My research explores current transformations of Chilean environmental governance to deal with climate change mitigation and biodiversity conservation in the temperate rainforests of the Valdivian ecoregion, located in Mapuche ancestral lands.

UBC Public Scholars Award

Research Description

My research explores current transformations of Chilean environmental governance to deal with climate change mitigation and biodiversity conservation in the temperate rainforests of the Valdivian ecoregion, located in Mapuche ancestral lands. I am interested in the new green governance the state is building up in alliance with international conservation organizations and multilateral funds, and how they cope—or not—with the many forms of life actually present in the territories prioritized for conservation. I focus on the modes in which inclusions and exclusions emerge from these institutional green infrastructures and how they get mapped onto the land. Furthermore, my approach is not solely institutional, whereby I search for the necessary elements that enable Chile to respond to its Sustainable Development Goals. Rather, I am tracing processes of abstraction scientists and bureaucratic officers are applying to forests in conjunction with land’s historical trajectory and environmental history. At the core of ‘global north’ environmental guidelines there is a need to turn forests into calculable, tractable entities. On the one hand, the abstraction of forests rests on Western and liberal notions of valuing nature(life) through hierarchies according to the work/energy these natures report back to humans. On the other hand, the idea of ‘conserving nature’ is invested in layers of physical and ontological exclusions weaved into the workings of settler colonialism since Chile’s invasion of the Wallmapu, and later through contemporary forms of dispossession initiated with Pinochet’s military regime. My work uses institutional documentation, interviews, audiovisual testimonials and participant observation, as well as walks on forests with people living in them.

What does being a Public Scholar mean to you?

Public scholars are, in my view, people concerned not only with being accountable to communities outside academia, but also keen about stretching their research by engaging with non-academic purposes. In my case, environmental science and public policies are matters of concern: fleshing out the particular science under construction today in Chile is, in my view, fundamental if we wish for more livable spaces. Dispossesion of Mapuche from their lands and recognition of autonomy, and 20th century campesinxs dispossessions and forced migrations are not isolated phenomena. One of my contents is that the stance of the Chilean state towards Indigenous peoples and campesinxs affects the ways in which environmental science/politics is being conceptualized and how it will be deployed in the future. I believe being a public scholar, under this light, means creating awareness that environmental governance and green development are contentious topics that shouldn’t be left to global and state players who pretend to speak for nature. The sciences must be taken outside bureaucratic offices in order to open, question, and transform them, striving to produce more just worlds.

In what ways do you think the PhD experience can be re-imagined with the Public Scholars Initiative?

If we take the PSI idea to an extreme and imagine ourselves producing innovative and community-engaged research from the beginning of our careers, I think PhD training will be radically transformed for the benefit of people and communities, and even make us happier graduate students. What the PSI is doing right now should be developed further to become an option of academic training, reinforcing participatory methodologies and ethical relations of reciprocity with people/environments/life. This way, communities would shape research as research impacts them. Here, I draw insights from the Mapuche and other communities in Chile who ask for specific commitments when researchers step into their communities looking to register data.   

How do you envision connecting your PhD work with broader career possibilities?

Doing a PhD in social sciences can be risky. It could easily lead to few career possibilities. In my case, I hope that with a PhD I’ll have the chance to speak across academic audiences in the same rate as I hope to reach other spaces of knowledge production and circulation. After significant experiences as a professional geographer and volunteer, I have developed a persistent interest in how human and nonhuman life and beings co-exist outside of the strict mandates of Western-style development. I have done collaborative research in water-related conflicts and participated in state evaluations of public policies. My hope is that I will be able to keep doing collaborative research and engaging more students into forms of collaborative work.

How does your research engage with the larger community and social partners?

I engaged parts of my research with the concerns of an organization that gathers Mapuche and campesinxs’ communities living near and within rainforests. This organization is actively applying non-scientific knowledges to recuperate and preserve wild tree species. Through a short documentary we are producing with a local film crew, we plan to speak to a wider Chilean audience about the implications of transforming forests into calculable entities amid neocolonial regimes of exclusion, as well as the possible impacts to local communities from the fencing of vast tracts of land for the protection of biodiversity. We ask elemental but also complex questions: what is a forest? according to whose views? And, what is at stake in science that increasingly renders human and nonhuman nature technical and tractable for circuits of capital flow and accumulation? Do nonhuman natures remain passive in these interventions? How do people experience environmental science this way? Are there any possible paths for inventing new, decolonial, forms of environmental science?

How do you hope your work can make a contribution to the “public good”?

I believe in science(s) that allow for more just worlds. However, I do not believe that there is one type of ‘public good’ but many, to find this out researchers should go out and learn from experience. Through my research I hope to do just that, and to make space for conversations on environmental science and biodiversity conservation that transcend academia and enter the realm of the public. In this case, I am grateful that I can approach different knowledges that are not typically discussed inside university classrooms or bureaucratic offices. Yet, I am also aware of the appropriations researchers (as outsiders) may perform and how this can be counterproductive to claims of self-determination and autonomy. I hope, thus, that my impact is directed toward the way environmental knowledge is being conceived in Chile by framing this problem as a political and ontological one, attuned with claims for autonomy mobilized by Mapuche and other indigenous people and campesinxs living in rural spaces.

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

My previous work experiences have always been related with ‘the idea’ of development. First as a volunteer and later as a professional geographer in South America. It has taken time for me to internalize, through practice, that development is tethered to colonization and Western patterns of thinking and being. Development practices and discourses sit uneasily with multiple forms of indigenous and campesinxs’ knowledges. I draw inspiration from them to start thinking about how to decolonize knowledge, partially dislodging our mindsets to allow, borrowing from the anthropologist Marisol de la Cadena, for other worlds and other worldings. How to do this? This is something I’m trying to find out as I keep studying and learning from amazing people here at UBC and elsewhere.

Why did you choose to come to British Columbia and study at UBC?

I decided to study here because the department of Geography has a really good reputation as a critical thinking space, my professors are incredibly remarkable in what they do, and because Vancouver is inside a temperate rainforest ecoregion. When I arrived, however, I wasn’t expecting to find such deep and pervasive fractures between the state of Canada and Indigenous peoples. I didn’t know, for instance, about residential schools, or that UBC is located on unceded Musqueam land. I became, therefore, concerned about how to make sense of the planetary forms of systemic racism that manifest through and throughout formal institutions. UBC does not escape this reality, however, I do believe it has all the potential to be more than just ‘a place of mind’ and engage with different peoples pursuing diverse modes of living, thinking, and doing research.


Public scholars are, in my view, people concerned not only with being accountable to communities outside academia, but also keen about stretching their research by engaging with non-academic purposes.