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 four 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), which won Honorary Mention for the Victor Turner Prize in Ethnographic Writing.
Research interests: terrain, place, and territory; materiality, new materialisms, posthumanism; affect theory; ruins and ruination; critical theory; racialized spaces; protests and insurrections; the climate and ecological emergency; climate and agro-ecological activism; agribusiness, deforestation, infrastructures and soy supply chains in South America; Argentina; campesinos and Indigenous people of the Gran Chaco.
In my current ethnographic project funded by SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada), I’m analyzing how campesino and Indigenous residentes in the Gran Chaco of northern Argentina experience the effects of deforestation, soy farming, and the infrastructures of the soy supply chains. In particular, I’m examining how varios forms of grassroots activism are struggling to defend local forests from destruction and to generate agro-ecological territories in opposition to industrial agriculture.
My most recent book is entitled Rubble: The Afterlife of Destruction (Duke University Press, 2014; Honorary Mention, Victor Turner Prize for Ethnographic Writing). 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.
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 among Guarani activists in the sugar-producing region of the provinces of Salta and Jujuy between 2004 and 2011.
To get a general sense of my past and present research interests, see this interview by Stuart Elden in the journal Society and Space.
- 2014. Rubble: The Afterlife of Destruction. Durham: Duke University Press (Honorary Mention, Victor Turner Prize for Ethnographic Writing; 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.
- 2020. Se viene el malón: las geografías afectivas del racismo argentino. Cuadernos de Antropología Social. 52: 7-35.
- 2020. Gravity: On the Primacy of Terrain. In Voluminous States: Sovereignty, Materiality, and the Territorial Imagination, edited by Franck Billé. Pp. 159-172. Durham: Duke University Press.
- 2019. The Metropolis: The Infrastructure of the Anthropocene. In Kregg Hetherington, ed. Infrastructure, Environment and Life in the Anthropocene. Pp. 66-94. Durham: Duke University Press.
- 2018. Terrain as Insurgent Weapon: An Affective Geometry of Warfare in the Mountains of Afghanistan. Political Geography. 64: 53-62.
- 2018. The Luminescence of Rubble. (Author’s Response to Special Forum on book Rubble). Cultural Dynamics. 30(1-2): 122-127.
- 2016. The Savage Outside of White Argentina. In Rethinking Race in Modern Argentina. Edited by Eduardo Elena and Paulina Alberto. Pp. 241-267. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- 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.