Section I - Classification

[…] notoriamente no hay clasificación del universo que no sea arbitraria y conjetural. La razón es muy simple: no sabemos qué cosa es el universo. […]La imposibilidad de penetrar el esquema divino del universo no puede, sin embargo, disuadirnos de plantear esquemas humanos, aunque nos conste que estos son provisorios.

Jorge Luis Borges, El idioma analítico de John Wilkins.

Introduction: a toolbox for analyzing conflict

Why typical territorial settings can help understanding conflict?

Inequalities are not only produced, but negotiated. Nonetheless, this negotiation does not happen in a social vacuum, but it is inserted into a specific socio-spatial context embedded with previously existing inequalities. Such condition makes social action neither context-free nor context-ridden. On the one hand, some structural factors facilitate the emergence of certain kinds of action (or conflict) in particular places, while, at the same time, reduce the probability of other initiatives. On the other hand, although conditioned by context, conflicts are not determined by it. There are several elements related to the organization and power asymmetries between actors that play a major role in establishing the outcome of a specific political conflict and shaping inequality into space.

Most studies on negotiation and conflict are centered on identifying actors, power relations and the mechanisms by which they interact and exert influence on political outcomes. These studies include contention and social movements (Goldstone 2003; McAdam, Tarrow, and Tilly 2001; della Porta and Tarrow 2005; Scott 1985; Tarrow 2011), policy networks (Marsh and Rhodes 1992; Rhodes 1997; Waarden 1992), or identity politics (Van Cott 2008; Horowitz 1985; Posner 2005; Urla 1993). Nonetheless, much less attention is paid on where action takes place (or the effect of political action on place) in terms of the structural characteristics that condition social action or how political action molds inequality into territory.

The purpose of this section of the project is to analyze the characteristics of places and to identify typical settings of demography, production and politics that could help analyzing the links between conflict and the territorial (re)production of inequalities. In order to highlight this association, we will put special emphasis on socio-environmental conflicts, since their acute sensitiveness to natural resources exploitation and overall environmental change at the local or regional level. In a rigorous social science perspective, there is neither an area so peculiar that cannot be compared nor another so general that loses its idiosyncrasy. This is precisely the reason why typologies and classification methods are commonplace in these disciplines. These methods are useful because they shed light on both the commonalities and differences among subnational regions.

In our project, the main reason for employing a regional classification is that this procedure allows the identification of structural conditions that repeat themselves in different countries at the same time that helps the analytical systematization of differences. The relevance of such epistemological choice is crucial to avoid two short-sighted approaches to socio-environmental conflict. On the one hand, it tries to incorporate diversity and avoid some heroic generalizations (made by some of the neoextractivist literature) considering all commodity producing regions as structurally equivalents when it comes to their responses to global economic processes. As we will argue during this project, in many respects agribusiness centered regions has little resemblance to mining districts when it comes to the type of integration in domestic and global economies, as well as the conflicts they generate. On the other hand, it also emphasizes the limits of some poor idiosyncratic interpretations that advocate for the impossibility of comparison due to the social, cultural and environmental diversity that characterize Latin American countries.

We employ here regions, localities or territories with a very particular meaning: as those territorial entities represented by the first administrative level of five Latin American countries (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Peru). Although there is a large and important literature on territoriality, space and place, we will not enter this debate in this first moment of the research. Regions are employed here merely as a starting point for empirical research on how structural conditioners help to influence conflict and will not discuss how they were formed, historically composed or reified by political institutions and practices. Therefore, the solely purpose of the selection of politico-administrative areas was to serve as units of observation and as starting points for the development of a case selection methodology for comparative research on subnational conflict. We are aware that the limits of this choice are various and include the identification of political boundaries to processes that rarely are contained by them. The main advantage, though, comes from the fact that this methodological decision allows the employment of various sources of information in a comparative perspective. Therefore, in this stage, what we miss in terms of precision we gain in comparability. This is precisely the main goal of this section.

Identifying typical settings

Analytical dimensions and methods

The purpose of this section is three-fold. Firstly, it describes each of the four key dimensions for identifying typical settings for the emergence of environmental conflict. Secondly, it delineates theoretically coherent indicators for each dimension, describing how they are operationalized empirically. Thirdly, it examines briefly the data sources and the methods employed in the classification of cases.

1. Analytical Dimensions

These are the four dimensions that are consistently present in the before mentioned literature on environmental conflict.



Most studies emphasize the salience of peasant and indigenous groups as central contesting actors at the local level. The major part of regions where agribusiness or mining takes place is also characterized by low population density and urbanization. These intersections between demography, environment and conflict justify a closer look on how demographic aspects of regions impact on the emergence of disputes around the exploitation natural resources and the distribution of the wealth generated by it.



Natural resources almost always mean strong mining or agricultural operations and the connection to global value networks. The exposure to internationalization accentuates transformations at the local level according to or imposed by global dynamics. For that reason, determining how production and labor market structure are composed is key to understand what kind of conflict can emerge. Besides, many environmental conflicts are also distributive conflicts, where local actors negotiate who gets what.



Mining and rural areas are also characterized by reduced or thinner presence of the State. The limited or biased presence of State institutions at the local/regional level also enhance the conflict, since they fail to deliver basic services to local citizens and have insufficient capacity or lack the necessary political will to regulate producers. This unequivocally leads to conflict and negotiation where, in many occasions, big enterprises use Corporate Social Responsibility as a strategy to coopt opposing organizations and erode dissent.



Environmental characteristics or events, such as floods or droughts, the existence of mineral reserves, biodiversity or the climate are in the base for most environmental conflicts. The last occurs fundamentally due to the fact that the environment conditions the potential human activities to be performed in each area. This is specially the case when it comes to commodity producing areas. On the other hand, the existence of mining sites, farms, crops and pastures also impacts on how people conceive their living environment.

2. Indicators

These are the four dimensions that are consistently present in the before mentioned literature on environmental conflict.

3. Data and Methods

These are the four dimensions that are consistently present in the before mentioned literature on environmental conflict.

Description of types

The resulting typical settings

This is still a work in progress, so this webpage will be constantly updated according to our future findings and results.

Context and conflict

How settings are linked to conflicts

This is still a work in progress, so this webpage will be constantly updated according to our future findings and results.

More information

Additional information

This is still a work in progress, so this webpage will be constantly updated according to our future findings and results.


Bibliography and other material employed

This is still a work in progress, so this webpage will be constantly updated according to our future findings and results.