Accounting for Change in Diverse Societies

Diversity and Democracy in Bolivia:
Sources of Inclusion in an Indigenous Majority Society

Publication Date: May 2017

Brett Gustafson

Bret Gustafson is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis.  Since 1992 he has worked and carried out research in Bolivia, most of it in collaboration with the Indigenous Assembly of Guaraní People of the southeastern region of the country. His primary focus has been on the politics of Indigenous language education in the context of neoliberal school reforms, work published in the book New Languages of the State: Indigenous Resurgence and the Politics of Knowledge in Bolivia (Duke, 2009).  He continues to research and write on language and education policy, while his current research and book project is on the politics of gas extraction, indigeneity, and redistribution.

Despite economic expansion in recent years, high levels of poverty and economic inequality persist among members of Bolivia indigenous majority. The election of the country’s first indigenous president in 2005 marked a transformative turn in the country’s national identity—away from the assimilationist ideas of nationhood espoused by white or mestizo elites to a more inclusive “plurinational” conception of identity. New constitutional commitments to cultural rights, indigenous rights, social and economic rights and protections against discrimination have been adopted but have proved difficult to implement, as the country’s long-standing dependence on natural resource extraction and export complicates the real politics of rule. In respect to indigenous rights and majority politics, what are the limits of Bolivia’s discursive shift?

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