Mining memory: contention and social memory in a Oaxacan territorial defense struggle
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Faced with the profound social and ecological threats posed by extractivist projects such as large hydroelectric dams, wind farms, and mining operations, many indigenous communities and their allies in Mexico have articulated new forms of contentious politics into a broad territorial defense movement. This project explores the strategies of contention practiced by an anti-mining movement based in the Municipality of San José del Progreso in the southern state of Oaxaca. As a deeply-divided community that has suffered increased violence and conflict directly related to a Canadian-owned gold and silver mine operating in its vicinity, it presents a valuable case study in how strong social movements can still develop under conditions of disunity. This study combines ethnographic and archival research methods to uncover the deep historical roots of community division, and to develop a close analysis of the contentious strategies employed by the anti-mining movement. The historical record and local narratives show the central role that hacienda colonialism played in creating a salient geography of ethnic discrimination and division in the municipality whose effects can still be seen today. In response to the ongoing processes of colonization and dispossession in San José del Progreso, a legacy of contention has defined and defended both campesino (peasant farmer) and indigenous claims to local territory. More than a series of instrumental strategies designed to expel the hacienda and later mine project, this politics of contention operates as a form of social memory to produce a hybrid form of indigenous/campesino identity linked to healthy land stewardship, an interconnectedness between the earth and human subjects, and a shared history of struggle. As a result, the anti-mining movement in San José del Progreso has shown success in converting its troubled past and checkered present into the foundations of a healthy social and ecological commons, independent of its failure to fully-unite the municipality or close down the mine project in the short-run.