[OPE-L] Stephen Bunker (1944-2005)

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Sun Oct 09 2005 - 19:52:17 EDT

From Globolist./ In solidarity, Jerry
Stephen Bunker, professor of Sociology and a well-known Latin
Americanist, died July 19, 2005 after a long battle against cancer.

After earning his Ph.D. at Duke University in 1975, Stephen taught at
the Universidad del Valle, Guatemala; the Universidade Federal do
Para, in Belem, Brazil; the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne;
and Johns Hopkins University, before coming to the Sociology Department
at UW-Madison in 1988.

A prolific scholar, Stephen's contribution lies above all in his
theoretical insistence that we pay attention to environmental
constraints and to the role played by the physical characteristics of
raw materials in shaping the world system. In addition to countless
papers and edited volumes, he wrote four important books (two of
which are currently in press).

In his first book, Underdeveloping the Amazon (University of Chicago
Press, 1985), Stephen offered a powerful demonstration of how
extractive processes shaped the relationship of one region to the
of the world. Over a long historical period, as European powers
extracted a series of natural products from the rainforest and river
basin: first brazil nuts and spices, then rubber, most recently
minerals. In his book, Stephen shows how these patterns gradually
reorganized Amazonian society, impoverishing both its inhabitants and
its environment. That those patterns persist into the present, as the
modern Brazilian state and multinational companies continue to treat
Amazonia as a site for potential extraction of minerals and labor, is
perhaps at the core of his understanding of the relationship between
nature, raw materials and political economy.

Stephen's second book, Peasants Against the State (University of
Chicago Press, 1987), was based largely on research done in Uganda,
for his dissertation. It had remained unpublished to protect the people
described in it, but he went back to the material when the situation
in Uganda improved. It won the distinguished book award from the
Political Economy of the World System section of the ASA in 1989.
Despite the shift in geographic focus, this was a logical successor to
his earlier work. If Underdeveloping the Amazon emphasizes the
impoverishment of a region and its residents, Peasants Against the State
describes the strategies deployed by Ugandan peasants to improve their
situation, relative both to the Ugandan state and to the global coffee
market. Like Underdeveloping the Amazon, Peasants Against the State pays
close attention to the physical characteristics of the commodity, but also
to the social organization of producers and to the organization of
marketing, and how those both reflect and reinforce systemic global

Two books completed in the past few months, as he battled cancer, are
now in press. Globalization and the Race for Resources, co-authored
with UW alumni Paul Ciccantell, will appear this fall, published by
Johns Hopkins Press. In some sense summarizing Stephen's arguments
about the relationship between extraction and the construction of the
world system, the book moves from the way Dutch shipping industries
drew Amazonia into a larger world system to the impact of subsequent
patterns of extraction from Amazonia, up through the twentieth

Stephen's other forthcoming book explores a related but distinct set
of questions. The Snake with Golden Braids: Society, Nature and
Technology in Andean Irrigation, explores patterns in Peruvian Andean
irrigation schemes, engaging the relationship between local social
relations and nature. Jane Collins, Professor of Rural Sociology, says of
Stephen's forthcoming book, "This book is the fullest realization of
Bunker's prior work. In a devoted, painstaking and deeply respectful way
he explores the intimate interconnections between a challenging Andean
environment and its inhabitants. Attending to topography,
investigation of the remains of the waterworks, and the cosmology and
stories of contemporary Huanoquitenos, Bunker reconstructs the
breathtaking technological achievement of the prehispanic people who
irrigated the region. This is no story of humans taming the earth, but of
how, in allowing us to solve the problems it poses, landscape shapes
human strategies and consciousness." The Snake with Golden Braids is
scheduled to appear this spring with Lexington Press

All Stephen's books are marked by intimate knowledge of the people
and regions he studied: Stephen's theoretical contributions are unusual
for their link to closely-detailed fieldwork, and a deep intimacy with
farflung contexts and unusual details. Stephen's familiarity with the
intricacies of rubber extraction, the variation among coffee beans,
or the engineering problems in bauxite mines, is part of what gives his
theoretical work its weight: his careful attention to evidence, and
his insistence that theory engage that evidence, is part of what makes
his work so memorable.

LACIS, the Sociology Department, and the Havens Center co-sponsored a
conference in Stephen's honor in 2002, entitled "Nature, Raw
Materials and Political Economy." A volume of the conference papers
will be published this fall. Stephen will be greatly missed in his
department, in LACIS and in the university community at large. Our
sympathies go to Stephen's wife, Dena Wortzel, of Hollandale WI; his
daughter, Gabriela Bunker Cordon, and his grandson Lucas, of Guatemala.
In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the Stephen G. Bunker
Memorial Fund, Bank of Mora, Mora, NM 87732. Donations will be used to
fund environmental education initiatives for rural youth.


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