Accepted Paper:

Multiculturalism, democracy and 'refounding' Bolivia: Ayllus, sindicatos and the Constituent Assembly  
Maggie Bolton (University of Aberdeen)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores how discourses of indigenous culture both include and exclude people from political processes in contemporary Bolivia. It explores forms of authority and organisation in the south-west of the country and debates surrounding the Constituent Assembly.

Paper long abstract:

The idea of 'culture' has featured prominently in Bolivian politics of recent years. In the 1990s constitutional changes redefined the country as multi-ethnic and pluri-cultural, guaranteeing certain rights for indigenous peoples. More recently, the election in December 2005 of Latin America's first indigenous president, Evo Morales, has brought to the fore a discourse of generic 'indigeneity' and 'indigenous culture' as a new narrative of the Bolivian nation.

This paper focuses on the concept and uses of 'culture' in contemporary Bolivia: in particular it looks at the ways that 'indigenous culture' can be used strategically as a basis either for inclusion or exclusion. It is organised in two parts. The first part looks ethnographically at a small rural community in the southwest of Potosí, where an indigenous organisation (ayllu) was reconstituted in the 1990s and has been established in opposition to the local peasant union. The paper examines the indigenous organisation and its emphasis on custom and 'culture' particularly in relation to participation in democratic processes and to local expectations of a communal organisation: where expectations of egalitarianism and 'care' (cariño), exist in tension with those of authoritarianism and 'respect'.

The second part of the paper considers the debates surrounding the convening of a constituent assembly later this year to bring about a new round of constitutional changes in Bolivia. Demands for the constituent assembly originated with indigenous groups that expressed frustration with their exclusion from political decision-making at the national level. Through the assembly, the Morales administration aims to 'refound' the country along participatory lines that borrow heavily from both indigenous and union decision-making processes. Ironically, the rules drawn up for the election of assembly delegates, allow no seats specifically for indigenous groups, and indigenous people can effectively only enter the assembly as delegates for one of the political groupings. This part of the paper asks whether Morales' discourse of inclusive indigeneity and participative democracy paradoxically runs a risk of leaving culturally distinct groups, whom he claims to represent, still marginalised within the country.

Panel W014
Anthropology and the politics of multiculturalism (a friendly merger of W014 & W030)