Residual Ecologies: Finding Life within Extraction


The Carén River is a water stream located near Alhue, in central Chile. It would be completely unremarkable if it were not for one key aspect: it carries water throughout the year. Being located in a semi-arid region experiencing a decade-long megadrought, this characteristic has turned the Carén River into the source of several lively ecologies. Such availability of water has a counterintuitive source: mining waste. On the upper section of the Carén River basin lays Tranque Carén, the waste depository of Mina El Teniente, the largest subterranean mine in the world. Along with crushed rock and toxic chemical reactants, the mining waste at Carén contains a fair amount of water. Released after being treated, this water triggers the lively ecologies existing downstream from the depository. Instead of a story of toxicity, this is a story of geosymbiosis, of the intimate entanglements between water, crushed rock, chemical reactives and organic beings characterizing much of life at the Carén basin. Through geosymbioses, life at Carén emerges in the form of residual ecologies, ecologies on which human-made chemical residues occupy constitutive roles. Instead of being overtly toxic, on residual ecologies these residues are intoxicating, allowing the continuation of certain life in certain ways, but canceling out many others. Due to the current inescapability of human-made chemical pollution, residual ecologies are rapidly becoming one of the main manifestations of life on earth, an entanglement in which a plural we – humans, animals, plants and inorganic entities – must learn to live (and die) together.


Creative Commons Licence


Contributed date

September 9, 2021 - 4:18pm

Critical Commentary

Abstract for 4S 2021.

Group Audience

Cite as

Sebastian Ureta and Patricio Flores, "Residual Ecologies: Finding Life within Extraction", contributed by Katie Ulrich, STS Infrastructures, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 9 September 2021, accessed 21 January 2022.