Roads are by nature a contested subject. Although they represent vital infrastructure to enable the flow of people, goods and ideas, their potential detrimental effects for humans and the environment have been a constant source of debate and criticism. This is particularly true for natural resource-rich regions such as the Amazon, where the development of roads has been directly associated with rampant deforestation and resource extraction, uncontrolled colonization and dispossession of indigenous lands. Yet the impact of roads goes far beyond their direct social and environmental costs and benefits. In many places of the world, roads have a strong evocative power, as they represent spaces that materially and symbolically embody ideas such as "modernity," "progress," "backwardness" and "development." Combining multi-sited ethnography and historical analysis, this photo essay attempts to document the past, present, and likely future of a road in Putumayo, a region of southwest Colombia that has been traditionally considered a marginal frontier, and which has also become internationally known for the production of cocaine and the violence that has come with it. The road, as I will try to show, invites reflection about the complexities inherent to the different meanings and realities of development.
May 2, 2011
Photo essay of the day: The winding ways of development
The winding ways of development: A historical journey of a road in the Putumayo region of Colombia. By Simón Uribe Martínez