Resource Extraction and the Planetary Extension of the Urban Form: Understanding Sociospatial Transformation in the Huasco Valley, Chile

  • Martín Arboleda

Student thesis: Phd


Through an engagement with an emerging strand of critical urban theory that reworks Henri Lefebvre's notion of 'planetary urbanisation', this dissertation explores the complex relation between contemporary forms of resource extraction and processes of capitalist urbanisation. It does so through the case of the Huasco Valley, an erstwhile agrarian region in northern Chile that was comprehensively redesigned and engineered into a mining, energy and agroindustrial hinterland strongly embedded in global networks of production and exchange. The thesis begins by offering a general exploration of the political economy of the 1993-2013 commodity boom, which set the foundations for new institutional, economic and corporate scenarios that led to an explosive rate of industrialisation and urbanisation across remote and rural geographies of Latin America. In the Huasco Valley, this context has translated into socioecological plunder, disruptions in public health, labour precariousness, intraurban displacement, and exponential growth of household debt. On this basis, I suggest that the production of urban space that underlies geographies of extraction is intrinsically uneven and in that sense, symptomatic of a world order dependent on the ongoing fabrication of invisibilised and fractured peripheries that are subservient to the consolidation of a seamless global space for the efficient circulation of commodities. The dissertation then goes on to argue that the existing literature on planetary urbanisation has been insufficiently attentive to questions of labour and production, and this has precluded an analysis of the properly political underpinnings of the complete urbanisation of society. By advancing a materialist conception of history, I focus on labour transformations in the Huasco Valley to illustrate how, besides dispossession and socioecological degradation, the projection of material infrastructures for resource extraction has created the conditions of possibility for radical and emancipatory change. Processes of urbanisation taking place in this valley have not only transformed the built environment and the sphere of reproduction -via institutionalised forms of credit, cultural practices and consumer cultures-, but production itself. Automation, lean production, logistical networks, outsourcing and cybernetic systems, among others, have radically transformed instruments and relations of production, thereby replacing isolation and parochialism with vibrant forms of community, political organisation and metabolic interaction with extra-human natures.
Date of Award31 Dec 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorGreig Charnock (Supervisor) & Kevin Morgan (Supervisor)


  • Planetary urbanization
  • Resource extraction

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