Schröter David

Sovereignty Works: Industrial Work at the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia, and its Role in Shaping Sovereignty Practices

Sous la direction de M. Goodale, Université de Lausanne


I focus on the political, economic and social dimensions of lithium as an energy assemblage that shapes the relationships amongst humans and between humans and new energy materials in the age of sustainable development. By studying the trajectories of the national lithium industry in Bolivia and its relevance in both domestic politics and international investments and trades, I seek to understand how Bolivia negotiates with uncertainties in domestic and global political economies while promising a sustainable future - and sustainable domestic development through lithium. 
In particular, I am now examining current media outlets and doing literature and archival research to delineate how lithium has come to prominence in the critical moment of negotiations among plurinationalism, neoliberalism, and eco-futurism in Bolivia. My initial analysis suggests that the attention on lithium must be placed placed in the political significance that lithium bears to the nation, namely, the promise to decolonize the nation by allowing the state to take control of the new energy and its economic and ecological potentials. Meanwhile, the current uncertainty of Bolivia’s political future may halt or reshape this promise by the rise of neoliberal actors who will influence the future of the national lithium project. This uncertainty invites long-term ethnographic research to unpack the relationships among lithium, energy, decolonialism, neoliberalism, and eco-futurism by grounding them in the social worlds of lithium.
The fieldwork for my PhD thesis will be taking place mainly in two separate phases - an initial preliminary fieldwork phase between January and March 2020 to explore different possible avenues of investigation and to do initial interview projects - and the long-term ethnographic fieldwork phase between July 2020 and August 2021.