The Juridification of Resource Conflicts

Legal Cultures, Moralities and Environmental Politics in Central America

This British Academy-funded project will ethnographically explore:

  • The uses of the jural by a range of actors to advance their views about development and natural resource governance in the context of violent conflict over subsoil resources (specifically minerals and water), and
  • How these uses of the jural are shaped by structural inequalities.

It will do so in Central American countries (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras) and Mexico (the state of Guerrero) where sustainable development is hindered by extremely high homicide rates; these countries have consolidated as ‘violent democracies’, i.e. those whose political life is deeply constituted by various forms of violence and populated by a range of violent actors. This project will span the fields of political anthropology, socio-legal studies and political ecology. 

This project is funded by the British Academy's Sustainable Development Programme, supported under the UK Government's Global Challenges Research Fund.



Disputes over natural resources and their management have increasingly assumed a law-like shape and have been channeled through legal and quasi-legal arenas, such as civil and penal courts, arbitration tribunals, popular tribunals, consultations emulating legally-binding plebiscites, grassroots forms of lawmaking, and international human rights institutions. Crucially, environmental politics involves not only the resource-rich territories that provide a habitat and/or livelihood for local populations, but also a plurality of incommensurable moralities and ontologies vis-à-vis the environment, natural resources, extraction, rights, sovereignty and development. In this vein, this project builds upon the premise that the juridification of resource conflicts has its own idiosyncrasies relative to similar processes in other domains of social life.

The project builds upon previous research—funded by an ESRC award—that has mapped out the transnational legal actions employed in subsoil resource-related conflicts in the Northern Triangle and Nicaragua. The project proposed here will enable us to use that mapping to address the need identified by the ESRC project to explore the specificity of violent conflicts and the juridification thereof that involve diverse moralities and ontologies about nature, natural resources and development.

The project is funded by the 2018 British Academy Sustainable Development Programme (Award Reference SDP2\100073) and will be conducted by researchers at both the Institute of Latin American Studies and the Center for Research and Graduate Studies in Social Anthropology (CIESAS) in Mexico City.



Ainhoa Montoya headshot

Dr Ainhoa Montoya


Ainhoa is an anthropologist and lecturer at the Institute of Latin American Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London. Her research has explored post-war violence in El Salvador and how this country’s violent peace has shaped people’s imaginaries and enactments of democracy. This work has been published as the book-length monograph The Violence of Democracy: Political Life in Postwar El Salvador (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018). With the support of an ESRC Future Research Leaders award, Ainhoa has conducted research on violent resource conflicts in Central America, exploring the transnational legal actions that have been developed in the context of these conflicts. She is co-editor of the Bulletin of Latin American Research.






Rachel Sieder - headshot

Dr Rachel Sieder


Rachel is a senior research professor at the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social (CIESAS) in Mexico City. She is also an associate senior researcher at the Chr. Michelsen Institute in Bergen, Norway. She has worked for the last three decades on Central America, and her research interests include human rights, indigenous rights, social movements, indigenous law, legal anthropology, the state and violence. She has published 19 books and edited volumes, most recently Demanding Justice and Security: Indigenous Women and Legal Pluralities in Latin America (Rutgers University Press, 2017) and (with Karina Ansolabehere and Tatiana Alfonso eds.) The Handbook of Law and Society in Latin America (Routledge, 2019).






Maria Teresa Sierra - headshot

Dr María Teresa Sierra


María Teresa is a senior research professor at the Center for Research and Graduate Studies in Social Anthropology (CIESAS) in Mexico City and member of CIESAS Legal and Forensic Anthropology Lab. She is a PhD in Sociology from the University of Paris VIII and specialist in legal and political anthropology, and studies of legal pluralism, indigenous rights, gender justice and autonomies. She has developed several collective and individual research projects around these themes, among them the collective project ‘Globalization, Indigenous Rights and Justice: A Perspective from Gender and Power’. She is currently working on the collective project ‘Ethnographic Documentation of Gender Violences towards Indigenous Women in Guerrero, Mexico’. She has also contributed expert anthropological witness reports and cultural critique to judicial processes that involve indigenous people who defend their collective rights. Among her most recent publications is the book ‘Pueblos indígenas y Estado en México. La disputa por la justicia y los derechos’ (CIESAS, 2017), coauthored with Santiago Bastos.

Yacotzin Bravo Espinosa headshot

Dr Yacotzin Bravo Espinosa


Yacotzin is a lawyer and anthropologist as well as a specialist in human rights, indigenous people’s rights and environmental law. She obtained her BA and MA from UNAM and her PhD from UAM Iztapalapa. She has contributed to, and legally assessed, citizens’ movements defending their rights in Mexico, in particular the fishing cucapá populations of Baja California since 2010. She has published on the rights of indigenous peoples and economic, social and cultural rights; indigenous autonomies and territorial dispossession; critical geography and critical theory of law.

Rupert Knox- headshot

Dr Rupert Knox


Dr Rupert Knox was awarded his PhD by University of Sheffield in 2019. His interdisciplinary research examines how human rights discourse and social media practices featured in recent social movements challenging partial democracy and impunity in Mexico. Prior to his doctorate he worked with Amnesty International for eighteen years, with more than a decade’s experience leading the organisation’s research and advocacy on a range of human rights issues in Mexico.










5 March 2020

Dr Rupert Knox joins research project

Dr Rupert Knox has joined the team as research assistant in our British Academy-funded project. Among other tasks, he will be working with Dr Ainhoa Montoya, Dr Rachel Sieder and Dr Yacotzin Bravo to further develop and update the repository of legal actions and documents for human rights lawyers and human rights defenders...


28 July 2019

Publication on water epistemologies and ontologies co-authored by Dr Rachel Sieder

Rachel Sieder published an article with Lieselotte Vaiene in Prensa Comunitaria, about Maya q’eqchi’ epistemologies and ontologies of water in Alta Verapaz, Guatemala...

28 July 2019

Rachel Sieder has published the Routledge Handbook of Law and Society in Latin America (coedited with Karina Ansolabehere and Tatiana Alfonso)

The Routledge Handbook of Law and Society in Latin America presents cutting-edge analysis of the central theoretical and applied areas of enquiry in socio-legal studies in the region  ...


03 June 2019

Dr Yacotzin Bravo joins research team

Dr Yacotzin Bravo, who obtained her PhD in Social Anthropology and her BA in Law from Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana in Mexico ..


El Salvador - anti-mining protest

03 October 2018

ILAS Academic, Dr Ainhoa Montoya, awarded British Academy grant under the Sustainable Development Programme 2018

ILAS lecturer, Dr Ainhoa Montoya, has been awarded funding by the British Academy to pursue research designed to help tackle the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals...






In development








Principal Investigator

Dr Ainhoa Montoya

Research Assistant

Dr Rupert Knox

Project postal address

Resource Conflicts
Institute of Latin American Studies
School of Advanced Study, University of London
Senate House, Malet Street
London WC1E 7HU
United Kingdom