Academic journal article Human Organization

Transnational Corporations and Livelihood Transformations in the Peruvian Andes: An Actor-Oriented Political Ecology

Academic journal article Human Organization

Transnational Corporations and Livelihood Transformations in the Peruvian Andes: An Actor-Oriented Political Ecology

Article excerpt

This article argues for the use of an actor-oriented approach in political ecology studies that links the activities of transnational corporations with local human and environmental change. It argues for the use of sustainable livelihoods frameworks as one way of linking these actor-oriented approaches to local economic, social, and environmental change. Drawing on case study research of Newmont Mining Corporation's activities in the Peruvian Andes as an example of corporate focused actor-oriented research, the article offers new insights into the role of corporations in shaping social and ecological change in the developing world. The case study illustrates how household access to resources in the region has been transformed since 1990 by the changing behavior and activities of the corporation through three different time periods.

Key words: Political ecology, transnational corporations, sustainable livelihoods, Peru, Cajamarca, mining

Introduction

Corporations have become the primary actors directing the structure and function of the global political economy and the influence of many of the largest transnational corporations exceed that of all but a handful of the most powerful nation-states. In the past decade, the power of transnational corporations has been consolidated through rapid capital accumulation, increasingly uniform production and consumption, and the extension of operations into many new areas of the planet. As the global system of natural resource extraction and industrial production has been unified under a system of neoliberal economic and social policies, free trade, and investment, transnational corporations have also initiated profound transformations of natural environments that affect not only global and regional ecological processes, but also the local populations that are dependent upon them for survival. This article calls for new research in political ecology research to address these changes through the use of actor-oriented political ecology approaches focused on transnational corporations. I argue that this approach is one way to generate more careful and detailed analyses evaluating the impacts of transnational corporations on local spaces and places. I also suggest that this is one important avenue of inquiry that can contribute to the further broadening of theoretical and empirical understandings of contemporary social and environmental change.

In addition to the theoretical goals of the work, I propose a conceptual framework that draws upon sustainable rural livelihoods approaches as one way of linking the behavior of transnational corporations with local change. This approach allows for more specific treatments of transnational corporations as agents of change and more detailed empirical examinations of household livelihoods and changing resource portfolios. Following this discussion, and as a way of operationalizing the proposed conceptual framework, the article contributes new insights into the role of transnational corporations in shaping social and ecological change in the developing world by drawing upon case study research conducted in the Peruvian Andes. Through a longitudinal time-series case study examination of Newmont Mining Corporation's transnational mining operations in the Cajamarca region of Peru, the paper concludes with an evaluation of the relationship between the behavior and activities of the corporation and changing household access to resources and livelihood transformations in the region.

Actor-Oriented Political Ecology Approaches and Transnational Corporations

One important feature of political ecology research has been its interest in integrating spatially heterogeneous processes and actors within a framework of ecological, social, economic, and political relations that links inquiry across scales of analysis (e.g. Blaikie and Brookfield 1987; Bryant and Bailey 1997; Peet and Watts 2004, 1996; Robbins 2004; Wolf 1972; Zimmerer and Bassett 2003). …

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