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Between Flood and Drought: Environmental Racism, The Production of Settler Waterscapes, and Indigenous Water Justice in South America’s Chaco


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Moynihan Institute of Global Affairs 

Program on Latin America and the Caribbean and Department of Geography and the Environment present

Between Flood and Drought: Environmental Racism, The Production of Settler Waterscapes, and Indigenous Water Justice in South America’s Chaco

This talk advances a novel approach to assessing the geographies of settler colonialism by wedding insights from Indigenous studies alongside critical physical geography. Settler colonialism is a structure of social-spatial relations centered on land dispossession and elimination of Indigenous lifeways. While geography matters to settler colonialism, few studies examine how settlers use biophysical geographies to colonize and the effects on Indigenous water access. I weave an analysis of historical missionary accounts with a political economy of contemporary cattle ranching and GIS assessment of water infrastructures to show how settler waterscape formation reworks hydro-social relations in the South American Gran Chaco. Further, the paper shows how settler waterscapes produce vulnerability along racial lines by limiting Indigenous access to water that subsequently makes regularly-occurring flood and drought events malignant, even deadly. I argue that settler colonialism is manifest in spatially distinct ways vis-à-vis different physical geographies that produces environmental racism, showing that water scarcity is socially produced. Based on long-term field research with Enxet and Sanapaná peoples in Paraguay, the paper contributes to debates on colonial natures, water justice, and Indigenous geographies by using critical physical geography to study the production of novel bio-social systems and their implications on justice.

Joel E. Correia

Assistant Professor, Center for Latin American Studies

University of Florida

Joel E. Correia is a human geographer whose research and teaching focus on the intersections of human rights, justice, development, and environmental change with attention to Indigenous politics in Latin America. In collaboration with community partners, his research seeks to understand how extra-local political, legal, and economic processes—like international Indigenous rights mechanisms, environmental governance schemes, and global commodity production and exchange—influence livelihoods, the praxis of rights, and socio-environmental relations at the “local” level, and vice versa. Joel draws theoretical and methodological inspiration from political ecology and STS, critical social theory, ethnography, and participatory research. His most recent field-based research projects in the Southern Cone have focused on Indigenous land rights, the implementation of Inter-American Court of Human Rights decisions, expanding agrarian frontiers, political ecologies of territorial struggles, and the politics of fair trade. Correia’s first book, Disrupting the patrón: Unsettling racial geographies in pursuit of Indigenous environmental justice, is currently in progress. To date, his research is published in The Journal of Peasant Studies, Geoforum, the Journal of Latin American Geography, Erasmus Law Review and other academic journals with several chapters in press for edited volumes by Routledge, University Press of Florida, and Edward Elgar. He also contributes to public news outlets like The Conversation and has been interviewed for works on Indigenous human rights and environmental change by NBC, Mongabay, World Politics Review, among others. His new research initiative, “Frontiers of Environmental Justice: Rupture, resource rule, and resistance” investigates social-ecological transformations taking place across South America’s Gran Chaco forest region—a site where rapid deforestation, new infrastructure projects, extractivism, and climate change are creating new challenges and opportunities for Indigenous environmental justice. After receiving his Ph.D. in geography from the University of Colorado Boulder in August 2017, Joel completed a Postdoctoral position at the University of Arizona (2017-18). He holds an MA in Latin American Studies from the University of Arizona and a BA in Geography from Humboldt State University.

This talk is a part of the Geography and the Environment Colloquium Series.

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For more information or to request additional accommodation arrangements, please contact Havva Karakas Keles,

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