From Dearth to El Dorado: Andean Nature, Plate Tectonics, and the Ontologies of Ecuadorian Resource Wealth

David Kneas


Since the early 1990s, the Ecuadorian government has pledged to convert the nation into a “mining country” of global standing. Contemporary claims of mineral wealth, however, stand in stark contrast to previous assessments. Indeed, through much of the 20th century, geologists described Ecuador as a country of mineral dearth. Exploring the process through which Ecuador seemingly transitioned from a nation of resource scarcity to one of mineral plenty, I demonstrate how assessments of Ecuador’s resource potential relate to ideas of Andean nature. Promoters of resource abundance have emphasized Andean uniformity and equivalence—the notion that Ecuador’s mineral wealth is inevitable by virtue of the resource richness of its Andean neighbors. Geologists who have questioned Ecuador’s mineral content, on the other hand, have emphasized Andean heterogeneity. In the recent promotion of Ecuador’s resource potential, notions of Andean uniformity have been bolstered by models of subsoil copper that emerged in the in 1970s in the context of plate-tectonic theory. In highlighting the linkage between ideas of Andean nature and appraisals of Ecuadorian resource potential since the late 19th century, I outline the dialectics between nature and natural resources that underpin processes of resource becoming.


Resources; Nature; Andes

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Copyright (c) 2018 David Kneas

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