Nate Freiburger

Visiting Assistant Professor
Primary office:
(785) 864-9416 | 725 Fraser


Areas of Specialization

  • Social Theory
  • Methods
  • Natural Resources

Nathaniel Freiburger is a sociologist whose work broadly focuses on how the things of material culture take shape within specific communities of practice.  His research has included work on early real estate development in the U.S. focusing on the historical transformation of real estate into a commodity through the practices of both state agents and market actors. His research has also focused on the relationship between the modern state and the environment, examining the link between science and governance within a state/environment relation through specific boundary objects such as land, water, and lithium. Nathaniel’s current book project continues with a focus on the artifacts of material culture, through an ethnography of lithium in the South American country of Bolivia. As an object-oriented study, the research examines how a diverse set of actors handle this particular element as an object, a concept, or an event. The research provides specific insights into natural resource use and extraction, human/environment relations, resource systems, extractive industries in Latin America, as well as addressing issues related to questions concerning developmental and industrial projects. The research describes the different modes of existence of lithium and explores how these modes of existence constitute the grounds of the political.

Nathaniel’s second book project examines the exceptional case of the recent enactment of the “Rights of Mother Earth” law (October 2012) in Bolivia that extends constitutional rights to a non-human entity (or entities), as a collective subject. This law is a result of indigenous peoples’ struggles in Bolivia over the past several decades. The appearance of this new subject in the new constitution of Bolivia is a product of two systems of governance: the modern, liberal state with its republican notion of rights, and the indigenous ayllu—a social, economic, and political form of organization of Bolivia’s highland indigenous groups. The new Bolivian constitution attempts to bring these two forms of organization together in a broader system of co-governance. This research attends to a number of questions that this new law in Bolivia provokes: Through what practices is such a plural subject, the Mother Earth, composed and made visible?  Does this composition in practice exceed the “nature” or “environment” of western science and the modern constitution? To what extent do the obligations produced by this collective political entity also oblige a rethinking of the concepts of economy, society, territory, the state, and processes of decolonization?

Areas: Social Theory, Science and Technology Studies (STS), Political Sociology, Ethnography, Environment, Latin America, Natural Resources, Methods, Cultural Studies

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