Cultures of Energy welcomes Dr. Suzanna Sawyer – November 29, 4-6:30 in the Kyle Morrow room of Fondren. A Screening of Joe Berlinger’s “Crude” will follow at 7pm in the Rice Cinema

Posted by on Nov 26, 2012
Cultures of Energy welcomes Dr. Suzanna Sawyer – November 29, 4-6:30 in the Kyle Morrow room of Fondren. A Screening of Joe Berlinger’s “Crude” will follow at 7pm in the Rice Cinema

Suzanna Sawyer is associate professor of anthropology at the University of California, Davis. Her research examines struggles over resources in the Ecuadorian Amazon, focusing specifically on conflicts over land and petroleum development among forest peoples, the state, and multinational oil companies.

Dr. Sawyer’s book Crude Chronicles: Indigenous Politics, Multinational Oil, and Neoliberalism in Ecuador, explores how lowland peoples have challenged neoliberal economic policies to privatize their lands and increase petroleum production within indigenous claimed territory. It suggests that struggles over resource use (i.e. the control of land and oil operations) are simultaneously struggles over identity and territoriality; that is, practices that disrupted the neo-liberal state’s agenda and multinational petro-business also disrupted elite notions of the nation and senses of belonging. In a country such as Ecuador scarred by inequalities of race, class, and gender, struggles over resource use represent challenges to the legitimacy of an historically exclusionary state, as well as occasions for redefining the terms of citizenship, nation, and sovereignty in a globalizing world.

Dr. Sawyer’s current research project examines an on-going transnational lawsuit in Ecuador against the Chevron Corporation for industrial negligence and environmental contamination. Originally, the lawsuit was filed in November 1993 on behalf of 30,000 Ecuadorians against Texaco Inc. (now the Chevron Corp.) in the New York District Court. Then as now the plaintiffs alleged that Texaco used substandard technology during the 25 years of its Amazonian operations, leaving the region strewn with toxic wastes and endangering local people. In August 2002, the U.S. Appellate Court ruled that the case be tried in Ecuador. The Ecuadorian trial began in October 2003. My evolving research project analyzes the lawsuit and its history from three different angles–critical legal studies and corporate law, science studies and epidemiology, and studies of networks and transnational social movements.


Oscar-nominated Joseph Berlinger is an American documentary film-maker. He had directed such films as Paradise LostBrother’s KeeperSome Kind of Monster, and Crude. Crude follows the progress during 2006 and 2007 of a $27 billion legal case brought against the Chevron Corporation following the drilling of the Lago Agrio oil field, a case described by activists as an “Amazon Chernobyl”. The plaintiffs of the class action lawsuit are 30,000 Ecuadorians living in the Amazonian rainforest who claim their ancestral homeland has been polluted by the oil industry. In addition to the legal struggle, Crude shows interviews from representatives of the plaintiffs and defendants of the class action lawsuit exploring the influence of media support, celebrity activism, the power of multinational corporations.


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