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The Smell of Petroleum: Health, Insecurity, and Citizenship in "Revolutionary" Ecuador

  • Author(s): Welcome, Nicholas Scott
  • Advisor(s): McMullin, Juliet M
  • et al.
Abstract

This project explores how the environmental and health impacts of energy production challenge emergent discourses of citizenship in Ecuador. I follow the relationship between Ecuador's national petroleum refinery and the city of Esmeraldas, a largely afro-descendant and historically marginalized community, as the nation negotiated a national structural transition that would test the promise of a "revolutionary" future, new substantive citizenship rights, and new imaginaries of state care. The petroleum industry represents a critical planning struggle for Esmeraldas; originally built outside of the city the refinery complex is now surrounded by shantytowns that are continuously exposed to contaminated air and water. While the city was promised a golden age of development, their three decades long experience with the oil industry has left them with a population explosion, mass unemployment, decaying infrastructure, and a public health crisis. However, in 2006 residents were hopeful for a fundamental change as a newly elected government promised to embed social justice and well being into the national conceptualization of citizenship. This "Citizen's Revolution," pledged to redistribute Ecuador's energy resources to improve quality of life and the quality of citizenship for all Ecuadorians. However, this project illustrates that while the new political regime intends to promote wellbeing through energy production, corporate logics continue to shape the biopolitical processes of making environmental contamination and its health effects in/visible, even as Esmeraldeños employ novel conceptualizations of citizenship and spectacular protests to push for a livable environment.

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