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Whitman College

Publication Date

Spring 2013

Program Name

Argentina: Social Movements and Human Rights


Worldwide, environmentalism and environmental concern is growing. Additionally, environmental issues like pollution and contamination are no longer considered simply environmental problems; environmental issues are now frequently analyzed from a sociological perspective. Beginning in the 1980s in the United States, the investigation of the relationship between environmental and social issues developed into the theory of environmental justice. This theory postulates that the unequal distribution of environmental harm occurs in correlation with (or is a direct result of) a lack of political recognition and participation.

In this investigation, I utilize the theory of environmental justice to analyze the development of open-pit mining in Patagonia, and the subsequent responses to this development by local citizens in the communities of Bariloche and Esquel, Argentina. I analyze how and why citizen assemblies have been used to overcome the environmental injustice of open-pit mining. In particular, I question a) if these communities have a history that lacks political recognition and participation, b) how these assemblies use or avoid external support, and c) what the motivations and desires of these assemblies are.

For ten days, I traveled to Bariloche to interview five neighbors of the Esquel and Bariloche assemblies. From these semi-structured interviews and other background research, it became clear that the development of open-pit mining in Patagonia is a case of environmental injustice. Furthermore, the goals, desires, actions, and organization of these assemblies are a direct result of (and response to overcome) the conditions of injustice that these community faced. The organization of the assembly, the search for autonomy, and the desire for structural change are the assemblies’ response to and means to overcome the environmental injustices associated with open-pit mining.

In this paper, I will discuss: the history of mining in Argentina, the development of the assemblies of Esquel and Bariloche, the theoretical framework of environmental justice, how open-pit mining is an example of an environmental injustice, and how the organization, desires, and actions of these assemblies are a direct result of and response to overcome the conditions of environmental injustice they faced.


Environmental Health and Protection | Growth and Development | Inequality and Stratification | Labor Economics | Politics and Social Change


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