and he chronicles and analyzes the movement’s struggles for autonomy, territory, justice, and cultural recognition. Yet he also does much more. Consistently emphasizing the value of local activist knowledge for both understanding and social action and drawing on multiple strands of critical scholarship, Escobar proposes new ways for scholars and activists to examine and apprehend the momentous, complex processes engulfing regions such as the Colombian Pacific today.

Escobar illuminates many interrelated dynamics, including the Colombian government’s policies of development and pluralism that created conditions for the emergence of black and indigenous social movements and those movements’ efforts to steer the region in particular directions. He examines attempts by capitalists to appropriate the rainforest and extract resources, by developers to set the region on the path of modernist progress, and by biologists and others to defend this incredibly rich biodiversity “hot-spot” from the most predatory activities of capitalists and developers. He also looks at the attempts of academics, activists, and intellectuals to understand all of these complicated processes. Territories of Difference is Escobar’s effort to think with Afro-Colombian intellectual-activists who aim to move beyond the limits of Eurocentric paradigms as they confront the ravages of neoliberal globalization and seek to defend their place-based cultures and territories.


Territories of Difference is a beautiful book by Colombian anthropologist Arturo Escobar that seeks to analyze both the theory and practice behind different kinds of knowledge. . . . The value of this book stands in its attempt to bring together into one framework discourses and struggles around culture, environment and diverse economies.” — Laura Fano Morrissey, Development

Territories of Difference is a monumental achievement, among the most challenging, rewarding, and ultimately inspirational analyses of the relationship between globalization, the environment, social movements, and the cultural politics of place and identity in recent years. It will be essential reading for scholars and students in anthropology, sociology, and geography as well as those in development, environmental, and Latin American studies.” — Jeffrey S. Juris, American Anthropologist

“[A] theoretically sophisticated and ethnographically rich analysis of the politics of difference enacted by place-based ethnicities confronted by, and resisting, the colonisation and domination associated with neoliberal globalisation. . . . Territories of Difference is an intellectual tour de force, providing a model for future multidisciplinary research into the complexities of contemporary development and resistance to it.” — Paul Routledge, Geopolitics

“Arturo Escobar weaves together an extraordinary array of knowledge and experience to produce a synthetic work that will be a model for long-term interdisciplinary collaborative research for years to come. . . . Even if one disagrees with the theoretical and political perspectives it advocates, or is unfamiliar with all the fields it addresses, there is much to learn from this very important, thought-provoking work, especially for those interested in social movements, political economy, culture, and development.” — Christopher L. Chiappari, Latin American Politics and Society

“Escobar’s work challenges those of us working on development issues to produce new knowledge that goes beyond critique and to do this by engaging new methodologies, experimenting with social theory and encouraging research collaborations with subaltern groups.” — Michelle Carnegie, Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology

“For scholars of the African diaspora in Colombia and for social scientists and social theorists in general, Escobar provides an insightful analysis that sheds new light on the way we could study social govements and globality.” — Bettina Ng’weno, A Contracorriente

“The book is beautifully written, ethnographically and theoretically rich, and interwoven to tell a major story about the intricate value of social movements and people’s everyday territorial (or place-based) struggles vis-à-vis the state and local developers. . . . Territories of Difference makes a distinguished contribution to the importance of unravelling knowledge claims in cases that leave unquestioned the where, what, how and by whom of those claims.” — Sandy Toussaint, Anthropological Forum

“The breadth of this book is impressive, yet it comes across as humble, grounded in ‘place-based and regional expressions or articulations of difference in contexts of globalization’ (page 1). Certainly, Escobar performs magnificent translations - between networks, but also among grand conceptual frames that have occupied the interest of anthropologists and others over the last two decades.” — Tyler Rebecca Pearce, Environment and Planning A

“The product of more than a decade of theoretical reflection, activist engagement and ethnographic research, this book is a tour de force : an epic account of a social movement in struggle, against daunting odds, for ‘another world.’” — Charles R. Hale, Journal of Latin American Studies

“The rich theoretical information of the book notwithstanding, the work is indispensable reading for students and academics, in part because the voice of the activists is always present. . . . [T]he book is a very important contribution that reflects the author’s personal commitment to the Colombian Pacific and his invaluable engagement with the social movements of the region. . . . [A]n exceptional book.” — Claudia Steiner, The Americas

“This is an amazing book of scholarly dexterity and breadth. For those interested in sustainable development, Escobar demonstrates the negotiated and problematic nature of its definition and implementation.” — Cornelia Butler Flora, Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics

“To go through these pages is to broaden our vision to accept the possibilities of existence of a world not necessarily comprehensible using the western tools of knowing the world. By accepting that alternative realities are possible and meaningful as well as functional, this book makes a political statement in favour of defending rights of Black and indigenous people to their territories, cultures and right to develop in view of their own concept of
culture-based ‘modernity’.” — Subhadra Mitra Channa, Social Anthropology

Territories of Difference will become a classic . . . . [I]t is a mesmerizingly ambitious and provocative inquiry into social, cultural, biological, and economic life in the 21st century. It is also a highly original approach to the study of contemporary forms of domination and resistance that challenges Eurocentric conceptions of capitalist globalization and calls for alternatives to modernity.” — Ulrich Oslender, American Ethnologist

“[A] wonderful, demanding, and courageous book. . . . It offers a theoretically informed perspective on social movements in the global South, anchored in questions specific to these actors and in dialogue with them. With his book, Escobar contributes an innovative method to the study of social movements.” — Pierre Hamel, American Journal of Sociology

“This book, magisterial in its command of an impressive range of theory and literature, is a provocative and cutting-edge guide to thinking about place, capital, nature, development, identity, and networks. . . . [I]n the sheer power, depth, and complexity of the analysis and in the author’s ethical engagement and belief in the possibility of ‘worlds and knowledges otherwise,’ the book is a superb achievement.” — Peter Wade, Hispanic American Historical Review

“A wonderful, massive tour de force by one of today’s leading anthropologists. Arturo Escobar links his ethnography to a series of larger pressing debates about globalization and development, biology and nature, and social movements and network theory. The result is a book of astonishing virtuosity, range, and insight. It is nothing less than a model for the dense, interdisciplinary, polyglot theoretical analysis needed to understand experience anywhere in the world today.” — Orin Starn, author of Ishi’s Brain: In Search of America’s Last “Wild” Indian

“Books, like wines, take time to mature and develop their full strength. Then they are a delight, and not just for specialists. Arturo Escobar’s eloquent, engaged, and extremely well informed narrative of the Afro-Colombian movements in their struggles to defend their territories and ways of life is, to my mind, the best book on social movements to have appeared in years. It combines, in a unique way, the minutely traced complexity of the struggles and their evolving contexts with much broader issues that appeal to and impact all of us, such as biodiversity, alternatives to development, sustainability of life on earth, and social and cognitive justice. We, academics, students, activists of social movements, cannot but be powerfully interpellated by this landmark book, and can only honor it by reading it attentively, as one savors a good wine.” — Boaventura de Sousa Santos, editor of Another Knowledge Is Possible: Beyond Northern Epistemologies

“The product of a lifetime of work on the pitfalls of development, Arturo Escobar’s new book is an engaging and engaged effort to bring together knowledge from Western academia and from Afro-Colombian activists. Through his own blend of discursive theory, he makes academia listen, in the words of one of his local interlocutors, to the ‘drumming’ of a place subjected to capital but resistant to it, brightly illuminating at once the geopolitics of knowledge and of modern empires.” — Fernando Coronil, author of The Magical State: Nature, Money, and Modernity in Venezuela

“This book invites us all into alternative projects of world-making. Never losing sight of the forces pushing back at us or the colonizing power of Western thinking, Arturo Escobar marshals an extraordinary array of intellectual resources and social networks to galvanize hopeful action. He grounds his honest yet truly inspiring vision in the place-based knowledge and global activism of his longstanding collaborators, the and resilient and resourceful Afro-Colombian activists of the Pacific region." — J. K. Gibson-Graham, authors of A Postcapitalist Politics and The End of Capitalism (As We Knew It): A Feminist Critique of Politic

“Arturo Escobar brings his signature commitments—a focus on the materiality of place, nature, and environmental politics, and a recognition of difference and the inescapable histories of coloniality—to an analysis of regional ecological and cultural struggles in Colombia. It is a singularly original contribution, both empirically and theoretically, which forces us to confront the real complexities of capitalism, identities, and political struggle. This book should be required reading for everyone interested in contemporary forms of globalization and economies, as well as the social movements organized against them.” — Lawrence Grossberg, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Arturo Escobar is the Kenan Distinguished Teaching Professor of Anthropology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He is the author of Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World, winner of the Best Book Award from the New England Council of Latin American Studies, and Más Allá del Tercer Mundo: Globalización y Diferencia. He is a co-editor of World Anthropologies: Disciplinary Transformations within Systems of Power; Women and the Politics of Place; The World Social Forum: Challenging Empires; and Cultures of Politics/Politics of Cultures: Revisioning Latin American Social Movements.

Table of Contents Back to Top
About the Series vii

Preface ix

Acknolwedgments xiii

Introduction 1

1. Place 27

2. Capital 69

3. Nature 111

4. Development 156

5. Identity 200

6. Networks 254

Conclusion 299

Notes 313

References Cited 381

Index 417
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4327-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4344-8
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