CORDIS - EU research results

Voting on the future: Imaginaries and motivations in referendum decisions against extractive industries in Colombia.

Project description

How referendums in Colombia influence the country and the citizens' future

Extractive industries (oil, gas, mining) can drive economic growth for governments in Global South countries. However, many communities who could potentially benefit refuse to support them, choosing alternative forms of development. Recently, local communities in Colombia have been organising referendums that stop resource extraction completely. Research to understand this phenomenon is lacking. The EU-funded VOTEF project aims to clarify the role of referendums for and against extractive industries and the extent to which they communicate options for development. Through ethnographic fieldwork, it will record stakeholders’ referendum procedures and communication. The project will provide a better understanding of the broader tendency of plebiscite democracy, such as Brexit, to complement institutional democracy.


For countries in the global south, extractive industries can provide governments with a shortcut to economic development. For countries in the global south, extractive industries can provide governments with a shorcut to economic development. However, many communities where those project would take place reject them upfront and advocate for development of a different kind. In a unique and recent phenomenon, local communities in Colombia are organising referendums that halt resource extraction altogether. Since their appearance, very little research has been done to understand this phenomenon. Voting for or against a particular extractive project gathers an array of values, motivations and imaginaries that go beyond endorsement or rejection. Yet, voting in a certain way need not mean unity of opinions, and can obscure the struggles of campesinos and ethnic minorities for equality and access to land. Colombia’s legal framework permits citizens to call for referendums to decide issues that affect them. Wanting to vote for or against extractivism implies a desire to define the terms of the future in a region. The objective of this project is to explain the role of referendums against and in favour of extractive industries in articulating, or not, alternatives to extractivist development. It will do so by questioning whether a No to extractivism means a Yes to an alternative path to development, or if it means the continuation of the current social struggles. This in-depth study will employ ethnographic fieldwork, including participant-observation, interviews, and photography, to document the practices and discourses of actors involved in referendums. Referendums in Colombia provide insight of the wider trend of plebiscite democracy (e.g. Colombian peace and corruption referendums, Brexit, Catalonia) as supplement to institutional democracy (e.g. centralised, technocratic), in which casting a vote means more than endorsement or rejection of a particular political project.


Net EU contribution
€ 203 852,16
405 30 Goeteborg

See on map

Södra Sverige Västsverige Västra Götalands län
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 203 852,16