This project is a multisited and interdisciplinary effort to trace the cultural, political, environmental, materio-technological, and economic lines that connect lithium industrialization in Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni with lithium-ion battery production, electronic vehicle (EV) manufacture and use, green energy politics and alternative energy futures, and, ultimately, global climate change processes.
The project views the lithium–battery–EV–green energy politics–global climate change nexus as a complex and multilayered “energy assemblage” that is constituted by actors, industrial processes, materialities, supply chains, and ideologies that cohere according to multiple and not always consistent logics.
The project’s multi-year focus on the lithium energy assemblage—supported by theoretical, empirical, and institutional contributions—will likely carry lessons for our understanding of other key energy assemblages seen as essential in the fight against global climate change, including solar, wind, hydropower, biofuel, and geothermal, among others.
More specifically, the project has four primary objectives:
(1) To follow the lithium industrialization process in Bolivia as it unfolds over the coming years through ethnographic research at all levels (local, regional, national), critical engagement regarding Bolivian lithium politics, and public interventions around lithium industrialization in Bolivia, with a focus on economic, social, and environmental conflict;
(2) To examine the materio-technological challenges of lithium industrialization from evaporation mining in the Salar de Uyuni to the production of lithium-ion batteries to the manufacture and use of EVs to the transformation of transportation infrastructures around EV marketing and incentives, battery charging, and battery capacity research and development;
(3) To reveal the cultural and environmental dimensions of lithium industrialization through extended ethnographic fieldwork with lithium producers and scientists in Bolivia and among villages that border the Salar de Uyuni, each of which has its own relationship to the Salar and the state mining project that is framed by local histories of extraction, salt mining, artisanal industry, and the defense of the land;
(4) To unpack the complicated ways in which lithium industrialization in Bolivia is both a consequence of and catalyst for wider green energy politics and mobilizations, which themselves exist in a dynamic relationship to global climate change processes (environmental, economic, political, and ideological).