The Afterlife of Destruction


Book Pages: 336 Illustrations: 62 photographs, 3 maps Published: August 2014

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Geography, Latin American Studies

At the foot of the Argentine Andes, bulldozers are destroying forests and homes to create soy fields in an area already strewn with rubble from previous waves of destruction and violence. Based on ethnographic research in this region where the mountains give way to the Gran Chaco lowlands, Gastón R. Gordillo shows how geographic space is inseparable from the material, historical, and affective ruptures embodied in debris. His exploration of the significance of rubble encompasses lost cities, derelict train stations, overgrown Jesuit missions and Spanish forts, stranded steamships, mass graves, and razed forests. Examining the effects of these and other forms of debris on the people living on nearby ranches and farms, and in towns, Gordillo emphasizes that for the rural poor, the rubble left in the wake of capitalist and imperialist endeavors is not romanticized ruin but the material manifestation of the violence and dislocation that created it.


"[I]t is the signal merit of Gordillo’s book to remind us of the value of the loose, but productive and fertile, horizontal connections and communities that make up the network of nodes and constellations that we too easily dismiss as 'mere' rubble." — Jon Beasley-Murray, Posthegemony blog

Rubble: The Afterlife of Destruction is theoretically dense and richly illustrated with diagrams and photographs. The ethnographic detail is often engrossing, while the overall argument challenges heritage and regional specialists to engage in more penetrating analysis of how historic forces of destruction shape the world and add to the rubble that piles up along the way.” — Diane Barthel-Bouchier, Journal of Latin American Geography

“Rubble is remarkable because Gordillo does not shy away from complex theorizing while also providing us with rich ethnographic storytelling. The result is a book that is as engaging as it is innovative, and which should capture the interest of a diverse audience. … dealing with the social production of space, racialized and ethnicized relations in Latin and South America, human-environment relationships, and affect theory. If the purpose of a book is to change the way one sees the world, Rubble succeeds.” — Roberto E. Barr, Journal of Anthropological Research

"An excellent monograph that will be of the utmost interest to scholars concerned with the study of the idea of space and history, their interactions, and their social production (and destruction), with special emphasis on a critique of the capitalistic and modernist views of history, and of space as a receptacle for disposable people and resources.” — Ismael Vaccaro, Journal of International and Global Studies

“Both the idea of rethinking ruins and going deep into the Chaco region are original and a welcome foray into events and people that have been side-lined by official histories. ...Rubble gives us layers of history, of rubble, overlapping stories of indigenous identity and conquering violence.” — Marcela López Levy, Latin America Bureau blog

"The book is highly original, deeply intelligent, and provocative in its many surprising discoveries and insights.... [T]he overall significance of the book is beyond doubt." — Daniel M. Goldstein, American Anthropologist

"Rubble is yet another important contribution by Gastón Gordillo to the anthropology of space and memory, and to Argentinian ethnography, which moves beyond his earlier work in the Gran Chaco region among the western Toba people. Rubble is not an easy read, but definitively worth pursuing for those readers interested in rethinking the material, historical and affective ruptures of space." — Susann Baez Ullberg, Social Anthropology

Rubble makes a series of generative interventions into the vast literature on memory and heritage studies in Latin America. Particularly rewarding for historians, anthropologists, and geographers interested in critical perspectives on modernity.” — Mónica Salas Landa, Hispanic American Historical Review

"At the edges of the dreamscapes put forward by the state and capital, Gastón R. Gordillo shows us the haunted places where phantoms and curses join human bones and broken bricks: rubble. The Argentine Chaco becomes a magical landscape wrapped in multiple pasts and presents. Simultaneously erudite and evocative, Rubble: The Afterlife of Destruction remakes the stories we tell about knowledge and history—and the legacy of violent conquest from the Spanish empire to the soy boom." — Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, coeditor of Words in Motion: Toward a Global Lexicon

"This stunningly original rethinking of space through negativity represents a major intervention in theories of ruination, memory, and history. Gastón R. Gordillo gives us a subaltern and democratizing theory of ruins as rubble that is grounded in rich ethnographic observation. Rubble: The Afterlife of Destruction is a book that is simultaneously wildly imaginative and rigorously analytical." — Akhil Gupta, author of Red Tape: Bureaucracy, Structural Violence, and Poverty in India


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Gastón R. Gordillo is Professor of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. He is the author of Landscapes of Devils: Tensions of Place and Memory in the Argentinean Chaco, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: Constellations 1

Part One. Ghosts of Indians

1. A Haunted Frontier 31

2. On the Edge of the Void 53

Part Two. Lost Cities

The Destruction of Space 77

3. Land of Curses and Miracles 85

4. The Ruins of Ruins 111

Part Three. Residues of a Dream World

Treks across Fields of Rubble 125

5. Ships Stranded in the Forest 131

6. Bringing a Destroyed Place Back to Life 153

7. Railroads to Nowhere 169

Part Four. The Debris of Violence

Bright Objects 185

8. Topographies of Oblivion 191

9. Piles of Bones 209

10. The Return of the Indians 229

Conclusion: We Aren't Afraid of Ruins 253

Notes 271

References 287

Index 303
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Honorable Mention, 2016 Victor Turner Book Prize in Ethnographic Writing (Society for Humanistic Anthropology)

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5619-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5614-1
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