Today is Bolivian Independence Day, and in honor of the occasion, we’re sharing some of our most significant scholarship on Bolivia.
We’re pleased to announce the recent publication of The Bolivia Reader, which provides a panoramic view, from antiquity to the present, of the history, culture, and politics of a country known for its ethnic and regional diversity, its rich natural resources and dilemmas of economic development, and its political conflict and creativity. Featuring both classic and little-known texts ranging from fiction, memoir, and poetry to government documents, journalism, and political speeches, the volume challenges stereotypes of Bolivia as a backward nation while offering insights into the country’s history of mineral extraction, revolution, labor organizing, indigenous peoples’ movements, and much more.
In Domesticating Democracy Susan Helen Ellison examines foreign-funded alternate dispute resolution (ADR) organizations that provide legal aid and conflict resolution to vulnerable citizens in El Alto, Bolivia. Ellison shows that these programs do more than just help residents cope with their interpersonal disputes and economic troubles—they also aim to change the ways Bolivians interact with the state and with global capitalism, making them into self-reliant citizens.
Many of Bolivia’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens work as vendors in the Cancha mega-market in the city of Cochabamba, where they must navigate systems of informality and illegality in order to survive. In Owners of the Sidewalk Daniel M. Goldstein examines the ways these systems correlate in the marginal spaces of the Latin American city, showing how the state’s deliberate neglect and criminalization of the Cancha’s poor—a practice common to neoliberal modern cities—makes the poor exploitable and consigns them to an insecure existence.
Also by Daniel Goldstein, Outlawed reveals how indigenous residents of marginal neighborhoods in Cochabamba struggle to balance security with rights. Feeling abandoned to the crime and violence that grip their communities, they sometimes turn to vigilante practices, including lynching, to apprehend and punish suspected criminals. Goldstein describes those in this precarious position as “outlawed”: not protected from crime by the law but forced to comply with legal measures in other areas of their lives, their solutions to protection criminalized while their needs for security are ignored. Outlawed illuminates the complex interconnections between differing definitions of security and human rights at the local, national, and global levels.
Earth Politics by Waskar Ari focuses on the lives of four indigenous activist-intellectuals in Bolivia, key leaders in the Alcaldes Mayores Particulares (AMP), a movement established to claim rights for indigenous education and reclaim indigenous lands from hacienda owners. Depicting the social worlds and life work of the activists, Ari traverses Bolivia’s political and social landscape from the 1920s into the early 1970s, revealing the AMP’s extensive geographic reach, genuine grassroots quality, and vibrant regional diversity.
Between 2000 and 2005, Bolivia was radically transformed by a series of popular indigenous uprisings against the country’s neoliberal and antidemocratic policies. In Rhythms of the Pachakuti, Raquel Gutiérrez Aguilar documents these mass collective actions, tracing the internal dynamics of such disruptions to consider how motivation and execution incite political change.
During the mid-1990s, a bilingual intercultural education initiative was launched to promote the introduction of indigenous languages alongside Spanish in public elementary schools in Bolivia’s indigenous regions. Drawing on his collaborative work with indigenous organizations and bilingual-education activists as well as more traditional ethnographic research, Bret Gustafson, in New Languages of the State, traces two decades of indigenous resurgence and education politics in Bolivia, from the 1980s through the election of Evo Morales in 2005.
A Revolution for Our Rights by Laura Gotkowitz is a critical reassessment of the causes and significance of the Bolivian Revolution of 1952. Historians have tended to view the revolution as the result of class-based movements that accompanied the rise of peasant leagues, mineworker unions, and reformist political projects in the 1930s. Challenging conventional wisdom, Gotkowitz argues that the revolution had deeper roots in the indigenous struggles for land and justice that swept through Bolivia during the first half of the twentieth century.
Combining anthropological methods and theories with political philosophy, in El Alto, Rebel City Sian Lazar analyzes everyday practices and experiences of citizenship in El Alto, Bolivia, where more than three-quarters of the population identify as indigenous Aymara. For several years, El Alto has been at the heart of resistance to neoliberal market reforms, such as the export of natural resources and the privatization of public water systems. Lazar examines the values, practices, and conflicts behind the astonishing political power exercised by El Alto citizens in the twenty-first century.
Unequal Cures by Ann Zulawski illuminates the connections between public health and political change in Bolivia from the beginning of the twentieth century, when the country was a political oligarchy, until the eve of the 1952 national revolution that ushered in universal suffrage, agrarian reform, and the nationalization of Bolivia’s tin mines. Zulawski examines both how the period’s major ideological and social transformations changed medical thinking and how ideas of public health figured in debates about what kind of country Bolivia should become.