The Geographies of Social Movements

Afro-Colombian Mobilization and the Aquatic Space

The Geographies of Social Movements

New Ecologies for the Twenty-First Century

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Book Pages: 304 Illustrations: 23 illustrations Published: March 2016

Author: Ulrich Oslender

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Geography, Latin American Studies > Andes

In The Geographies of Social Movements Ulrich Oslender proposes a critical place perspective to examine the activism of black communities in the lowland rain forest of Colombia's Pacific Coast region. Drawing on extensive ethnographic fieldwork in and around the town of Guapi, Oslender examines how the work of local community councils, which have organized around newly granted ethnic and land rights since the early 1990s, is anchored to space and place. Exploring how residents' social relationships are entangled with the region's rivers, streams, swamps, rain, and tides, Oslender argues that this "aquatic space"—his conceptualization of the mutually constitutive relationships between people and their rain forest environment—provides a local epistemology that has shaped the political process. Oslender demonstrates that social mobilization among Colombia's Pacific Coast black communities is best understood as emerging out of their place-based identity and environmental imaginaries. He argues that the critical place perspective proposed accounts more fully for the multiple, multiscalar, rooted, and networked experiences within social movements.


"Readers from geography, sociology, resource management, sustainability, Latin American studies, peasant studies, political science, and related fields will find value in this work." — Joseph L. Scarpaci, AAG Review of Books

"Oslender masterfully ties different threads together to form a compelling argument about the importance of place and space in charting social movement. . . . I cannot help but think of the immense value of this approach for understanding the present U.S. political situation. . . . In a cultural moment that seems increasingly punctuated with high-visibility social movements—I am thinking of Standing Rock and of the Women’s March, for example—Oslender offers a new, more nuanced way to situate our understandings of resistance and movement." — Kourtney Kinsel, AmeriQuests

"Ulrich Oslender has produced a significant contribution to the literature on place, space, and social movements. This manuscript convincingly argues for a critical and multi-scalar examination of human and non-human entanglements through his concept of aquatic space." — Maurice Rafael Magaña, Anthropological Forum

"With this carefully researched, well-written examination of issues facing Colombia's Pacific lowlands in the twenty-first century, Ulrich Oslender offers two important contributions: first, the elaboration of an innovative, theoretical template inspired by the region's unique geography as a lens to analyze developments that have and are occuring there; and second, a history of the region that reviews its development from colonial times to present." — Jane M. Rausch, Journal of Global South Studies

"Oslender’s book is an important contribution to our understanding of social movements, and particularly of Afro-Colombian social mobilization. He shows that traditional accounts of social movements pay attention to their scripts, their documents, and their struggles." — Farid Samir Benavides Vanegas, Left History

“[The Geographies of Social Movements] effectively describes the cultural, spiritual, biographic and mnemonic connections between people and place and how they shape the social movement politics effecting sociocultural change." — Marcela Velasco, EIAL

"With this deeply considered ethnography, Ulrich Oslender has expanded [available] literature and demonstrated how much of the Pacific coast story remains to be told. He has also initiated a more complex mapping of the region than that currently available in the general literature." — Joshua Rosenthal, The Americas

"We can learn from how Oslender adds a critical place perspective to theories of social movements. He indeed demonstrates that concepts of space and place are central to thinking about how people mobilize as political collectives." — Allison Koch, Environment and Society

"Oslender’s beautifully crafted book is also the product of many years of research—and it likewise benefits from a depth of expertise. . . . Oslender is trained as a geographer, but the book is deeply ethnographic and will be of interest to anthropologists of water, space, place, and social movements. In beautiful prose, he recounts the way the tides configure everyday life among this fishing community, where both travel and livelihoods pulse with their rhythms, while arguing that peasant activism emerges from these specific contexts." — Colin Hoag, PoLAR

"The book is a welcome invitation to explore the spatiality of social movements. Although it should be tempered with further insights more engaged with the ecology and role of interethnic relations in the area, it provides a valuable perspective on the struggles of Afro-Columbians. Finally, it is highly recommended reading for researchers analysing the dynamics of social movements and their ethnification in Latin America." — César Enrique Giraldo Herrera, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

"Ulrich Oslender makes a clear and forceful argument for using a critical place perspective. The Geographies of Social Movements is an outstanding piece of work; with its open and inviting writing and its broad overview of the literature about social movements, it will be a welcome text for introducing anthropology, sociology, and geography students to the dilemmas of 'development' and the difficulties of people who live in marginalized spaces. Oslender's grasp of the history of Colombia and its internal political divisions is beyond reproach."  — John Agnew, author of Hegemony: The New Shape of Global Power

"Ulrich Oslender makes a powerful argument about the importance of place-based identities and processes for understanding social movements, as well as about the need for grassroots ethnography to complement the more typical focus on literature and leaders. His close examination of the way that community councils were formed in Colombia's Pacific Coast region is an important and little-studied aspect of the Colombian black social movement and provides a vital way to understand political mobilization and social movements in general." — Peter Wade, author of Race and Ethnicity in Latin America


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Ulrich Oslender is Associate Professor of Geography at Florida International University and the coeditor of Bridging Scholarship and Activism: Reflections from the Frontlines of Collaborative Research.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Abbreviations  vii

Acknowledgments  xi

Prologue. Black Communities in Colombia and the Constitution of 1991  1

Introduction. The Geographies of Social Movements  7

1. Toward a Critical Place Perspective on Social Movements  25

Interlude. Meeting Don Agapito: Reflections on Fieldwork  36

2. Mapping Meandering Poetics and an Aquatic Sense of Place: Oral Tradition as Hidden Transcript of Resistance  46

3. Historical Geographies of Resistance and Convivencia in the Pacific Lowlands  92

4. Mobilizing the Aquatic Space: The Forming of Community Councils  135

5. Ideals, Practices, and Leadership of the Community Councils  159

Epilogue  205

Notes  221

Glossary  251

References  255

Index  277
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-6122-0 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-6104-6
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