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Revolution is a Journey Without Return, For Good or For Bad: Ideologies of Change in Contemporary Bolivia



Presentation given at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Revolution is a Journey Without Return, For Good or For Bad:
Ideologies of Change in Contemporary Bolivia
Mark Goodale Series Editor
Professor of Cultural and Social Anthropology Stanford Studies in Human Rights
University of Lausanne
Outline of talk:
(1) Background to ethnographic project
(2) Selected Bolivian sociopolitical history
(3) An ecological approach to competing
ideologies of change
(4) Major competing ideologies
(5) Q & A
Project and Methodology
“Longitudinal ethnographic fieldwork” (combines the synchronic with the
diachronic, not possible for doctoral project)
“National Ethnography”: Don’t want to “miss the revolution” (Starn,
Cultural Anthropology, 1991)
--not same as multisited (which follows single processes)
--significant elements of “para-ethnography” (Marcus and Holmes)
-- “revolution” through its “ecologies” (the “ecological turn”?)
1. Periods of weeks to months, ‘05 – ’15
2. Time dimension captures unpredictable historical turning points
3. Participant-observation, various forms of interviews, “local document
analysis,” preexisting knowledge
4. Looking for coherent analytical arc (always involves choice)
Selected Bolivian sociopolitical history (relevance for period of
(1) March for Territory and Dignity—1990
(2) 1994-1997—Human rights and popular participation (apotheosis
of neoliberalism)
(3) Election of Evo Morales—2005/2006
(4) Beginning of end of the rightwing opposition—2008
(5) Bolivia “re-founded”—2009
(6) TIPNIS conflict/crisis—2011
(7) Consolidation of power through juridification—2014 to present
March for Territory and Dignity—1990
1994-1997—Human rights and popular
participation (neoliberalism ascendant)
Goni Sánchez de Lozada National Human Rights Institution (NHRI)
Election of Evo Morales—2006
Beginning of the end of the opposition—
Bolivia refounded—2009
“A state based in respect
and equality among all
and committed to the
following values:
sovereignty, dignity,
solidarity, harmony and
equity in the distribution
and redistribution of social
goods, the search for
living well [vivir bien],
respect for economic,
social, legal, and cultural
pluralism, and collective
coexistence based on free
access to water, work,
education, health, and
housing for all.”
TIPNIS conflict/crisis—2011
Consolidation of power through “strategic juridification” and modest redistribution: 2014- present
Lengthy criminal prosecutions:
keep opposition in legal
uncertainty as long as
Symbolic or redistributive justice?
Social payments, high profile public
works, and economic growth
An ecological approach to competing ideologies of
--provides framework for understanding scales
--emphasizes constitutive dimension of ideologies in
--non-Marxist account of ideologies as “idea-
systems” or perhaps “idea-assemblages”
--ecological frame suggests both history and change
(goes beyond or synthesizes diachronic and
--opening to explore how idea-systems are
embodied in cultural practices, phenomenology of
We are not conservatives. We want revolution as
because the fight for autonomy today is becoming a
revolutionary process and that is our main aim and
interest …And the other thing that I would like to
differentiate about our true revolution and the false
revolution of the government is our method of
struggle. For us, the method is democratic, it is
through the vote,
it is through respect for the rule of law. The
government, by contrast, wants to make a revolution
without respect for the rule of law and through
--Carlos Dabdoub, intellectual leader of Santa Cruz’s
autonomy movement and anti-government opposition
As a revolutionary government, we are simply a
government of social movements, especially those
that are fighting against neoliberalism. Within the
revolution there are various spaces for vigorous
debate in which the discussion is horizontal and
critical . . . Many of us never had the intention of
holding public office, yet because it is a
revolutionary process one must assume one’s
proper role and start building bridges and then burn
all the boats after the bridges are built, because it’s
one-way road, for good or for bad, a journey
without return.
--Sacha Llorenti, former Vice-minister for the Coordination of
Social Movements and Civil Society, and a member of the
president’s inner circle of advisors (“Karl Rove of Bolivia”)
Evo Morales tell us that we are in the midst
of a process of peaceful change, that we
can’t speak of structural revolution but only
a cultural revolution that will lead to a
“refounded” (refundada) Bolivia. But we
don’t call this a revolution because it
doesn’t touch the root of the capitalist
system. Which is? Private property. How do
you know if a revolution is real, or not?
Based on its position in relation to private
property. If it respects private property, it’s
bourgeois. Now it might want to change
things, make things more humane, fix some
things, but if it still respects private property
it can implement only a form of bourgeois
change . . . For us the only real revolution is
one that seeks to eliminate private property
and replace it with social property.
--José Luis Álvarez, Director of the La Paz Teachers’
The ambitions of Indianism are continental,
not national. We struggle to develop a
general civilizational horizon based in the
principles of Indianness. This means, in part,
a total rupture with the West, but we retain
an interest in technology as long as it can be
used for the liberation of the Indian nation.
--Pablo Mamani, student activist
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