Jenny García Ruales

Universität Marburg

An Ecology of Legal Knowledges: Learning (with) the Kawsak Sacha from a Legal Anthropology Perspective

Image: Alfonso Chango

I am an Ecuadorian doctoral candidate in Cultural and Social Anthropology at Philipps University of Marburg, an associate researcher at the fellow group “Environmental Rights in a Cultural Context” at the Max-Planck-Institute (MPI) for Social Anthropology in Halle (Saale), and a doctoral fellow of the Heinrich Böll Foundation. My doctoral topic is situated in the fields of Environmental Anthropology, Anthropology of Nature, and Legal Anthropology. My research shall contribute to the processes of pursuing an ecocentric legal system in the (Ecuadorian) Amazon and of recognizing the rights of natural entities. To this end, I explore the legal proposal of the Kichwa People of Sarayaku in the Ecuadorian Amazon and their animist perceptions of the environment.
The Kichwa People of Sarayaku launched a declaration appealing to grant legal personhood to the Kawsak Sacha (Living Forest), located in their territory, in the Pastaza Province. This declaration implies the recognition of their material and spiritual relations with the Living Forest (and other beings of the animal, vegetable, mineral, cosmic and spiritual worlds that inhabit it) within state law as a new legal category of protected area, including principles of cosmic ecology like Sumak Allpa (land without evil). My research addresses the process of translating a human-forest-relationship (Sacha Runa) into a Western legal framework. Building upon an interdisciplinary dialogue between law and anthropology, my suggested methodology includes a legal scan of environmental legal guarantees in Ecuador and anthropological fieldwork consisting of three stages of collaborative multi-species ethnography. To illustrate the Kichwa People of Sarayaku relationship with the heterogeneously entangled worlds in the Kawsak Sacha and the diverse use of the territory, I suggest a) a social (ontological) cartography, b) an exploration of a specific genre of material culture – in this case, the elaboration of pottery, and c) a feminist approach – “Mi cuerpo – mi territorio” (my body as my first territory).
I have selected this case study to examine how ecological data based on a specific environmental construction of a forest may influence the policy shaping legal structures and to fill with content the controversial and still abstract recognition of the Rights of Nature. In line with this, it is my intention to reflect on the practical implications of the legal recognition, the potential risks, and possible consequences for the Kichwa People of Sarayaku when a (changing) relationship with a territory is to be integrated into a Western legal framework.

  • Epistemologies of the South/Decolonizing Knowledge
  • Indigenous Ecologies in the Amazon
  • Multi-species Ethnography
  • Non-human Rights
  • Emancipatory Forms of Education

*since 08/2020
Doctoral Fellow Heinrich Böll Foundation

*since 08/2019
Member of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature (GARN) Research Group

GIGA German Institute of Global Area and Studies, Berlin
Project IMISEM „Every Immigrant is an Emigrant“ – Research Student

Specialization in Epistemologies of the South, CLACSO Latin American Council of Social Sciences
– Decolonization of Knowledge
– Feminist Ecologies of Knowledge
– Intercultural Translations between Latin America and Africa

*Since 02/2015
Carea e.V. Human Rights Observer, Documentation of human rights violation in the indigenous communities in Chiapas, Mexico.

Master of Arts in Cultural- and Social Anthropology, Philipps University of Marburg
Minor: Peace and Conflict Studies

Bachelor of Arts in Communication Science, Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich
Minor: Sociology

García Ruales, J. (2020). Aprendiendo (con) el Kawsak Sacha: Diálogo de saberes en Ecuador. In M. Aparicio & A. Varo (Eds.) Resistencias Indígenas, Contribuciones del X Encuentro Multidisciplinar de Pueblos Indígenas (pp. 6-16). Girona: Documenta Universitaria.

García Ruales, J. (2020) Hearing, Seeing, Smelling, Touching, Tasting. Anthropological Reflections on a Digital Encounter with a Forest during the SARS-CoV-2 Pandemic, Boas Blog: Fieldwork meets crisis.