About my project

The Ambivalences of Success: Discourses on Development, Progress and Extractivism

In 2007 the Ecuadorian government under the Presidency of Rafael Correa made a groundbreaking proposal to the international community: The Ecuadorian State was willing to leave 856 million oil barrels underground and the surface of the oil field comprising the Yasuní National Park (the most biodiverse piece of land on Earth) untouched, thus avoiding the release of about 407 million tones of CO2 to the atmosphere as product of the consumption of the oil derivates but at the same time renouncing to 3.6 billion USD, half of the revenue of the exploitation of the Yasuní-ITT (Ischpingo-Tiputini-Tambococha) all that in exchange of the other half of the revenue, donated not only by states of the international community, but also concerned individuals and environmental responsible companies.

The Yasuní-ITT Initiative sparked not only a national (and politically aggressive) discussion on the productive future of the country on the verge of a post-extractivist economic catastrophe, but also a worldwide controversy. After six years of campaigning and advertising the Yasuní-ITT Initiative with a broad support of national and international social organizations and under the flag of the environmental responsibility the Initiative was terminated by the same Government that initiated it. The reason: “The world has failed us”, so President Correa in national television in August 2013. The Yasuní-ITT Initiative was able to raise only 13 million USD from the 3.6 billion goal.

The goal of my project isn`t to reveal the reasons for the failure of the Yasuní-ITT Initiative, but moreover uses the conditions created by the discussion and exchange between different societal and political actors in the context of this initiative. Being a “developing country” Ecuador surprised many with this proposal and initiated a long-lasting controversy over concepts we use in our daily efforts to describe our societies, like development, growth, progress, and success.

Success, Progress, Growth and Development are not only meaningful words, that are often used to describe, analyze and rate the societies we live in. They are also part of powerful discourses governing individually and collectively, locally and globally our ways of living. We all have a notion of how does a successful society look like, but at the same time there aren´t any concrete qualities or standards that can contribute to a less vaguely defined approach.

Success is an intrinsic ambivalent term in various dimension. Success is inherently relational: Where there are successful societies there must be unsuccessful ones. In order to achieve that yearned success societies muss undergo a development, leading them to growth and ultimately to a state of stable progress. Once achieved, success is visible to all others and transforms itself into the new goal.  This brief description of the way to success serves as an example of how strong the discourses on development, growth, progress and success are and how they operate at a societal level.

The goal of this project isn´t to describe the right pathway to success, but rather deconstruct it to its very own core. Questioning the role and meaning of concepts like development, progress and success I aim to reveal the leading discourses on how societies “think” should act in order to achieve a certain status, not only considered to be very desirable, but the only acceptable. How do a society build its understanding of success and development, how is it being reproduced and how does it influence other aspects of societal life?

I will analyze the reproduction of development- and success-discourses arising from the discussion and questioning of the Yasuní-ITT Initiative as a type of breaching experiment, where arguments and discourses from different perspectives converge, in order to gain entrance to the leading discourses on development and success.

The onset of this project is thus, the so called (Neo-) Extractivism, as a set of policies and practices aimed to the exploitation (often at all cost) of the available natural resources. The analysis of extractivism and extractivist theories and practices is of key importance to the project, considering the economic, social, political, environmental and cultural implications of such conditions in a country, where extractivist practices account for a large portion of the national income.

This project employs not only sociological theories on development and growth, but also other approaches to “underdeveloped” or “unsuccessful” societies like e.g. Stephan Lessenichs “Externalizing (and more importantly in this case internalizing) Societies”, describing a mechanism in which societies develop certain behavioral patterns (or Habitus) making them either damage externalizing or internalizing societies. Based on a rather theoretical framework, the project aims to combine theories on development, extractivism and discourse analysis with technicalities, thus broadening the scope of this endeavor.

Besides from the analysis of discourses, the consideration not only of social, but also technical practices is vital. In order to understand the whole scope of such discourses and their implications in the society the scrutiny of the actual oil extraction practices, their impact to environment and society and the role of politics and economics is crucial. Only through an integral understanding of the technical, political and economic practicalities is a reasonable analysis of the social outcomes and mechanisms possible.

The ultimate goal of this project is to gain an insight into the construction and reproduction of such discourses, considering more recent developments, like the Yasuní-ITT Initiative, but also taking into account the environmental, economic and political history of a country such as Ecuador and its implications, thus allowing the assessment of the Ecuadorian case within the framework of a regional and international comparison.

Official project description at the RCC site