Strata of the state: Resource nationalism and vertical territory in Bolivia

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This paper examines the relationship between resource nationalism, state territorialization, and geological knowledge production in Bolivia. Focusing on two historical moments of post-revolutionary state-building – post-Independence (1825) and post-National Revolution (1952) - I show how the subterranean was produced as vertical state territory not only in law but also through science. By charting this history, I argue that anti-Indigenous racism was historically built into resource nationalism through ongoing collaborations between earth scientists and various iterations of the Bolivian state. In the post-Independence era, French naturalist Alcide d'Orbigny was hired by the nascent Bolivian state to produce the country's first geological map. His writings, which ranged from the geological to the ethnological, conceptually grafted Indigenous peoples to the surface of the earth while representing the subterranean as empty save for natural resources. In the post-National Revolution era, d'Orbigny's work reemerged as influential when it was taken up by both political theorists and geologists. Through a close examination of works from these two eras, I show how the subsoil became the rationalized realm of the state. I further suggest that the contemporary tension between state-led resource extraction and Bolivia's “plurinational” constitution, which pluralizes the nation and ostensibly supports Indigenous autonomy, can be understood as a spatial tension between the subterranean, which is held in perpetuity by the state, and the surface, which can be owned privately or communally and imbued with place-specific meanings. Although resource nationalism might appear to be a progressive effort to redistribute resource wealth, capable of countering the neoliberal privatization of decades prior, such extractive projects threaten Indigenous territorial rights, compromising the purportedly decolonial goals of the Plurinational State.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number102040
JournalPolitical Geography
StatePublished - Oct 2019
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


  • Bolivia
  • Geology
  • Indigenous autonomy
  • Latin America
  • Resource nationalism
  • Vertical territory


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