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 the environment, 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 channelled through legal and quasi-legal arenas, such as civil and criminal courts (to challenge extractive projects but also to criminalise protest movements), arbitration tribunals, popular tribunals, community consultations emulating legally-binding plebiscites, grassroots forms of law-making, and international human rights institutions. Crucially, environmental politics involve 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 El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras 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 and development.

The project is funded by the 2018 British Academy Sustainable Development Programme (Award Reference SDP2\100073) and involves researchers at both the Centre for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS) and the Center for Research and Graduate Studies in Social Anthropology (CIESAS) in Mexico.



Principal Investigator
Dr Aínhoa Montoya

Research Assistant
Dr Rupert Knox

Project Postal Address
Resource Conflicts
Centre for Latin American and Caribbean Studies
Institute of Modern Languages Research
School of Advanced Study
University of London
Senate House
Malet Street
London WC1E 7HU


Further Information

For further information please visit the project page: