Devil in the Water, Lights on the Mountain: Climate Change in Andean Peru

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This dissertation examines everyday life and storytelling in Peru's Huaylas Valley: a transnational mining hub beneath melting Andean glaciers. During one year of ethnographic fieldwork, I listened to citydwellers and villagers narrate personal stories, gory rumors, and mythic tales: of a ruined Inca city that glows at night, a disappearing water devil, wild lakes turning tame, a Christ whose powers are shrinking. Rather than evincing ontological alterity, Huaylas stories reveal distinctive capitalist imaginaries and their ancient genealogies. They convey a popular sense of marginalization at a time of rapid, mineral-fueled growth, along with high hopes for a wealthy, developed future. And, their motifs and imagery attest to centuries of intercultural exchange, showing how capitalism took root in the Andes through indigenous cosmology, even as it developed through American colonization. Today, storytellers imagine and relate to their once-animate landscape as a banal means of accumulation, enlivening it through modern dreams that herald this future by banishing the superfluous—fantastic beings, and even themselves— from their Valley. If only by aspiration, then, storytellers in the Huaylas Valley form part of a planetary capitalist culture that accelerates global warming, raises mass living standards, and circulates fantasies of material redemption. While climate change is typically construed as a problem for scientists and consumers to solve, this dissertation shows instead that global warming is a historical, cultural problem about the ends that more and more of humankind imagines, and strives to achieve.





Turevon, Elena S. (2018). Devil in the Water, Lights on the Mountain: Climate Change in Andean Peru. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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