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 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 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.





28 July 2021

Vacancy: Translator for English into Latin American legal Spanish  

We are looking for a PhD student or early career researcher who is fluent in Spanish and English and has knowledge of Latin American Law traditions to provide translation support on a research project database. The database is part of the British Academy/GCRF-funded project ‘The Juridification of Resource Conflicts: Legal Cultures, Moralities and Environmental Politics in Central America’, which examines legal and legal-like practices involved in resource conflicts in Central America and Mexico...

30 June 2021

Dr Ainhoa Montoya publishes new article in the Journal of Latin American Studies 

The Journal of Latin American Studies has published an article by Dr Ainhoa Montoya entitled, “On Care for Our Common Home: Ecological Materiality and Sovereignty over the Lempa Transboundary Watershed”. The article draws on her previous but related ESRC funded project. It explores the complex challenges involved in citizen-led legislative initiatives to protect the environment of the transborder water system of the Lempa River, one of Central America’s key watersheds under threat, and how these initiatives are shaped by eco-theology and the region's political history.

26 May 2021

Dr Rachel Sieder awarded prize by Law and Society Association

In May 2021, Dr Rachel Sieder was among 22 scholars awarded prizes by the Law and Society Association (LSA) in recognition of their publications and contributions to the law and society field. The LSA recognised Dr Rachel Sieder as "A leading scholar in the study of legal pluralism and the judicialization of politics". Congratulations Rachel!

28 January 2021

Dr Rachel Sieder gives seminar on Juridification of Indigenous struggles and the case of Marlin mine in Guatemala

On 28 January 2021, Dr Rachel Sieder presented a virtual Seminar “The Juridification of Indigenous Struggles: The case of Marlin Mine in Guatemala” as part of the CIESAS Seminar Series: “Ethnicity, Indigenous Peoples and Globalization”. The presentation, and commentary by Ana Isabel Braconnier, can be viewed here


17 December 2020

Call for papers for issue of FLACSO journal on extractivism edited by project researchers

In December 2020, the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences in Ecuador (FLACSO Ecuador) issued a call for articles on the juridification of mining extractivism in Latin America for the January 2022 edition of the ICONOS journal. Dr Ainhoa Montoya, Dr Rachel Sieder and Dr Yacotzin Bravo Espinoza of the Juridification of Resource Conflicts project will edit this 72nd edition of ICONOS. The issue will focus on the diverse uses of the law in the context of conflicts over subsoil resource extraction. Please circulate this call for papers which runs till 3 May 2021.


6 October 2020

The Guardian publishes article on "How Honduras became one of the most dangerous countries to defend natural resources"

Journalist, Nina Lakhani, reports on human rights violations committed against Honduran activists and communities defending territory and natural resources in Honduras. The article particularly focuses on the case of Guapinol in Tocoa municipality, Colón Department and references the report by a group of international experts, including Dr Ainhoa Montoya of ILAS, which documents the conflict.

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.





The Legal Cultures of the Subsoil Database. This database is a repository of legal and law-like mechanisms and instruments used by a range of stakeholders (grassroots community groups, civil society organisations, governments and corporations) in the context of extraction-related conflicts as a means to assert their rights over territory and resource governance.

Academic publications

In development

Public facing publications

In September 2020, the report ,"Guapinol Resists: Origins of the Mining Conflict in the Lower Aguán" (Spanish), was published. The report which was researched and compiled by a group of international experts, including Dr Ainhoa Montoya of ILAS, documents the social conflict and ongoing human rights violations committed in the context of an iron oxide mining project in the municipality of Tocoa, Department of Colón, Honduras.

Panels and conferences

The research team has organised panels and presented papers at the following conferences:

  • The Law and Society Association (LSA) Annual Meeting. Online, 28 to 31 May 2020.
  • ‘Extraction: Tracing the Veins’ conference. Online, 29 June to 10 July 2020. Held by the Massey University Political Ecology Research Centre and Wageningen University.
  • Annual congress of the Asociación Latinoamericana de Antropología (Latin American Anthropological Association, ALA). Online, 23 to 28 November 2020.


Other events

In development





Ainhoa Montoya headshot

Dr Ainhoa Montoya


Ainhoa is an anthropologist and senior lecturer in Latin American Studies. She is the Director of the Centre for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at the 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 multiscalar 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.










Principal Investigator

Dr Ainhoa Montoya

Research Assistant

Dr Rupert Knox

Project postal address

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