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Development Studies Research
An Open Access Journal
ISSN: (Print) 2166-5095 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rdsr20
Conflict transformation in indigenous peoples’
territories: doing environmental justice with a
Iokiñe Rodríguez & Mirna Liz Inturias
To cite this article: Iokiñe Rodríguez & Mirna Liz Inturias (2018) Conflict transformation in
indigenous peoples’ territories: doing environmental justice with a ‘decolonial turn’, Development
Studies Research, 5:1, 90-105, DOI: 10.1080/21665095.2018.1486220
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/21665095.2018.1486220
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Conﬂict transformation in indigenous peoples’territories: doing environmental
justice with a ‘decolonial turn’
and Mirna Liz Inturias
School of International Development, University of East Anglia, Norwich Research Park, Norwich, UK;
Universidad NUR, Santa Cruz de la Sierra,
One of the distinctive features of environmental justice theory in Latin America is its inﬂuence by
decolonial thought, which explains social and environmental injustices as arising from the project of
modernity and the ongoing expansion of a European cultural imaginary. The decolonization of
knowledge and social relations is highlighted as one of the key challenges for overcoming the
history of violent oppression and marginalization in development and conservation practice in
the region. In this paper we discuss how conﬂict transformation theory and practice has a role to
play in this process. In doing so, we draw on the Socio-environmental Conﬂict Transformation
(SCT) framework elaborated by Grupo Conﬂuencias, which puts a focus on building community
capacity to impact diﬀerent spheres of power: people and networks, structures and cultural
power. We discuss this framework and its practical use in the light of ongoing experiences with
indigenous peoples in Latin America. We propose that by strengthening the power of agency of
indigenous peoples to impact each of these spheres it is possible to build constructive intra and
intercultural relations that can help increase social and environmental justice in their territories
and thus contribute to decolonizing structures, relations and ways of being.
Received 28 November 2017
Accepted 5 June 2018
Over the last three decades, indigenous peoples have
become central players in environmental justice
struggles in Latin America. This is not fortuitous. On the
one hand, it is the result of the increasing pressure
being exerted by a wide variety of development, extrac-
tive and conservation initiatives over their territories. On
the other hand, it is the result of the consolidation of
their political agency in the region. Since the 1980s indi-
genous peoples have been consistent in their demands
for autonomy and self-determination, and have been
increasingly successful in paving their own pathway to
sustainability through the construction of new environ-
mental, cultural and collective rights in the region (Leﬀ
This is reﬂected in the progress made over past
decades in Latin America in terms of the protection of
indigenous peoples’rights, in comparison to other
parts of the world: of the 22 countries that by 2011
had ratiﬁed Convention 160 of the ILO on indigenous
peoples’rights, 14 are Latin American.
In 2007, all
Latin American countries except Colombia, voted in
favor of the UN Declaration of the rights of indigenous
peoples. This tendency is also reﬂected in recent reconﬁ-
gurations in the models of the Nation-State through new
pluricultural and plurinational national constitutions, e.g.:
Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela, which amongst other
rights, acknowledge those of indigenous peoples to
their territorial autonomy. And lastly, it is reﬂected in
the expansion of indigenous peoples’alternative devel-
opment discourses and proposals, some of which have
started to be incorporated into national development
discourses and strategies, such as the philosophy of
(Huanacuni Mamani 2010).
Indigenous peoples’movements and their struggles
have also been an inspiration to the emergence of new
Latin American critical thinking, such as decolonial
theory, known in the region as the Decolonial Project
(Lander 2000; Quijano 2000; Escobar 2003; Walsh 2007;
Mignolo 2008). This theory identiﬁes social and environ-
mental injustices as arising from the project of modernity
and the continual reproduction of European cultural
To a large extent in Latin America, in contrast to other
parts of the world, environmental justice thinking has
developed alongside decolonial thought, through the
© 2018 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use,
distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
CONTACT Iokiñe Rodríguez email@example.com
DEVELOPMENT STUDIES RESEARCH
2018, VOL. 5, NO. 1, 90–105
work, for instance, of Escobar (1998,2010a,2010b,
2010c) and Leﬀ(2001,2003,2004). Both authors were
pioneers in describing the anti-modernity and decolonial
agenda of indigenous peoples’struggle for environ-
mental justice and positioning an environmental justice
theory in the region with a ‘decolonial turn’(Castro-
Gómez and Grosfoguel 2007). Some more recent
addition to this body of knowledge from an environ-
mental justice perspective, include Acosta et al. (2011),
Acosta (2013,2015), Gudynas (2010a,2010b,2011,
2012) and also Santos (2008), who although not strictly
Latin American, works in close collaboration with Latin
American decolonial scholars.
This strong focus on decolonization marks a diﬀer-
ence from environmental justice thinking in the Global
North, which in comparison has tended not to empha-
size so much the colonial and epistemic roots of injus-
tices in the Global South. This is partly due to the fact
that in its early years environmental justice theory from
the Global North had a strong focus on injustices
arising from the unequal distribution of natural resource
hazards in advanced capitalist political-economy. The
work of Bullard (1983) in particular, examining the
relationship between racial discrimination and industrial
and waste dumping activities in the USA, marked the
start of environmental justice research in the Global
North with a strong distributive focus. Thanks to the
work of Pellow (2007) and Schlosberg (2007,2013),
among others, over the years environmental justice
research from the Global North has been moving away
from its initial focus on distributive justice. Schlosberg
in particular, drawing upon detailed studies of environ-
mental justice movements across diﬀerent classes,
races, ethnicities and gender, as well as on Fraser’s
(1998) three-dimensional deﬁnition of justice, has made
a tremendous contribution to a more pluralist under-
standing of the meaning of environmental justice. He
has consistently debated that justice is not just about
equity (distributive justice), but also includes recognition
and participation (procedural justice). More recently,
drawing upon the work of Nussbaum (2011), he added
a fourth dimension to this discussion arguing that
justice is also about fulﬁlling community capabilities, par-
ticularly in the context of indigenous peoples’struggles
(Schlosberg and Carruthers 2010). Another important
development in environmental justice thinking from
the Global North is the increasing attention paid to the
regional speciﬁcities of the histories of environmental
justice movements and its scholarship across the world
(Lawhon 2013). Carruthers (2008a) edited volume
Environmental Justice in Latin America is a case in point,
where the contributors pay attention to analyzing pre-
cisely what makes Latin American environmental
justice frameworks distinct from those present in
others parts of the world. The authors highlight the
long tradition for social justice demands and movements
in diﬀerent ﬁelds (political participation, land distri-
bution, human rights and community health) as a
salient feature, as well as the central importance that cul-
tural identity (linked to campesino, indigenous and
women’s demands for justice) has historically played in
environmental justice struggles in the region.
Although environmental justice literature from the
Global North increasingly acknowledges the historical
legacy of colonialism in environmental justice struggles
in Latin America, particularly in reference to land use
and distribution patterns (Carruthers 2008b), it rarely
mentions the persistence of colonial values (coloniality)
as a cause of current injustices and violence, and the
need to confront it. This is precisely what South Ameri-
can environmental justice thinking oﬀers through its
focus on decoloniality.
Additionally, a cross-fertilization between academic
ﬁelds has started to take place in the region, with deco-
lonial theory merging with diﬀerent traditions of
environmental justice action-research. Such is the case
of Grupo Conﬂuencias, a group of Latin American
conﬂict transformation practitioners and researchers
who have been working since 2005 on a regionally
speciﬁc approach for environmental conﬂict-transform-
ation, through the development of new conceptual
and methodological frameworks. Grupo Conﬂuencias
has merged Conﬂict Transformation theory (which origi-
nated in Peace Studies) with decolonial thought, power
theory and political ecology, and developed a Socio-
environmental Conﬂict Transformation (SCT) Framework
that seeks to guide conﬂict transformation work for
greater environmental justice in the region.
In this paper we present the SCT framework in order
to show what conﬂict transformation practice can oﬀer
for decolonizing environmental injustices in the region.
We argue that conﬂict transformation scholars and prac-
titioners can and must play a role in decolonizing
environmental injustices through a commitment to
engage with the structural and historical forces that
create marginalization and exclusion in the use of
natural resources and territories. We also propose that
conﬂict transformation can help move forward the deco-
lonizing praxis, by engaging with a level of injustices
rarely addressed in decolonial theory: the intra-commu-
nity level. Despite indigenous peoples’discourses of
‘Buen Vivir’and their claims in environmental struggles
for alternative development pathways, the intense pro-
cesses of cultural change that they have been subject
to from colonial to modern times, often puts them in
very weak positions to successfully pursue a decolonial
DEVELOPMENT STUDIES RESEARCH 91
agenda at the community level. In conﬂict situations, this
internal fragility often makes indigenous peoples prone
to division and fragmentation, reducing the chance of
successfully confronting the hegemonic powers that
The SCT Framework is particularly aimed at strength-
ening the capacity of vulnerable actors to transform
environmental conﬂicts through impacting three
diﬀerent types of hegemonic power: structural, cultural
and actor-networks. In doing so, it can help develop
diﬀerentiated strategies to challenge dominant dis-
courses, economic, legal and political structures and
practices and the relationships that give rise to environ-
mental justice struggles. The premise is that a focus on
building community capacity to transform conﬂicts at
the intra-cultural level helps to create the conditions
for more symmetrical and horizontal intercultural dialo-
gues, which are key for decolonizing environmental
injustices. To our knowledge, such an approach for enga-
ging with environmental justice struggles is new to
environmental justice work. Thus, beyond contributing
to decolonizing environmental injustices, it also has
something new to oﬀer to environmental justice think-
ing more broadly.
In order to illustrate our framework, we draw on work
carried out with indigenous peoples from diﬀerent parts
of Latin America (Argentina, Bolivia, Guatemala and
Venezuela) to transform socio-environmental conﬂicts.
The text is divided into ﬁve parts. In the ﬁrst section
we explore the overlap and complementarity between
decolonial and conﬂict transformation thought in terms
of understanding and addressing environmental injus-
tice in the region. This is followed by a discussion of
power, paying attention ﬁrst to describing how hegemo-
nic power is exercised in environmental conﬂicts and
later to how such power can be challenged in order to
increase environmental justice. In order to illustrate the
latter point, in the fourth section, we discuss diﬀerent
strategies that can help indigenous peoples impact on
the diﬀerent spheres of power and thus contribute to
conﬂict transformation processes in the region. We
close in the ﬁfth section with a short synthesis of the
main points highlighted in the paper and some ideas
for further research.
Decolonial and conﬂict transformation
theory: exploring the overlap and
Main propositions of decolonial theory:
Decolonial thought is distinct from other post-colonial
critical theory through its focus on the Global South
and for identifying mechanisms of subordination and
marginalization in Eurocentric scientiﬁc and political
worldviews. Proponents of this school of thought are
largely from Latin America (Quijano 2000; Lander 2000;
Leﬀ2001; Castro-Gómez and Grosfoguel 2007; Escobar
2003; Walsh 2007; Mignolo 2008), but important contri-
butions have also come from India (Visvanathan 1997),
Portugal (Santos, Arriscado, and Meneses 2008; Santos
2010) and New Zealand (Smith 1999) among others.
According to decolonial theory ‘colonialism’ended
with political independence in the Global South, but
‘coloniality’persists through dominant colonial/modern
values and world views that are institutionalized and dis-
seminated through education, the media, state-sanc-
tioned languages and behavioral norms. Thus,
‘coloniality’is a form of power that creates structural
oppression over marginalized sectors of society, such
as indigenous peoples, whose alternative worldviews
become devalued, marginalized and stigmatized in
development and conservation practice. From this per-
spective, coloniality is a particular mechanism and form
of mis-recognition that must be confronted in order to
achieve emancipation and social/environmental justice.
Decolonial scholars argue that modernity leads to pro-
found psychological harm for indigenous peoples as it
erodes vital conditions for their wellbeing, including cul-
tural identity, freedom of choice and self-respect. It also
has tangible impacts on the status and participation of
indigenous peoples in development and conservation
practice by disregarding local notions of authority and
territory, frequently resulting in displacement or
enforced change to livelihoods. Furthermore, they
argue that psychological and physical harm is perpetu-
ated through a matrix operating at three levels: a)
power (political and economic), b) knowledge (episte-
mic, philosophical and scientiﬁc) and c) the self or ways
of being (subjective, individual and collective identities).
Thus, responses to coloniality necessarily involve decolo-
nizing power, knowledge and the being.
moving away from a unitary model of citizenship and
civilization to one that respects diﬀerent local econom-
ies, politics, cultures, epistemologies and forms of
This focus of decolonial theory on the epistemological
dimension of oppression and domination adds an impor-
tant new critical lens to environmental justice work. It
highlights the need to engage with one of the most
invisible and subtle ways in which violence is exercised
in environmental justice struggles: through the impo-
sition of particular ways of knowing the world at the
expense of oppressing others, in other words, through
epistemic violence. Thus, as suggested by Walsh (2005b)
and Santos (2008), the greatest challenge for
92 I. RODRÍGUEZ AND M. L. INTURIAS
emancipation from a decolonial perspective is to move
towards a situation of greater cognitive justice in the
world, learning from, and making visible, alternatives
forms of knowledge. Thus, the ecology of knowledge
(Santos 2008), also termed by other decolonial theorists
as dialogues of knowledge/wisdoms (Leﬀ2004) or the
construction of interculturality (Walsh 2005a), is viewed
as the core of a decolonial praxis.
But interculturality here is radically diﬀerent from other
more widely used functional deﬁnitions. Decolonial thin-
kers such as Tubino (2005), Walsh (2005a,2005b,2007)
and Santos (2010), approach interculturality from a critical
perspective. The term ‘intercultural’is not understood as a
simple contact, but as an exchange that takes place in
conditions of equality, mutual legitimacy, equity and sym-
metry. This encounter of cultures is a permanent and
dynamic vehicle for communication and mutual learning.
It is not just an exchange between individuals but also
between knowledge, wisdoms and practices that
develop a new sense of co-existence in their diﬀerence.
More than the idea of simple interrelation (or communi-
cation, as it is often understood in Canada, Europe or the
United States), interculturality refers to, and means, an
“other”process of knowledge construction, an “other”
political practice, and “other”social (and State) power
and an “other”society; an “other”way to think and act
in relation to, and against, modernity and colonialism.
An “other”paradigm that is thought and acted upon,
through political praxis. (Walsh 2007, 47)
As suggested by Viaña (2009) in order to achieve this it is
necessary to change the conditions of intercultural dialo-
gue, to ensure that the dialogue is not about the right of
inclusion in the dominant culture, but about the historical
and structural factors that limit a real exchange between
cultures in each country.Only this can helpcreate the con-
ditions for more symmetrical conversations about the
model of development needed for ‘Buen Vivir’, the type
of solidary economy needed for life, and the participatory
political system needed for the consolidation of autono-
mies, territories and regions that allow different forms of
government and self-governance.
Thus, the ‘inter’space, becomes an arena of nego-
tiation where social, economic and political inequalities
are not kept hidden, but are made visible and con-
fronted. In this sense, the dialogue among cultures and
knowledge plays an important part in a wider process
of social transformation.
Intra-cultural dialogues: a missing link
One issue that has received little attention in decolonial
literature is the question of cultural diﬀerence at the
intra-cultural level. Environmental justice literature also
has a blind spot on this issue. Despite its sensitivity to
social meaning, inter-subjectivity and long-term histori-
cal contexts, decolonial literature pays little attention to
the fact that culture itself is often contested at the local
level. There has been a paucity of discussion about the
conditions necessary for dialogue about the use of
nature among diﬀerent actors within communities,
especially in the context of shifting local identities and
rapid cultural change among indigenous peoples.
In most of the developing world indigenous peoples
are undergoing rapid processes of cultural change,
which may seriously constrain local reﬂexivity over
environmental and development issues. In Latin
America in particular, modern nation state building has
been premised on narratives of national identity and
modernity that have contributed signiﬁcantly to under-
mining ‘traditional’views and the values placed upon
nature by indigenous people. This trend has continued
even within emerging pluricultural nation-state models,
such as those currently favored in Venezuela, Bolivia,
and Ecuador, where at least nominally, and with
diﬀerent degrees, indigenous peoples’rights are
acknowledged and recognized in foundational legal
frameworks, such as national constitutions (Méndez
2008). In addition, this loss of traditional knowledge is
uneven and varies between and within indigenous
groups and communities, thus giving rise to contested
and shifting views of development and knowledge of
the environment at the community level. These
local conﬂicts, in turn, may act as a strong barrier for
discussing and deﬁning sustainability pathways at the
In order for intercultural dialogues to take place, it is
necessary to ﬁrst acknowledge the ongoing and often
conﬂicting processes of cultural change and identity for-
mation that are shaping, and will continue to shape,
development pathways of environmental management
strategies at the local level. These processes of cultural
change, in turn, inform complex relations of power that
tend to hinder reﬂexivity and dialogue at the intra-cul-
tural level. Ultimately, a critical understanding of chan-
ging identity and local views of nature is crucial for
developing more just and productive forms of delibera-
tion, where the diverse forms of knowledge of margina-
lized groups are brought to the foreground in
discussions about present and future development and
Building community capacity to overcome these
internal diﬀerences, through diﬀerentiated strategies
that can help clarify local perspectives, knowledge as
well as strengthening local organization, is essential for
intercultural dialogue to take place. This is where
DEVELOPMENT STUDIES RESEARCH 93
conﬂict transformation practice can support a decolonial
agenda in Latin America.
Conﬂict transformation and local capacity
Conﬂict transformation theory is rooted in peace studies,
speciﬁcally in post-war conﬂicts, with the works of
authors such as Lederach (1995,2003,2008) and
Galtung (1969,1990,2004). Unlike other approaches
which see conﬂict as something negative that must be
overcome or reduced, the transformative approach
rather sees conﬂict as a catalyst for social change
through its double dimension: conﬂict creates stress in
social relations, but it also oﬀers the potential to help
overcome, change and transform conﬂicting relation-
ships towards more harmonious, constructive and
balanced ones (see Table 1). This is because it allows
unearthing injustices and making them visible, thus sig-
naling necessary changes in society.
Conﬂict transformation involves moving away from
the logic of resolving to understanding conﬂicts. From
this perspective, the role of external actors changes
from ﬁre-ﬁghters to architects of change who must
help build transformative platforms for new social
As an analytical approach, it provides tools to under-
stand conﬂict dynamics and the multiple levels in
which it is expressed: in people, in relationships, leader-
ship forms, organizations, political systems, the construc-
tion of narratives, and in cultural frameworks. This means
that from a descriptive perspective, conﬂicts are in con-
stant change due to various reasons (contextual, struc-
tural, strategies of the actors, etc.) and we can / must
engage with them in order to transcend the immediate
expression of the conﬂict.
Similarly to decolonial theory, this approach postu-
lates that behind a conﬂict episode lie relational and
structural factors that determine its current expression,
and which must be addressed if we are to increase
justice in relationships and social structures, and avoid
recurrence. In socio-environmental conﬂicts we can
easily diﬀerentiate between a conﬂict episode (claims
to environmental liabilities, opposition to a particular
policy, mobilization against the installation of an extrac-
tive activity or the construction of infrastructure, viola-
tion of indigenous territories, etc.) and underlying
causes, which are commonly found far from these
events, both physically and historically. This is what
Lederach calls the epicenter of a conﬂict (see Figure 1
From a prescriptive perspective, conﬂict transform-
ation is also a process of commitment to the transform-
ation of relationships, patterns, discourses and, if
necessary, the very shape of society that creates
conﬂict. This requires transcending the ‘episodic’
expression of conﬂict, instead focusing on the relational
and historical patterns in which the conﬂict is rooted and
in those areas that generate or make inequities invisible,
driving an approach that can reﬂect the desired changes
and that also generates operational solutions to immedi-
Thus, the conﬂict transformation approach seeks to
develop strategies at multiple levels and scales. It advo-
cates the idea of platforms for transformation (Lederach
1995) with a view to promoting processes of constructive
change at the personal, inter-group and structural levels
that can generate greater justice and reduce violence in
relationships and society.
Conﬂict transformation is therefore a long-term
process of socio-political, psycho-social and cultural
transformation in which key aspects of the reality are
addressed in the short-term, in conjunction with struc-
tural issues that can be resolved in the medium, and
long-term. Thus, the key is to have a strategic vision of
transformation that articulates the needs and actions
that must be taken in the short-term (addressing the
speciﬁc episode) with a long-term pathway for change
(addressing the epicenter).
There are two complementary components of this
strategic vision. First, similar to decolonial theory,
conﬂict transformation postulates the need to engage
with power in order to overcome the structural causes
of injustice. Second, and linked to the above, is the atten-
tion paid to strengthening the capacity of vulnerable
actors to transform conﬂicts, through a variety of training
and capacity building processes, as a necessary starting
point in the long-term vision of transformation (Lederach
1995; Botes 2003). These processes of local capacity
Table 1. Basic diﬀerences between conﬂict resolution and
Caracteristics Resolution Transformation
Conﬂict as something
negative that must be
Conﬂict as catalyst of social
change, with great
To overcome the conﬂict To transform its underlying
How? Through mediation,
negotiation and other
Through engaging with its
complex causes, through
social and political action,
action research and more.
The verb is To Resolve To transform
The role of
Firemen who arrive at a ﬁre,
put it out and leave
what caused it and might
cause it again.
Architects who build
of social relations.
Source: Adaptaded from Lederach (2003).
94 I. RODRÍGUEZ AND M. L. INTURIAS
building are aimed precisely at promoting intra-cultural
dialogues about complex issues related to the cause of
conﬂicts in order to create the conditions for more sym-
metrical inter-cultural dialogues.
Yet, as conﬂict transformation theory was originally
created to deal with conﬂicts in post-war scenarios, the
understanding of power is not suﬃciently adapted to
the context of environmental conﬂicts. A more
nuanced approach to power that can guide socio-
environmental conﬂict transformation practice in the
region is necessary. As we will see, this approach to
power shares important points in common with decolo-
Understanding hegemonic power
In order to understand how power is expressed in socio-
environmental conﬂicts and to address existing asymme-
tries, it is useful to distinguish between two kinds of
power: hegemonic power and transformative power.
While the ﬁrst refers to power in its coercive form
(what some theorists call ‘power on’or power as domina-
tion), the second refers to forms of power that seek to
impact power of domination and bring about social
The notion of power as domination is the most com-
monly known. It implies the idea of imposing a mandate
or an idea. However, power of domination is not always
exercised coercively, but through subtle mechanisms. In
this sense, it is important to distinguish between the
visible and less visible face of domination (for the latter
see Foucault 1971) (see Table 2).
In society, the visible face of power is manifested
through decision-making bodies (institutions) where
issues of public interest, such as legal and economic fra-
meworks, regulations and public policies, are decided.
This includes the formal political decision-making
bodies, such as congresses, legislative assemblies and
advisory bodies, and decision-making mechanisms
used by civil society and social movements. This is the
public space where diﬀerent actors display their strat-
egies in order to assert their rights and interests. This
type of power is also known as institutional or structural
Yet most of the time, power is exercised in a hidden
way, by some sectors attempting to maintain their privi-
leged position in society, creating barriers to partici-
pation, excluding issues from the public agenda or
controlling political decisions ‘behind the scene’.In
Figure 1. The transformative platform. Source: Lederach (2003).
Table 2. Ways in domination is manifested.
Visible Power Hidden power
the agenda behind the
Source: Adapted from the Power Cube 2011. See: http://www.powercube.
DEVELOPMENT STUDIES RESEARCH 95
other words, the power of domination is exercised also
by people and power networks (Long and Van Der Ploeg
1989) that are organized to ensure that their interests
and world-views prevail over others.
The power of domination also works in an invisible
way through discursive practices, narratives, worldviews,
knowledge, behaviors and thoughts that are assimilated
by society as true without public questioning (Foucault
1971). This invisible, subtle form of power often takes
the shape in practice (following Galtung 1990) of cultural
violence, through the imposition of value and beliefs
systems that exclude or violate the physical, moral or cul-
tural integrity of certain social groups by devaluing their
own value and belief systems.
These structural forms of power are materialized in
state institutions, the market and civil society, giving rise
to a structural bias in relationships and consequent asym-
metrical power relations. Therefore, this form of invisible
power is also known as cultural power. Here, people can
remain ignorant of their rights or ability to enforce
them, and may see certain forms of domination over
them as natural or immutable, and therefore unquestion-
able. In this way, invisible power and hidden power often
act together, one controlling the world of ideas and the
other controlling the world of decisions.
This distinction between power concentrated in insti-
tutions, people and culture is very important for under-
standing power relationships and domination in socio-
environmental conﬂicts and in the perpetuation of
The challenge for overcoming violence, injustice
(Young 1990) and thereby for achieving conﬂict trans-
formation is to generate strategies that impact on
these three areas in which power is concentrated in
environmental management and territorial control: a)
institutions and economic and legal frameworks, b)
people and their networks, and c) discourses, narratives
and wold views. This takes us to a discussion of the
concept of power of agency, which will show how we
can put power at the service of conﬂict transformation.
Impacting hegemonic power
Although there is a tendency to think of power as some-
thing negative due its coercive and hegemonic manifes-
tations, power has also been widely described positively
as a ‘force in the service of an idea’(Burdeau 1985), or the
‘ability to do things and change your circumstances’
(Giddens 1984). This positive notion of power is com-
monly known as the ‘power of agency’, which is
deﬁned as ‘the ability of social partners to deﬁne social
problems and political issues and mobilize resources to
formulate and carry out a desired solution’(Arts and
Van Tatenhove 2004). Unlike power of domination,
which is known as ‘power over’, power of agency is com-
monly known as the ‘power to’change. The power of
agency is complemented and made more eﬀective with
the ‘power with’, which is the ability to act together, and
the ‘inner power’which means relying on the sense of
identity and dignity to mobilize for change (See Table 3).
The power of agency, thus, suggests that in situations
of domination, the problem is not that some people have
power and others do not, but rather how those who are
excluded can make use of their resources and sources of
power to change their circumstances and eﬀectively
counterbalance the forces of domination in diﬀerent
social areas. Power is not static and un-changeable.
During the evolution of a conﬂict, power is transformed:
it is dynamic, permeable and may be inﬂuenced, because
where there is domination, there is usually resistance and
change (Foucault 1984).
Power resources include: material resources such as
money and physical capital; moral support in the form
of solidarity; control of information, social organization,
including organizational strategies, social networks and
alliances; human resources such as volunteers, staﬀand
leaders with speciﬁc skills and knowledge; and cultural
resources including previous experiences, understanding
of the issues from the local perspective and the ability to
initiate collective action. Success depends on the eﬀec-
tiveness with which agents activate these resources
and direct them towards achieving their goals.
Agency is generally interpreted as the power of
people to impact others. However, when power stays
exclusively at the level of individuals and their inter-
actions, it runs the risk of reproducing conditions of dom-
ination as it does not challenge rules or structures. Social
transformations only occur when the power of agency
impacts institutions and the world of ideas. Therefore,
the power of agency must impact simultaneously on
people (networks), institutions and frameworks (struc-
tures) and culture to inﬂuence a change in the
diﬀerent levels of domination.
Table 3. Diﬀerent ways of exercising power.
of Power Transformative view of Power
Power Over Power to Power with Inner Power
The ability of social
partners to deﬁne
social problems and
political issues and
to formulate and
carry out a desired
The ability to rely
on the sense of
Source: Adapted from the Power Cube (2011). For more details see: http://
96 I. RODRÍGUEZ AND M. L. INTURIAS
Experiences in transforming environmental
conﬂicts in Latin America
In Figure 2 we summarize some strategies that in our
experience can help enhance the power of agency to
impact on diﬀerent forms of hegemonic power, thus
contributing to the constructive transformation of
socio-environmental conﬂicts. We now turn to discussing
these strategies with examples from Latin America.
Impacting people and networks
Power networks are a common way in which dominant
actors exercise their power in socio-environmental
conﬂicts. Behind the scene negotiations, the co-optation
of leaders and the divisions of local communities are part
of the common tactics used by the private sector and
governments in mining and/or development projects
(Inturias and Aragón 2005; Padilla and Luna 2005). They
are also common in the way environmental knowledge
is constructed and institutionalized in environmental
management through alliances between resource man-
agers and certain sectors of the scientiﬁc community
that legitimize the need for external control in
environmental management (see for instance Rodríguez
2004). Something similar has happened in the formu-
lation of climate change policy, where alliances
between particular sectors of public policy making and
the international academic community have determined
the type of knowledge that is used for climate change
negotiations and that which is left out (Ulloa 2011).
Thus, one of the challenges in overcoming such power
asymmetries in socio-environmental conﬂicts is to
impact on these power networks in order for other
views to have a place in decision-making and discursive
A key issue in conﬂict transformation is capacity build-
ing on issues of social and political organization, local
leadership, conﬂict theory and dialogue/negotiation
tactics. Such was the case for instance in the widely
known Water War in Bolivia in 2000, where the Bolivian
government attempted to sanction a new Law on Priva-
tization of Water and Sewage without local consultation.
This law met with strong resistance and intense mobiliz-
ation from the part of campesino and the indigenous
peoples of Cochabamba, to the point that it could not
be approved. Carlos Crespo Flores, who acted as
adviser to the campesino and indigenous peoples in
Figure 2. Strategies to impact the Personal (networks), Structural (institutions) y Cultural dimensions of domination. Source: Rodriguez
et al. (2015).
DEVELOPMENT STUDIES RESEARCH 97
this conﬂict, explains that in this case it was crucial to
work on four issues with the Cochabamba farming
organizations to ensure successful negotiations: a) how
to control or modify internal organization factors, b)
how to increase awareness of external factors in the
conﬂict, c) how to develop parallel actions to nego-
tiations, and d) how to increase the technical knowledge
of dialogue and negotiation procedures (Crespo 2005)
(See Table 4 for more details).
The Water War is renowned for the intense political and
social mobilization that it generated through the develop-
ment of press and media campaigns, lobbying, lawsuits
and public demonstrations demanding respect for tra-
ditional water uses and customs (Nickson and Vargas
2002; Gutiérrez-Pérez 2014). But perhaps the most inter-
esting aspect of this case was not the external strategies,
but the internal ones developed by the local organizations
to ensure negotiations in conditions of equity, and more
importantly, to halt changes in the legislation.
Distinct from strategies that focus on overcoming
domination in negotiations, such as the Water War,
there are other initiatives in the region developing
long-term political empowerment for conﬂict transform-
ation. For example the ‘Diploma on conﬂict analysis and
transformation, negotiation, advocacy and lobbying’run
by the ProPaz Foundation in Guatemala, is directed at
ancestral authorities, leaders and young indigenous
peoples (men and women) and seeks to strengthen
local capacity to confront future conﬂicts, most of them
ProPaz Foundation does not run the conﬂict trans-
formation diploma as an academic course, but as an
opportunity to contrast conﬂict theory with the partici-
pants’own experience and knowledge on the topic, in
order to ﬁnd solutions to inequality that they experience
in their daily lives. There is a follow up phase to support
indigenous organizations immersed in speciﬁc conﬂicts
in which participants receive technical assistance,
advice and monitoring of their own practices and these
are discussed with participating organizations as part
of the capacity building process.
The entire process seeks to empower indigenous
peoples to defend their territories and collective and
individual rights. One strategy is to inﬂuence spheres
of government and the other to legitimize leadership
roles on these issues within their communities.
Although, as in the case of the Water War in Bolivia,
empowerment is aimed initially at strengthening the
internal organization, the ultimate goal is to impact struc-
Similarly, the Foundation for Democratic Change
(FCD) in Argentina provides technical support to indigen-
ous communities through workshops and joint advocacy
processes, with the aim of building capacity and commu-
nity organization as well as improving their conditions of
participation in developing policies and resolving
environmental conﬂicts. In particular, it supports indigen-
ous communities in northern Argentina developing com-
munity protocols to be applied in consultations or when
free, prior and informed consent is sought. Similar proto-
cols have already been launched by other indigenous
peoples in Latin America.
Another way of impacting existing hegemonic power
networks in socio-environmental conﬂicts is through the
development of transformative knowledge networks
that can challenge and help re-shape existing environ-
mental policies through giving visibility and public legiti-
macy to marginaliszed knowledge.
Such is the case of knowledge networks that have
been developed amongst diﬀerent research institutes
over the last decade in the Canaima National Park, Vene-
zuela, in order to help reframe ﬁre use policies in the
area. Since the 1980s there has been a long-standing
land use conﬂict in this national park related to the use
of ﬁre in the shifting cultivation and savannah burning
by the Pemon indigenous peoples, both practices
being considered by environmental managers as a
Table 4. Key factors in strengthening power of agency in the
Water Way negotiations, Bolivia.
Knoledge of Dialoge and
.Knowledge and clarity of the conﬂict
(background, causes, issues, actors,
institutional and legal framework).
.Strength in the argument of local
.Capacity to generate alternative
.Access to information about the
central themes of the conﬂict.
.Knowledge about the rights and
.Existence of an external advisory group
.Legitimacy and representativeness of
.Capacity of local representatives on:
- Knowledge of the conﬂict
- Capacity to defend arguments
- Self esteem of leaders
.Rules and norms for
dialogue and negotiation.
.Use of public media during
.The role of facilitators and
.Design of dialogue
- Dialogue and negotiation
- Time scale
- Number of representatives
- Extra-oﬃcial dialogue and
- Expected results
Knowledge of External Factors Parallel Advocacy Accions
.Legitimacy of adversarial organizations
.Capacity and will of adversaries and
the political systems to initiate
dialogue and negotiate.
.Resistance Actions: strikes,
road blocks, etc
(involving top decision
.Access to the public media
.Networking (to change the
scale of the conﬂict).
98 I. RODRÍGUEZ AND M. L. INTURIAS
threat to the watershed conservation functions of the
protected area. Despite a variety of strategies developed
by the State to change or eliminate the use of ﬁre in agri-
culture and savannas (repression, environmental edu-
cation, introduction of new cultivation techniques, and
aﬁre control program) many Pemon, especially the
elders and those living in more isolated communities,
have continued to make extensive use of ﬁre. In contrast,
the younger Pemon have gradually become more critical
of the use of ﬁre and as a result, inter-generational ten-
sions over this issue are becoming more frequent. The
Pemon’s traditional knowledge has been key for illuminat-
ing new technical ﬁre management knowledge that chal-
lenges conventional explanations of landscape change.
This local knowledge, combined with results from
studies of Pemon ﬁre regimes, ﬁre behavior ecology and
paleo-ecological research, now inform a counter narrative
of landscape change that is inﬂuencing a shift in environ-
mental discourse and policy making towards an intercul-
tural ﬁre management approach (Rodríguez et al. 2013).
Impacting structural power (institutions)
Structural power goes beyond the exercise of power over
others. It refers to more regulated modes of power that
deﬁne social rules and interactions between people
through institutions. Social actors are often positioned
diﬀerently in relation to decision-making and pro-
cedures, which ends up aﬀecting the interests of
speciﬁc groups. The challenge is then to impact public
institutions and frameworks in order to represent more
fairly the diﬀerent interests of society.
There are diﬀerent ways to achieve this. One is
through outright confrontation, as we saw above in the
example of the Water War, impacting through political
and social mobilization on laws, regulations and norms
that have been created without consultation or that do
not represent the diﬀerentiated rights of society.
Although eﬀective in the short-term, this strategy will
not necessarily transform institutional structures in a pro-
found way, unless macro legal frameworks are revised.
The other way is to ensure greater representation of
diﬀerent sectors of society in the formulation of public
policy in existing public institutions such as national
and local assemblies or by creating new institutional
arrangements where none exist, such as decision-
making councils, co-management committees, round-
tables or processes of consultation. However, the
problem with this approach is that it often ends up co-
opting local leaders or that participation takes place in
a tokenistic way.
Therefore, in terms of conﬂict transformation it is
important also to move towards public participation
with an intercultural approach, where the focus is not
to open up participation for marginalized sectors in
already established institutions, but rather to acknowl-
edge and strengthen existing customary decision-
making and natural resources management approaches.
An example of this type of strategy is new
instruments for territorial planning and management
implemented in Bolivia since 2006, such as Indigenous
and Campesino Territories (TIOCs), which were created
as a result of changes in the model of the nation-state
and a new form of democracy and citizenship that
acknowledges cultural diﬀerences. TIOCs, apart from
recognizing the ancestral ownership of land by indigen-
ous peoples, gives them the legal mandate to manage
their natural resources autonomously and with respect
for their customary decision-making procedures. Yet, in
order to conquer these new intercultural institutional
arrangements, indigenous peoples in Bolivia have had
to resort to a variety of strategies, from social and politi-
cal mobilization, training and assessment with experts,
advocacy strategies, to tactical negotiations with the
state. As an illustration, in Table 5, we summarize the
main strategies that have been used by the Monkoxi
peoples in the TIOC of Lomerio, in order to transform
socio-environmental conﬂicts in their territories,
through challenging and impacting (structural) insti-
Even though since 2006, the Monkoxi peoples have
had legal ownership of their lands, and are now demand-
ing autonomous territorial rights, one of their greatest
challenges continues to be strengthening their own cus-
tomary territorial and natural resource governance
systems in order to ensure a sustainable and just man-
agement of the territory (Inturias et al. 2016). Thus, in col-
laboration with a wide variety of partners that include
Fundación Tierra, CEJIS, Universidad NUR, Grupo
Table 5. Strategies used by the Monkoxi Peoples of Lomerio to
impact on Institutional Power in order to transform socio-
environmental conﬂict in their territories.
Legal and normative
- Develop Communal
- Demand Territorial Land
- Implement land reform
- Creation of indigenous
- Develop Territorial
- Develop Autonomy
- Demand territorial
- Road Blocades
- Expulsion of large land
- NUR University
- University of
DEVELOPMENT STUDIES RESEARCH 99
Conﬂuencias and the University of East Anglia, they are
currently working on strengthening their Indigenous
Justice system as well as on training a new generation
of leaders in indigenous autonomy related issues.
Impacting cultural power
One of the main challenges for many social groups who
do not see themselves represented in dominant world-
views, is to alter the realm of social representation in
order to protect and defend their own identity,
through the creation of new meanings, norms and
values. If over time, a suﬃcient number of people
conﬁrm and reaﬃrm the new meanings through the cre-
ation of counter-narratives or counter-discourses, sys-
temic changes in cultural power can take place.
We refer, for example, to dominant views of develop-
ment, to the way nation-state models deﬁne citizenship
rights and to dominant climate change or environmental
change discourses. Many actors and social movements in
Latin America are creating new social meanings when
they position themselves against mining or against infra-
structure projects based on their own conceptions of the
environment, the land and development (OSAL 2012).
The changes that have occurred towards pluricultural
nation states in Latin America in relation to development
narratives like ‘Buen Vivir’or towards new forms of
territorial management, are the result of a long process
of confrontation with certain sectors of society holding
dominant development concepts and and of citizenship
Yet, as said before,domination is continually being exer-
cised in abstract and invisible ways, and indigenous com-
munities themselves often have themselves controversial
and shifting views of development and of environmental
knowledge. Therefore, in order to impact cultural power,
it is often necessary to strengthen local identity in order
for alternative sustained meanings and values to emerge.
The revitalization of local environmental knowledge and
the reconstruction of local history are some of the actions
that can help. Building visions of the future through com-
munity life plans, processes of self-demarcation or local ter-
ritorial management also play a role.
In Latin America, there are valuable experiences in
recovering the historical memory of indigenous
peoples, made by the protagonists themselves, as part
of strategies aimed at confronting the dominant devel-
opment model and its tendency to erode and erase
the identity of entire peoples. A case in point was the
project to recover the historical memory of the Talama-
queño people in Costa Rica, led by the American histor-
ian Paula Palmer in the 1980s (Palmer 1994). The project
sought to document the socio-economic changes
experienced by the people in the region as well as
conﬂicts with the State as lived and experienced by the
Talamaqueño peoples themselves (Quezada 1990).
In Venezuela there is the experience of Pemon-
Taurepan from Kumarakapay Village, located in
Canaima National Park, Bolivar State, who in 1995, as a
reaction against increasing pressure from development
projects on their land, began compiling their own
history through recording interviews with their
elders. Later in 1999, through a process of self-reﬂection
about their past, present and desired future, they conso-
lidated this eﬀort, giving birth a decade later to the ﬁrst
account written by indigenous peoples in Venezuela
about their own history (Roroimokok Damuk 2010).
This experience served as inspiration for the Pemon-
Arekuna from Kavanayen, also from Gran Sabana, to
begin a similar process in 2011, which is currently under-
way. Recently in Colombia, the Muinane Indigenous
People underwent a similar process, which also
culminated in a self-authored history book (Ancianos
del Pueblo Féénemɨnaa 2017).
In Bolivia, there is the recent experience of the
Monkoxi Peoples, in which participatory video was
used to reconstruct the history of the struggle for auton-
omy and territorial rights, as part of a participatory analy-
sis of conﬂicts in the management of the TIOC (Rodriguez
and Inturias 2016). As a result of this process, the Union
of Indigenous Peoples of Lomerio (CICOL), decided to
put the history of the Monkoxi Peoples in writing
thorough a community authored book that is now
used as part of their communication strategy to
advance their claim for territorial autonomy (Peña et al.
Incorporating local visions of the past and future are a
cornerstone for the transformation of environmental
conﬂicts. Contemporary environmental conﬂict analysis
has a strong present time bias, which contributes to
erasing collective identities.
Many indigenous peoples in Latin America are making
these links between their past, present and future
through the deﬁnition of their life plans, helping them
to look ahead by reconnecting ﬁrst with their past and
their identity (Cabildo de Guambia 1994; Jansasoy and
Perez-Vera 2006; COINPA 2008; Espinosa 2014).
In Box 1 we see for instance how the Pemon Taurepan
visualized and deﬁned a desired future, by reviving their
past and carrying out a self-critical assessment of their
current situation. This vision of the future has been key
for them grounding a local well-being agenda that can
help negotiate new development projects in their terri-
tory with greater clarity (Rodriguez 2016).
100 I. RODRÍGUEZ AND M. L. INTURIAS
Box 1. The type of society that the Pemon of Kumarakapay want
•A Pemon society with awareness of who we are, and with a sense of
identity and of belonging.
•Knowledgeable about our history, culture, tradition and language.
•Owners of our land –territory, knowledge, culture and destiny.
•A society educated with ancestral and modern knowledge.
•A society that values its wise people (parents and grandparents).
•A respectful, hard-working, obedient, kind, courteous, cheerful,
generous, harmonious, understanding society where there is love.
•A productive, autonomous society.
•A society that defends its rights and is ready to confront pressures from
Source: Roraimökok Damük (2010).
In the case of socio-environmental conﬂicts, the
reconstruction of local stories is also key in helping
clarify disputes over environmental and landscape
changes, which are often and simplistically attributed
to local practices. Such is the case of the use of ﬁre in
Canaima National Park, noted above, where reconstruc-
tion of local histories have helped to make connect
other social and environmental histories explaining
how and why ﬁre regimes have been altered over time.
These include migration, the slave trade and death fol-
lowing colonial contact, combined with cyclical climate
change, instead of current Pemon ﬁre practices, as com-
monly explained in dominant narratives (Rodríguez et al.
Thus, aﬃrming history from the local perspective can
play an important role in developing environmental
counter-narratives and counter-histories, which, in turn,
by helping to change the collective way of thinking
and seeing the environment, can help revalue and revi-
talize local knowledge and identities.
we see Ralco as the symbolic expression of the threat of
modernity and progress to the indigenous people of
Chile …we don’t want your progress to rub out our
These are the words of Domingo Namuncura, Mapuche
leader from Chile expressing his views in 1999 about a
dam built in the Bio Bio River. He was quoted by David
Schlosberg and David Carruthers in a recent publication
(2010), where the authors made a case for developing a
community capabilities approach to environmental
justice theory. They rightly argue that indigenous
peoples’environmental justice struggles are not merely
about procedural, distributive and recognition issues,
as environmental justice is commonly conceptualized
in the Global North, but about wider capability issues
linked to the health of the environment, the protection
of traditional village economies, respect for sacred sites
and the preservation of native religion, language,
culture and practice, which undergird a quest for the
basic functioning of communities and the integrity of
While we agree with Schlosberg’s and Carruthers’
argument for pushing the boundaries of environmental
justice literature towards a capabilities approach, we
would argue that at least in Latin America it is necessary
to push the boundaries further. As clearly expressed in
Namuncura’s words, and as we have argued, in Latin
America indigenous peoples’claims for the basic func-
tioning of their communities and the integrity of their
cultures are set within a wider anti-modernity agenda,
which decolonial theory has managed to capture eﬀec-
tively. Such struggles speak of indigenous peoples’
desires to continue being diﬀerent in a world dominated
by modern, capitalist and individualistic values, in order
to be able to continue living according to their own cos-
mogonies and well-being conceptions: a life centered in
collective and communal values and inherited inter-
relations between nature and culture. This cannot be
achieved within the existing dominant model of devel-
opment and of production of knowledge.
Thus, as decolonial theorists would argue, at least in
Latin America, environmental justice must necessarily
engage with a politics of diﬀerence that is not simply
based on the search for recognition or inclusion in domi-
nant structures, such as the liberal nation state, but
focused rather on the construction of ‘otherness’:
an “other”process of knowledge construction, an “other”
political practice, and “other”social (and State) power
and an “other”society; an “other”way to think and act
in relation to, and against, modernity and colonialism.
(Walsh 2007, 57)
Such a focus on the construction of ‘otherness’is what
we have argued decolonial theory has to offer to north-
ern theoretical understandings of environmental justice
As we have also argued in this paper, conﬂict trans-
formation oﬀers something additional, both to decolo-
nial thought and to environmental justice theory and
practice, to help decolonize environmental injustices.
By paying particular attention to developing capacities
to transform conﬂicts at the intercultural level in the
diﬀerent spheres of power, it can help to create the con-
ditions for the construction of ‘otherness’from the
We have seen for instance how conﬂict transform-
ation practice can help impact dominant power networks,
through building counter-hegemonic networks that can
enable indigenous peoples to negotiate projects or
deliberate with other actors about the causes of
DEVELOPMENT STUDIES RESEARCH 101
conﬂicts, on a more equal standing. Capacity building in
local organization, leadership and legal procedures, such
as free, prior and informed consent, as well as in the
conﬂict theory and negotiation procedures, has proven
to be an indispensable ﬁrst step to dialogue with
others in conﬂict situations. Also, the development of
counter-hegemonic knowledge networks, which open
up spaces for local reﬂexivity on contested issues
related to environmental change, such as the local use
of ﬁre, can play an important role in inﬂuencing a shift
in environmental discourse and policy, by giving visibility
to marginalized local environmental knowledge and
legitimizing local environmental practices.
We have also seen that, as evidenced by the Bolivian
case, it is possible to generate new intercultural political
models and national environment and land manage-
ment approaches, through the sustained and strategic
political mobilization of indigenous peoples to impact
public policy, legal, institutional or existing policy frame-
works (structural power). But it is equally important to
continue strengthening the customary territorial and
natural resource management procedures in indigenous
territories to ensure long-term sustainability and
eﬀective exercise of indigenous justice.
And ﬁnally, we have seen the important role that the
revitalization of local knowledge and local identity plays
in creating new meanings, values and norms (cultural
power). Key strategies involve helping to rebuild local his-
tories, revitalize environmental knowledge and build
visions of the future, all indispensable for decolonization.
This approach requires a commitment from academia
to participate in this transformation, undertaking as
Lederach has said (2008), a role in the architecture of
change, knowing when and how to help impact each
sphere of power, depending on the nature and dynamics
of each conﬂict. The cases analysed here have shown
that by impacting one of the spheres of power it is
also possible to impact others. In some cases, depending
on the nature of the conﬂict, it may be suﬃcient to con-
centrate eﬀorts on a single sphere of power, while in
other cases, in order to achieve the desired result, a sim-
ultaneous eﬀort in all spheres may be necessary.
Beyond its contribution to the architecture of change
with a ‘decolonial turn’, a conﬂict transformation
approach also oﬀers new avenues for future environ-
mental justice research. The assessment of the impact
of speciﬁc socio-environmental conﬂict transformation
strategies (SCT) in the decolonization of power, knowl-
edge and the being is still in its infancy. In this sense,
the SCT framework can also be used in cross-country
and cross-cultural comparisons to gain a deeper under-
standing of how transformative change happens on
the ground, and which factors facilitate or limit such
change. The empirical material presented in this paper
oﬀers an illustration of diﬀerent types of transformative
strategies that can be put into practice in order to con-
tribute to greater environmental justice, by impacting
diﬀerent forms of hegemonic power. Much closer atten-
tion needs to be paid to the way in which distinct micro
and macro political and economic contexts in each
country aﬀects the overall outcome of speciﬁc conﬂict
For instance, it is no coincidence that the chances for
advancing a decolonial political agenda (at least in terms
of political reforms) over the last two decades have been
greater in a country like Bolivia, with a majority of indi-
genous peoples, than for instance in Argentina or
Chile, where most of its indigenous population was
exterminated in the colonial period. This could mean
that conﬂict transformation strategies that put a focus
on decolonizing power can intrinsically have more trac-
tion in some countries than in others. At the same
time, we need to pay attention to the complex and con-
tradictory ways in which hegemonic power is exercised
and to how this limits the eﬀect of conﬂict transform-
Despite important recent structural changes in Bolivia,
Ecuador and Colombia in the national constitutions in
terms of restoring rights to indigenous peoples and
even to Nature (e.g. Bolivia and Ecuador), such inno-
vations have not been translated into real changes in
environmental governance, such as ensuring greater
local control over natural resource use. If anything,
authoritarian approaches to resource extraction based
on a capitalist logic of accumulation have continued or
even expanded in these three countries over the last
decade, through projects such as the Yasuni-ITT
(Ecuador), the building of a new road in TIPNIS (Bolivia)
and Arco Minero (Venezuela). In all three cases, these
projects pose potentially devastating eﬀects on the phys-
ical and cultural survival of indigenous peoples. A conﬂict
transformation lens can help illuminate these contradic-
tions, through a close examination of both the hegemo-
nic and transformative power strategies used during the
evolution of environmental justice struggles. Further-
more, doing this analysis with those experiencing
environmental injustice can help them learn from the
strategies used and the limitations encountered in the
process to re-strategize and continue working towards
the desired social changes.
An example of how the SCT Framework is used for this
purpose can be found in the ‘Academic and Activist co-
produced knowledge for Environmental Justice’Project
(ACKnowl_EJ) (http://acknowlej.org/). Here, power analy-
sis, as outlined in this paper, combined with a new set of
conﬂict transformation indicators, are being used in ﬁve
102 I. RODRÍGUEZ AND M. L. INTURIAS
diﬀerent case studies in Bolivia, India and Turkey, to learn
in conjunction with activists, the lessons experienced
during environmental justice struggles (Temper et al.
2018). In the future we hope to share some new publi-
cations with results from this project, which should
help assess further the practical use of this framework
in decolonizing environmental justice in Latin America
1. This includes: Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia,
Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico,
Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela.
2. The literal translation of ‘Buen Vivir’in Quechua and
Aymara languages is ‘To Live in Plenitude’. The Guari
version, Teko porâ literarily means, ‘a good way of
being’or ‘a good way of life’, but as stated by the
Aymara writer Fernando Huanacuni, from Bolivia, none
of the literary translations of the term do justice to the
depth of its meaning from an indigenous perspective.
‘Buen Vivir’is a holistic concept rooted on principles
and values such as harmony, equilibrium and comple-
mentarity, which from an indigenous perspective must
guide the relationship of human beings with each
other and with nature (or Mother Earth) and the cosmos.
3. Broadly speaking ‘the being’is deﬁned as the soul and
essence of a person. The coloniality of the being refers
to the impact of colonial technologies of subjectivation
on the life, body, and mind of the colonized people, to
the point of stripping them from their very essence
and soul. Thus, the decolonization of the being involves
forging new categories of thought, constructing new
subjectivities and creating new modes of being and
becoming that can lead to emancipation.
4. For more information see: http://www.propaz.org.gt/
5. See for example the case of the Munduruku Consultation
Protocol in Brasil: http://amazonwatch.org/assets/ﬁles/
We wish to thank our colleagues from Grupo Conﬂuencias
Juliana Robledo, Rolain Borel, Carlos Sarti, Diego Luna, Ana
Cabria Mellace, Gachi Tapia, Volker Frank, Nicolas Lucas, Juan
Dumas, Antonio Bernales, Jesvana Policardo and Pablo Lum-
merman, with whom over the years we have matured many
of the ideas presented in this document. Our colleagues from
the ACKnowl-EJ Project: Leah Temper, Ashish Kothari, Adrian
Martin, Mariana Walter, Meena Pathak, Radhika Mulay,
Daniela del Bene, Ethemcam Turhan, Cem Aidin, Begüm Özkay-
nak, Lena Weber and Rania Masri have provided very useful
insights during project meetings and activities. The collabora-
tive work we carry out in ACKnowl-EJ is possible thanks to
the support of International Social Science Council (ISSC)
through the Transformations to Sustainability Programme
(Grant ISSC2015-TKN150317115354). Thanks also to Nicole
Gross-Camp, Phoshendra Satyal and Saskia Vermeylen with
who we have had the opportunity to discuss parts of this
work and from whom we have received very useful feedback.
And, last but not least, many thanks to three anonymous
reviewers who provided by useful comments that signiﬁcantly
improved the quality of an earlier version of the manuscript.
No potential conﬂict of interest was reported by the authors.
The collaborative work we carry out in ACKnowl-EJ is possible
thanks to the support of International Social Science Council
(ISSC) through the Transformations to Sustainability Pro-
gramme (Grant ISSC2015-TKN150317115354)
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