Appointed As

Center for Law, History, and Culture Postdoctoral Fellow


ACLS Emerging Voices Fellowships program


University of Southern California

PhD Field of Study

PhD, Cultural Anthropology, City University of New York, The Graduate Center

Dissertation Abstract

"Many Forms of Black Death: Coal, Extraction, Transnational Activism and the Value of Life in Colombia"

In this study I analyze what makes certain deaths more relevant than others, what makes some forms of dying more important than others, and what makes the claim of the universal value of life the condition of possibility for the marginalization of certain forms of death over others. I investigate the process for the making of two cases of violence in relation to coal extraction in the Caribbean region of Colombia.These cases are the diversion of the Arroyo Bruno in Lowland Guajira, and the murder in 2001 of Valdemoré Lorcano and Víctor Orcasita, president and vice-president of the Union SINTRAMINERGETICA and workers in a mine owned by Drummond in the region of Cesár.
I interrogate the assumption that events of violence automatically become relevant to human rights actors, discourses, and institutions by virtue of the idea that life — and death — has a universal equal value. I argue instead that it is in their circulation and interaction with multiple actors in transnational discourses, institutions and practices that the value of certain lives and deaths is created. The research argues that the universalist assumption —deeply ingrained at the core of human rights moral dispositions— of the equal value of human life is confronted with the interests, objectives and geo-historical conditions that create hierarchies of the value of life and death. Second, that in spite of the attempts to bring together the realms of the human and the environment, they are still seen as substantially differentiated realms. Third, that the practice of arranging evidentiary materials such as documents, photos, scientific studies, reports and testimonies is a political and contentious process that defines the sites in which the cases are presented, their relevance and the status they acquire. As a result, institutions, activists, experts and grassroots movements are constantly negotiating the value of the cases, defining the limits of environmental violence and human rights, and struggling to situate them in one realm or the other.