1st Edition

Extractivism and Universality Inside an Uprising in the Amazon

By Japhy Wilson Copyright 2023

    What are the possibilities for a radical politics of universal humanity, at a time when the politics of identity increasingly defines the agenda of the left? What are the political and conceptual implications of such an emancipatory form of universality emerging through the struggles of Indigenous peoples on the extractive frontiers of global capitalism? How do such battles play out on the ground, and how should they be researched and conveyed?

    Extractivism and Universality takes an unorthodox approach to these timely questions. It tells the inside story of a spontaneous uprising in the Ecuadorian Amazon in 2017, in which mestizo, Black, and Indigenous workers and communities confronted the combined forces of a multinational oil company and a militarized state. The book documents a rapidly evolving battle that achieved a remarkable victory and captures the flourishing of an insurgent form of political universality in which racial, ethnic, and cultural divisions were suddenly and powerfully overcome. Intervening in debates on the resistances and alternatives developed by the inhabitants of resource extraction zones, it takes the reader deep inside a rebellion on an Amazonian oil frontier and offers a unique insight into insurgent universality in the lived reality of its material existence. It argues that the dominant decolonial dichotomy between Eurocentric universalism and an Indigenous pluriverse should be replaced by an approach that is attentive to manifestations of universality performed by diverse subaltern subjects. And it does so through a fast-paced fusion of radical political theory with the raw first-person style of gonzo journalism. It will appeal to scholars and students across the social sciences with interests in political and social theory, social movements, labor relations, and the political ecology of extractivism.

    1 We Are All Indigenous
    2 The Savage Road
    3 The Drop That Spilt the Glass
    4 Wild Style
    5 Battling a Monster
    6 Grand Inferno
    7  The Insurgent Universal


    Japhy Wilson is Honorary Research Fellow in Politics at the University of Manchester. His research explores the politics of development and the possibilities of radical transformation under conditions of global capitalism. He is the author of Reality of Dreams: Post-Neoliberal Utopias in the Ecuadorian Amazon (Yale University Press) and Jeffrey Sachs: The Strange Case of Dr. Shock and Mr. Aid (Verso), and co-editor of The Post-Political and Its Discontents: Spaces of Depoliticization, Spectres of Radical Politics (Edinburgh University Press).

    ‘This fascinating, first-hand account of the clash between an Amazonian frontier proletariat and a global oil-extraction industry teaches us more about the conditions of global capitalism than any abstract theory could provide. A wonderfully written account of what it is like to join an uprising when solidarity comes from the justice of the struggle, and the Indigenous is not the other, but yourself. This is theory at its concrete best.’

    Susan Buck-Morss, Cornell University and CUNY Graduate Center, USA

    ‘Against the decolonial rejection of universalism, this book is an elegant and brilliant personal account of insurgent universality in the Ecuadorian Amazon, in which Indigenous peoples and other subalterns join ranks against multinational capital based not on cultural or racial identity but shared experiences of alienation and dispossession, united in concrete struggles of universality from below. An absolute must-read for anyone interested in questions of subaltern rebellion and solidarity today.’

    Ilan Kapoor, York University, Canada

    ‘In this timely book, Japhy Wilson unearths the lived reality of a subaltern struggle on the extractive frontier of the Ecuadorian Amazon that challenges the cultural relativism of today’s progressive academic establishment. Arguing that the aim of the struggle was not to defend Indigenous identities, but to reclaim dignity, equality, and better living conditions, the book makes a compelling case for "the actuality of universal humanity," and offers a vivid glimpse of real plebeian politics.’

    Martín Arboleda, Universidad Diego Portales, Chile

    ‘Reporting from an uprising of workers and communities in the Ecuadorian Amazon, Extractivism and Universality combines rich empirical research with deft theoretical exposition. Departing from standard academic narratives, Japhy Wilson invites the reader to grasp the political practices and collective struggles that point beyond the stale binary between Eurocentric universalism and an Indigenous pluriverse.’

    Thomas F Purcell, King’s College London, UK 

    ‘A truly impressive work, artfully weaving the complexity of extractive politics, militant struggle, collusions of state and capital, corporate technologies of pacification, and sustained political and theoretical analysis into a captivating narrative. The book is a masterpiece deserving award, representing critical geography at its finest by demonstrating committed fieldwork, critical pedagogy, and innovating academic writing.’

    Alexander Dunlap, Antipode