Research interests: terrain and the materiality of space; violence; affect; ruins and ruination; critical theory and continental philosophy; protests and insurrections; the “soy boom” and resistance to agribusiness in South America; Argentina; the Gran Chaco.
In my current ethnographic research, I’m analyzing the social and spatial impact that agribusiness is having on the western edge of the Gran Chaco in northern Argentina. In particular, I’m focusing on the political responses by local people affected by the land grabs, evictions, and deforestation triggered by the global demand for soybeans. I’m examining these disruptions and conflicts as the result of the subsumption of rural areas to the planetary Metropolis, which I conceive of as the material infrastructure and high-speed currents of goods and energy that make up globalization.
My most recent book is entitled Rubble: The Afterlife of Destruction (Duke University Press, 2014). Based on extensive fieldwork in the region where the Gran Chaco lowlands meet the Andes, this book examines space through the rubble that is part of its materiality. Rubble proposes a theory of ruins as rubble that is based on the ethnographic examination of the material, historical, and affective ruptures congealed in lost cities from the seventeenth century, derelict train stations, overgrown Jesuit missions and Spanish forts, stranded steamships, mass graves, abandoned towns, and forests razed by agribusiness, as they are entangled with each other and with the towns, cattle ranches, farms, and annual collective events that exist around them. For the rural poor, these palimpsests of debris evoke —rather than dead relics from a distant past— the haunting traces in the geographies of the present of the processes of destruction and violence that created them. The book shows that this experience is at odds with, and often challenges, the fetishized views of ruins embraced by the regional and scholarly elites. The experience of the peop le who live amid these constellations of rubble reveals that the modernist, elite infatuation with ruins is based upon the disregard for the rubble generated by capitalist and imperial forms of destruction. Drawing from anthropology, history, geography, philosophy and the ethnographic analysis of constellations of debris from multiple eras, this book brings to light the salience of rubble not only as a set of objects but also as a spatial and conceptual category.
I’m currently working on a book tentatively entitled Opaque Planet: Outline of a Theory of Terrain. Based on a theoretical and comparative analysis of different geographies in various parts of the world, the manuscript examines the concept of “terrain” as the lens to analyze space through its materiality, texture, three-dimensional forms, and temporality. In particular, I analyze how the physical and three-dimensional dimensions of terrain in mountains, forests, plains, urban terrains, and the ocean affect mobility, visibility, violence, and state territoriality and are inseparable from the temporal rhythms of a planet in motion.
On my blog Space and Politics, I examine questions about space, affect, and violence in relation to contemporary political events (such as the Egyptian insurrection, the Occupy movement, or agribusiness expansion in Argentina) as well as my preliminary theorizations of the nature and politics of terrain.
Other topics I have published about include: indigeneity, the spatiality of social memory, hegemony and political mobilizations, ethnicity, borders and transnationality, commodity fetishism, ID-paper fetishism, shamanism, and in general the production of subjectivities through experiences of alienation, domination, and contestation. I have analyzed these themes drawing on my ethnographic experience among Qomle’ec (Toba) people of the Gran Chaco on the Pilcomayo River between 1987 and 2003, and more recently among Guarani activists in the sugar-producing region of the provinces of Salta and Jujuy.
To get a general sense of my past and present research interests, see this interview by Stuart Elden in the journal Society and Space.
Professor Gastón Gordillo was born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He graduated from the University of Buenos Aires (1990) and completed his PhD at the University of Toronto (1999). He is a Guggenheim Scholar, was a visiting scholar at Harvard and Yale and a visiting professor at Cornell. He was also a resident fellow at the Bellagio Study Center, in Bellagio, Italy. His research has been funded (among others) by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and three large grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). His book Landscapes of Devils: Tensions of Place and Memory in the Argentinean Chaco (2004, Duke University Press) won the American Ethnological Society Sharon Stephens Book Prize. His most recent book is Rubble: The Afterlife of Destruction (2014, Duke University Press).
I occasionally blog about space, affect, violence, terrain and insurrections over at Space and Politics.
- 2014. Rubble: The Afterlife of Destruction. Durham: Duke University Press (see PDF of the book’s introduction here).
- 2006. En el Gran Chaco: antropologias e historias (In the Gran Chaco: Anthropologies and Histories). Buenos Aires: Prometeo.
- 2005. Nosotros vamos a estar aca para siempre: historias tobas.(We’re Going to Be Here Forever: Toba Histories). Buenos Aires: Biblos.
- 2004. Landscapes of Devils: Tensions of Place and Memory in the Argentinean Chaco. Durham: Duke University Press. [Winner of the AES Sharon Stephens Book Award; Spanish translation, Lugares de diablos: tensiones del espacio y la memoria. Buenos Aires, Prometeo, 2011].
- 2002. (with Juan Martin Leguizamon) El rio y la frontera: movilizaciones aborígenes, obras públicas y Mercosur en el Pilcomayo (The River and the Border: Indigenous Mobilizations, Public Works, and Mercosur on the Pilcomayo). Buenos Aires: Biblos.
- 2011. (with Silvia Hirsch, eds) Movilizaciones indígenas e identidades en disputa en la Argentina (Indigenous mobilizations and contested identities in Argentina). Buenos Aires: Flacso-La Crujía.
- 2013. The Void: Invisible Ruins on the Edges of Empire. In Imperial Debris. Ann Stoler, ed. Pp. 227-251. Durham: Duke University Press.
- 2013. Bringing a Place in Ruins Back to Life. In Reclaiming Archaeology: Beyond the Tropes of Modernity. Alfredo González-Ruibal, ed. Pp. 323-336. London: Routledge.
- 2011. Longing for Elsewhere: Guaraní Reterritorializations. Comparative Studies in Society and History 53(4): 855-888.
- 2011. Ships Stranded in the Forest: Debris of Progress on a Phantom River. Current Anthropology 52(2): 141-167.
- 2009. The Ruins of Ruins: On the Preservation and Destruction of Historical Sites in Northern Argentina. In Archaeologies and Ethnographies: Iterations of the Past. Lena Mortensen and Julie Hollowell, eds. Pp. 30-54. Gainsville: University Press of Florida.
- 2008. Places and Academic Disputes: The Argentine Chaco. In Companion to Latin American Anthropology. Dedorah Poole, ed. Pp. 447-465. Oxford: Blackwell.
- 2008. The Clientelization of Ethnicity: Party Hegemony and Indigenous PoliticalSubjectivities. Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies. 17(3):335-348.
- 2006. The Crucible of Citizenship: ID-Paper Fetishism in the Argentinean Chaco. American Ethnologist. 33(2): 162-176.
- 2003. Shamanic Forms of Resistance in the Argentinean Chaco: A Political Economy. The Journal of Latin American Anthropology 8(3): 103-125.
- 2002. The Dialectic of Estrangement: Memory and the Production of Places of Wealth and Poverty in the Argentinean Chaco. Cultural Anthropology 17(1): 3-31.
- 2002. Locations of Hegemony: The Making of Places in the Toba’s Struggle for La Comuna, 1989-1999. American Anthropologist 104(1): 262-277.
- 2002. The Breath of the Devils: Memories and Places of an Experience of Terror. American Ethnologist 29(1): 33-57.