01 March 2015


'On the Agency of the Non-Human World: A View from Latin America' by Angelica Maria Bernal and Elva Orozco-Mendoza at the American Political Science Association Meeting, Washington, DC 28 August 2014 argues
Do non-human entities have agency in politics? Can they be part of the political? In recent years, scholars such as Jane Bennett and Bruno Latour have challenged traditional binaries between nature-culture, subject-object to articulate the complex relations between humans and the non-human world, granting in turn the agency of the later. In this paper, we reconsider the relationship between human and non-human entities and their respective and interrelated agencies by interrogating the agency of the non-human to engage with the above questions.
We situate our interrogation within two recent cases surrounding the agency of the non-human in the context of Latin American politics. The first case surrounds anti-feminicide protests emerging Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua, Mexico. The second case concerns recent protests against petroleum extraction in one of the most biologically sensitive areas in the world: Yasuni Biosphere Reserve in Ecuador. In the first case, mothering organizations led by the mothers of feminicide victims in these cities deployed a unique repertoire of protests, wherein objects become not simply vehicles for the protests but contained an agency which exceeded the human one that originally brought it into being, transforming the landscape of the city through a potent funeralization that challenged state inaction and the impunity of perpetrators. In the second case, protests by indigenous activists and their allies sought to challenge the state’s abandoning of a moratorium on petroleum extraction in this Amazonian reserve by not only taking to the streets, but also continuing to advance the rights of Nature, or Pachamama, as not only a subject but an agent of rights. Bringing to bear the insights of Bennett and Latour, into conversation with those of Marisol de la Cadena, Judith Butler, and Isabelle Stengers, we argue for the rethinking the agency of the non-human not simply as externalities to the human, or in their thingness or as use objects, but as beings in themselves, existing according to non-instrumental logics that exceed human agency and can indeed contain it to constitute politics and new political forms.