In the Name of Vivir Bien: Indigeneity, State Formation, and Politics in Evo Morales' Bolivia

Tutkimustuotos: OpinnäyteVäitöskirjaMonografia


This is an ethnographic study of the politics of indigeneity in the contemporary Bolivian state transformation process. It is a story of an attempt to transform the state through indigenous ideas in a poor and ethnically heterogeneous country in the Global South. By following the notion of vivir bien, good life, a term that has emerged in Bolivia’s political and policy discourses since the election of Evo Morales as the first indigenous president of the country in December 2005, it examines contested articulations between policy, politics, and power. Through ethnographic examination of what is said and done in the name of good life by key policy actors such as ministers, public servants, development experts, and indigenous activists, this study aims to develop a critical understanding of the notion of good life both as a democratizing discursive construction and as a contested practice. It pretends to unveil the multiple and intricate ways in which power works – is articulated and contested – not solely between the governing regime and its political opposition but also within the ruling political party, within the state bureaucracy, and between and within local social movements.

Methodologically, this study is a response to the challenge of the changing circumstances of indigenous peoples in contemporary Bolivia: if representatives of social movements, indigenous organizations, and peasant unions have shifted from rural communities to the presidential palace and ministerial cabinets, the methodological choices of those who study indigenous peoples have to respond to this situation. In line with this, this study discusses how the bureaucratic context of the state in which new indigenous policy ideas circulate can be grasped, ethnographically, by tracking the notion of vivir bien. Additionally, it asks what comparative advantage an ethnographic approach brings to the examination of policy making and state formation amidst processes of social change. The data is based on a six-month ethnographic fieldwork in La Paz between 2008 and 2009. Additional insights are drawn from earlier stays in Bolivia for a total of 13 months.

Amidst global inequalities, there is an urgent demand for the examination of critical political alternatives and perceptions of new kinds of ‘development’, which are emerging in the Global South in response to – and often opposed to – the global capitalist political economy. The examination of the notion of vivir bien in contemporary Bolivian state transformation process pretends to make a contribution to this end. Consequently, this study examines theoretically how discourses and practices of social change are produced; how the state works in processes of change; and, how power and rule operate in the context of indigenous challenge to state formation. It makes a case for the utility of moving at the intersections of social anthropology, political science and development studies; and, from a theoretical perspective, at the intersections of postcolonial critique, postmodern Foucauldian approaches and political economy.

Although global and local processes are crucial to indigenous experience, this study indicates that the state is, and has increasingly become, an important reference point for indigenous peoples and social movements. The Bolivian state is the object of transformation through the application of indigenous policy and the provision of political alternatives but it is also the subject through which changes are executed. The politics of indigeneity is perceived as a contested combination of identity concerns and resource struggles. Today, the battles are also fought through state policy, which is a heterogeneous and contingent assemblage that produces and articulates diverse forms of power and governance. In the process of indigenous change, as this study illuminates, the state has become a battlefield between three kinds of historically constructed governmental schemes of improvement. Indigenous, neoliberal, and state-led models for social change articulate and often conflict with each other, illustrating the insight that the state works in complex and articulated ways. Furthermore, indicates the study, various forms of power and rule overlap and collide with each other. This conflictive interaction between governmental, disciplinary, and authoritarian forms of power and rule seems to impede and challenge the potential of radically democratizing indigenous ideas by hampering their translation into bureaucratic practice. This has implications for the more normative question of the feasibility of radical political alternatives that aim to counteract economic globalization and the universalism of development ideas through the politics of indigeneity.
Painoksen ISBN978-952-10-9129-2
Sähköinen ISBN978-952-10-9130-8
TilaJulkaistu - 20 lokakuuta 2014
OKM-julkaisutyyppiG4 Tohtorinväitöskirja (monografia)


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