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About the project 2

Nature in other words: ontologies, narratives and cosmoethics of the original peoples of Latin America


Justification / presentation

Today, in the context of the challenges of sustainability, the epistemic and socio-historical regimes of the configuration of nature receive increasing critical attention. Hegemonic forms of construction of an objectified nature - subsidiary of a Western epistemic-political-economic framework - are increasingly opposed and often by the mediation of worldviews typical of the original peoples of the world, forms of meaning of, and relationship with nature, who recognize in it, under different forms, not an object but a feeling subject, caring and in need of care. Although the objectifying treatment of nature has received a problematizing thematization, either through the Frankfurtian critique of "instrumental reason" (Horkheimer, 1967) or the Heideggerian critique of the theoretical technologization of the world (Heidgegger, 1954) or of the feminist critique of the patriarchalism of the scientific enterprise (Harding, 2008) among others, what undoubtedly constitutes a philosophical and sociological novelty is the consideration, inspired and mobilized from ancestral worldviews, of nature as a political and ethical subject.


Faced with the enormous socio-environmental challenges that contemporary societies face, taking seriously those ontologies thanks to which nature takes on a feeling-thinking, nurturing, guiding and in need of care form is unavoidable. These ontologies not only break the traditional nature / culture division, since the former appears itself as the bearer and creator of culture, but they integrate the universe of politics into a cosmos that, at least in the West, seemed destined for a perennial disenchantment ( De La Cadena, 2015). In this wake, the program presented here seeks to a) investigate the various senses of nature as a subject that, in the narratives of our native peoples, appear; and b) recognize some of the pedagogical scope of these original ontologies and ethics.


Thus, the program coincides with two main objectives of Unesco, namely: a) to promote pluralism in the humanities especially in relation to traditional indigenous knowledge and b) to promote the use of said knowledge in the development of the science of sustainability . According to the document Guidelines on Sustainability Science in Research and Education (2015), the science of sustainability must “take advantage of the wide potential of cultural resources to promote sustainability in the community through a better understanding of knowledge, attitudes, values , lifestyles and narratives ”(p. 2).


Conceived as the second part of the program that began under the title "The history of humanity in other words", thanks to the first part of which it was possible to recognize, in its thickest lines, the inextricable intertwining between the history of humanity and nature. In the narratives of our native peoples of Latin America (Rueda et al., 2020), this proposal aims to a) clarify much more the way in which nature and human history are connected in these narratives, and b) show how the original ontologies of the nature / history could contribute to imagine new orders of subjectivity and new ways of socially constructing sustainability. Indeed, as the aforementioned UNESCO document points out, the ancestral "logics" on the nature / humanity binomial must be used for i) the education of the new generations, iii) the theory and practice of the rights of nature , and iii) the enhancement of cultural meanings and practices aimed at caring for oneself and the world.


  1. Register different indigenous narratives-ontologies about the nature of nature and what we owe to it.

  2. Make visible how nature and human history are connected in these narratives.

  3. Increase the representativeness of the records of the history of humanity of the original peoples of Latin America.

  4. Develop a pedagogical guide, based on ancestral narratives, ontologies and ethics, and aimed at high school educators, which helps to promote among children and young people orders of subjectivity and social practice consistent with the imperatives of sustainability.



The research foresees the examination of historical sources as well as the development of interviews with traditional authorities in various indigenous communities or Afro-descendant groups in Latin America. In this second phase, 13 traditional authorities from Central and South America will be included, with emphasis on the following countries: Bolivia, Mexico, Brazil, Guatemala, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and Chile.


  1. Elaboration of a historical file on relevant sources for the objective of the project.

  2. Location and development, with due consent, of interviews with highly recognized traditional authorities in the communities (elderly / elderly or grandparents / grandmothers).

  3. Recording and transcription of interviews.

  4. Visual (authorized) record of key moments of the investigation.

  5. Hermeneutical-critical analysis of the scope, implications and novelties proposed by traditional narratives on nature and on the history of humanity. This method allows the transcribed materials to be treated interpretively to make their meaning and scope understandable to those who are situated in other interpretive frameworks (Ángel, 2007; Auge, 1998).

  6. Preparation and delivery of pedagogical guide. To prepare the guide, three focus groups will be organized with high school teachers in three cities in Latin America.




Recognizing nature as a subject seems to have no antecedents in the western tradition of founding and applying moral (and legal) norms (Habermas, 2000) or in the disenchanted conceptions of modern science (Taylor, 2007). There are no forms of justification in the Anglo-European traditions that consider moral obligations towards the environment in a way that is not connected, centrally and primarily, with obligations towards people. This is the case in the liberal, socialist, utilitarian, communitarian or feminist tradition (Gudynas, 2016). In the framework of these diverse traditions of ethical theorizing, the environment is almost always conceptualized as a set of resources on which it depends that people receive fair treatment. Not even the so-called ecosocialists or ecofeminists have come to conceive of nature as a subject.

On the other hand, in the ancestral worldviews of various original peoples of the world, the treatment of, and the consideration of, nature as a subject has been frequent (De la Cadena, 2015). In the various names that these peoples have given to nature this consideration is revealed. Pachamama, Tonantzin, Gaia, Pritiví, among others, have been the names that these peoples have given, in various parts of the world, not to a disenchanted world but to a feeling, protective and needy nature of care. Under the vault of these worldviews, nature constitutes not an object or resource but a spiritual entity to which people and communities are inextricably linked (Rueda, 2017). This indivisibility between nature and people (communities) implies, for these worldviews, that moral obligations towards nature shelter people and not, as happens under the anthropocentric approach, that moral obligations towards people protect the care of nature. The recognition of nature as a subject towards which one has duties thus entails the recognition of the human rights of the communities that are linked to it. On the contrary, the recognition of human rights as the sole moral foundation of environmental care can end up protecting forms of use that are incompatible with the moral consideration of nature as a subject - as happens in many cases of "legal" extractivism - and at the same time with the own guarantee of the human rights of the communities.

The progressive recognition of the scope of these worldviews has had legal implications in the recent period. In New Zealand, India, Colombia, and other countries, there have been rulings that, in effect, have recognized nature as a subject of law (Cano, 2018). These rulings have resolved claims of native communities for the protection of their territories, which constitute for them their material and immaterial livelihood. In New Zealand, the ruling that recognized the Whanganui River as a subject of law, that is, as an entity with the same ethical-legal status as a person, was based on the following considerations: “1. Te Awa Tupua is a living and indivisible whole from the mountains to the sea that incorporates the river and all its physical and metaphysical elements; 2. Te Awa Tupua is a physical and spiritual entity that sustains and sustains both life within the Whanganui River and the health and well-being of the Iwi, Hapu, and other river communities; 3. Te Awa Tupua is a singular entity made up of various elements and communities that work collaboratively with the common purpose of the health and well-being of Te Awa Tupua ”(Te Awa Tupua Act, 2017).

Similar considerations were made in their ruling by the judges of the High Court of Uttarakhand, India, when they considered declaring the Ganges and Yamuna rivers as subjects of law: “All the Hindus have deep Astha in rivers Ganga and Yamuna and they collectively connect with these rivers . Rivers Ganga and Yamuna are central to the existence of half of Indian population and their health and well-being. The rivers have provided both physical and spiritual sustenance to all of us from time immemorial. Rivers Ganga and Yamuna have spiritual and physical sustenance. They support and assist both the life and natural resources and health and well-being of the entire community. Rivers Ganga and Yamuna are breathing, living and sustaining the communities from mountains to sea ”(Paul, 2018).

In the aforementioned judgments, and in others, the recognition of nature as a subject of law entails, by connection, the guarantee of the rights of the communities that are part of it, including the political right of the latter to speak for it, to represent it. and to ensure its integrity. In the framework of the rights of nature, the cognitive potential of ancestral worldviews and hermeneutics of the natural world has thus found a scenario of normative and pedagogical empowerment that challenges its centuries-old exclusion (De Sousa, 2006).

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