Engaging, Standing, and Stepping

Evaluating Anthropological Activism on an Amazonian Petro-Frontier


  • Michael Cepek The University of Texas at San Antonio




Engagement, Activism, Collaboration, Oil, Amazonia


Anthropologists and activists portray the lives and lands of Ecuador’s Indigenous Cofán people as a case study of the damage caused by petroleum extraction. Yet during my fieldwork on the issue, I began to question the nature of the Cofán-oil encounter when the community in which I worked decided to allow oil companies onto their land. In this article, I examine my own involvements with Cofán oil politics in dialogue with Stuart Kirsch’s concept of ‘engaged anthropology’ and Kim TallBear’s call for researchers to ‘stand with’ their research subjects. I argue that anthropological activism is necessarily a complex and shifting affair, especially when our collaborators’ perspectives diverge from our own regarding the best possible paths to their wellbeing. I suggest that the most ethical option is for anthropologists to commit themselves to continuous, co-con-structed partnerships in which they are perpetually prepared to transform their most basic political and intellectual positions.


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