Research

In my doctoral dissertation, “Calculating Amazonia: technical metaphysics and the politics of traceability in contemporary Peru,” I examine the political and epistemic dilemmas that arise as Peruvian Amazonia becomes the recipient of massive technocratic investments aiming to turn rainforests into spaces of growing technical traceability given their critical role in the larger context of climate change and rapid biodiversity loss. I argue that over the last twenty years much of these investments have come down to render traceable across time and space various kinds of traditionally opaque juridical bodies with high stakes in contemporary rainforest conservation, mainly tropical timber and indigenous territories. To the extent that such bodies become subject to new transnational regimes of environmental transparency and accountability, they are increasingly experienced as standardized abstractions amenable to be calculated and monitored at various scales. As a result, physical bodies like timber and indigenous territories are rendered traceable through the deployment of what I call metaphysical objects: objects that cannot be directly experienced through the senses but whose ontological coordination through everyday technocratic labor carries the promise of making rainforest information more scalable, commensurable and consistent. Since these objects - lines and polygons demarcating indigenous territories, or volumes and taxonomies describing timber logs - are not bounded by the sheer materiality of the world, they enduringly need to be made actual through the careful metaphysical labor of coordination performed by engineers and bureaucrats striving to make such transcendental abstractions collapse into everyday experience. And yet, the ontological coordination achieved in such technical metaphysics is enduringly haunted by the forms of speculation, doubt and dissent that arise from their encounters with Amazonian rainforests and their human and nonhuman dwellers. Each chapter follows the epistemic and political dilemmas that surround the stabilization of a particular kind of metaphysical object as it emerges across rainforest walks, bureaucratic offices and various kinds of state data architectures.

 

Calculating Amazonia thus analyzes the epistemic politics of abstraction in the context of a growing international pressure to render Amazonian rainforests into sites of technical traceability. Rather than the growing insistence on materiality that has guided most recent scholarship on infrastructures and technocratic labor, this work contributes to reconsidering the critical role of immateriality in contemporary forms of technocratic governance, particularly as pressing global questions such as climate change come to demand growing levels of coordination and standardization at various scales. 

My research is being financially supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, the National Science Foundation and the Explorer's Club.