Scaling Democracy: Participation and Resource Extraction in Latin America
by Thea N. Riofrancos, Providence College
In an extractive economy with territorially uneven costs and benefits, who should decide the fate of oil and mining projects: directly affected minorities or national citizenries? I reframe this question empirically: How are the collective identities and interests attached to various scales of democracy politically constructed in the increasingly frequent conflicts over resource extraction in Latin America, and what can we learn from these conflicts about broader dynamics of democratic contestation? To answer this question, I propose the concept of scaling democracy: the agonistic processes by which the scales of democratic decision-making and the democratic people are contested, established, and transformed. The concept of scaling democracy draws our attention to the ways in which the collective identities and interests attached to the various scales of democracy are constructed. These interest-articulations and collective identities are shaped by available institutional norms, organizational infrastructures, and social meanings. I draw on data from participant observation of a community mining consultation in Ecuador, and show that participatory institutions in the arena of resource extraction have fueled a contentious process of scaling democracy, with broader implications for the study of participatory democracy and scholarship on the relationship between resource-dependency and democracy.