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Infrastructures of progress and dispossession

Collective responses to shrinking water access among farmers in Arequipa, Peru

Astrid Oberborbeck Andersen

This article examines what economic growth and state versions of progress have done to small and medium-scale farmers in an urban setting, in Arequipa in southern Peru. The general reorganization of production, resources, and labor in the Peruvian economy has generated a discursive move to reposition small and medium-scale farmers as backward. This article analyzes how farmers struggle to find their place within a neoliberal urban ecology where different conceptions of what constitutes progress in contemporary Peru influence the landscape. Using an analytical lens that takes material and organizational infrastructures and practices into account, and situates these in specific historical processes, the article argues that farmers within the urban landscape of Arequipa struggle to reclaim land and water, and reassert a status that they experience to be losing. Such a historical focus on material and organizational infrastructural arrangements, it is argued, can open up for understanding how local and beyond-local processes tangle in complex ways and are productive of new subjectivities; how relations are reconfigured in neoliberal landscapes of progress and dispossession. Such an approach makes evident how state and nonstate actors invest affects, interests, and desires differently within a given landscape.