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Transnational Communities Programme

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"We are all Indians?" Ecuadorian and Bolivian Transnational Indigenous Communities

Short Summary / Long Description

Principal Researchers
Dr Sarah A. Radcliffe
Department of Geography
University of Cambridge
Downing Place
Cambridge CN2 3EN
 
Dr Nina Laurie
Department of Geography
University of Newcastle
Newcastle-upon-Tyne NE1 7RU
 
Dr Robert Andolina
Department of Geography
University of Newcastle
Newcastle-upon-Tyne NE1 7RU
r.j.andonlina@newcastle.ac.uk
Contacts
Dr Sarah A. Radcliffe
Tel: 01223 333383 or 333399
Fax: 01223 333392
Email: sar23@cam.ac.uk
Internet: http://www.geog.cam.ac.uk
Duration of Research
1 October 1998 - 11 June 2001

Short Summary

Aims and objectives

In the 1990s, Andean indigenous political organisations have become international to an unprecedented degree, with trans-national exchanges of information and personnel mediated by new communication technologies. No definitive study of the policy, social and spatial implications of this emerging transnational community has be undertaken. The process by which the indigenous communities have become "scaled-up" is the focus of research, within a political context. International programmes of economic reform and democratisation are setting new agendas for indigenous groups, creating new opportunities for the construction and expansion of transnational communities. In this context, the project will ask the following key questions

  • How is the indigenous transnational community currently being made in Latin America , and how does this relate to its socio-political context?
  • What are the networks linking Ecuadorian and Bolivian indigenous communities, organisations and political parties, among themselves and to non-national actors and institutions?
  • How does the analysis of this process help us understand the social dimensions of globalization?
  • What are the implications of these findings for policy development, especially in relation to processes of democratisation and development?

Given the contemporary situation, the research engages with the debate in Latin American governments, international agencies, local and regional NGOs and other bodies about civil society and inclusive social development. While notions of democratisation are widespread in policy circles, the operation of - and actors within - present day civil society remain to be fully examined by exploring the social actors and attitudes to transnationalism in the networks that make up Andean political culture.

Methodology

Using a comparative study of Ecuador and Bolivia, the research focuses on the qualitative aspects of the transnational community, using interviews, secondary literature, monitoring of networks and participant observation. Six areas will be the case study sites, from which the international connections will be traced. In each area (three in Ecuador, three in Bolivia) interviews will be held with indigenous activists, bringing together a variety of organisations at distinct levels. Further interviews with governmental agencies, non-governmental organisations and international agencies will provide information regarding policies and practices in dealing with Andean indigenous groups. Monitoring of international communications will provide data on the extent of networking (via traditional media and new electronic information sources).

Academic and policy implications

The growing importance of an Andean transnational group has implications for the ways in state policy, international aid and policy, as well as regional and national interventions work, a facet which has both academic and policy implications. In academic terms, the research will inform theoretical approaches to the new spaces of politics. In policy term, the research will address the way in which policy questions are framed within the contemporary 'democratisation' and poverty-alleviation programmes implemented by international and national agencies. The creation of a web-site into which users, researchers and participating indigenous groups will contribute, will assist the spread of information.

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"We are all indians?" Ecuadorian and Bolivian Transnational Indigenous Communities

Long Description

Introduction

This research project comes at a moment of intense debate within international agencies, Latin American governments, local and regional Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and other bodies, about the nature of civil society into the 21st century. While processes of globalization are shaping transnational communities via pre-existing diasporas, research is now required to highlight the utilization of new, generally non-historic, connections not fundamentally based on the movement of populations. As economic, political and communication integration grows across the globe, so too the processes of formation of transnational subjects/communities diversify. Neoliberal agendas are being endorsed enthusiastically throughout Latin America by both international agencies and national governments. 'Development with a human face' and 'growth with equity' have become by-words for new forms of negotiation over the organization of social difference and the meanings of development. Bolivia and Ecuador are recognized as spearheading indigenous movements internationally yet these transnational connections are intimately bound up with globalizing notions of 'democracy' and inclusive social reform. Neoliberal agendas offer innovative and contradictory circumstances through which indigenous experience can be scaled-up to global arenas. This project will examine the formation of transnational communities at the forefront of un-precedented processes of transnational connections, under a dominant globalizing political economic model. Non-diasporic transnational communities in the Andes illustrate and provide a window onto the ways in which definitions of difference and development shape international agendas.

Research rationale

Utilising oriented basic research, the research project examines the various processes of constructing a transnational community of indigenous peoples in two Andean countries. The increasing scale of operation of indigenous social movements and political organisation in Latin America, not least in the Andes, speaks to the process of transnationalisation and expanding networks of capital, imagery and political ideas around an indigenous identity, resulting in its mobilisation in international, national and local politics. While the processes of globalisation of an indian politics are far from homogeneous, the uneven nature of flows, the political strategies, and discursive resources mobilised through transnational links are crucial to an understanding of movements' political dynamic.

Moreover, they point towards the 'ethnicization' of processes and products of globalisation. No longer can it be said that indians are isolated in socio-economic internal colonies, subjected to appropriation and re-presentation by politicians. Rather, the rhetoric of a transnational - and at times, essentialised - indigenous subject engages with practices such as international exchange of personnel, ideas, conferences, processes of imagery production, use of electronic communication and information sources. The project examines the material processes of practices, flows and representations, through which a transnational community of indigenous subjects is created.

One consequence of these material processes in Latin America is that transnational indigenous communities, and their associated national and local influences and effects, are reconfiguring the spaces of politics. Social movements have been well-documented at local and national scales in Latin America, and their significance in political strategies, discourse, state-society relations and political identities have been clearly highlighted. While it is increasingly recognised that submerged networks of daily interaction provide but one of the interlocking spaces in which social movements are engaged, the geographies of social movements are relatively under studied. Given new work on geographies of citizenship and nationalism, there is surprisingly little research on how social movements mobilise space in their struggles, how they (re)present spatial relations, and how geographies of the state and corporate actors shape the emergence, focus and activities of movements. In all these respects, research on the indigenous movements' geographical practices, strategies and discourses can illustrate - and begin to explain - how social movements and their politics are inherently spatial. Recent geographical research has analysed the significance of 'scaling-up' power; that is, how networks of power operate to extend influence and mobilise capacity. Transnational indigenous communities are, in parallel with intergovernmental agencies, TNCs and media corporations, exploring these increasingly large-scale dimensions. For example, indigenous movements in the Andes currently engage with, and reproduce, the scaling-up of power relations, yet questions remain about the nature of interaction between scales (local, national, global), and how dynamics of power/resistance work out in indigenous engagements with state, international agencies and so on.

The networks currently shaping the creation of a transnational indigenous subject in Latin America intersect with pre-existing international networks, especially those configured around gender. Global gender networks have already, to some degree, addressed and problematised the intersections between gender and race in indintiy formation through international meetings, academic writing (critiques of western feminism) and the institutionalisation of gender in development policy. As a result, the promotion of political representation for Latin American women has often gone hand in hand with interests in ethnic and generational differences. In Bolivia the neo-liberal 'Bolivia la Nueva' package (1992-1997) created a sub-secretariat for ethnic, generational and gender affairs with transversal powers at a ministerial level. Key shapers of transnational indigenous identities and practices are the World Band and IMF, promoting neoliberal development with a human face. The Bank has recently promoted education, democratisation and multi-cultural work.

Transnational programme resources are thereby reconfiguring international aspects of indigenous movements. Moreover, the rise of new communication technologies facilitates new politics - activism at a distance - while the possibilities for non-territorial democratisation remain open. As power relations are increasingly 'stretched out' across the world , so too our notions of power and its effects must engage with new geographies of social interaction. Drawing on science studies, the concept of networks is used by geographers to unpack the spacialisation of power and the nature of new society-power-space connections. The transnational idea and practice of indigenous-ness and the making of an indigenous community are constituted through networks, operating via specific places and situated practices. To illustrate the issues involved, the current director of the Ecuador World Bank re-democratisation programme is Shuar (from near the Ecuador-Peru border), formerly working in Bolivia in indigenous development programmes. At a different scale, the Shuar group's self-generated transnationalism project operates via the use of electronic communication, and participation in a Smithsonian exhibition in Washington DC. Similarly in Bolivia, several proponents of the radical Popular Participation law (redirecting power to local organisations including ethnic groups) now work for the World Bank promoting democratisation programmes.

Overall, the exact nature of interaction within indigenous transnational communities is unclear. How do transnational communities feed into strategic thinking? How do personal interchanges and international meetings confirm a transnational identity? What impacts do different forms of accessing the transnational community have on identity, strategy and resources at national and local levels? How does the transnational scale, fed by new geographies of exchange and mobility, shape new geographies of indigenous identity?

Aims and objectives

It is on the documentation and analysis of such linkages and practices that the project will focus, through four inter-related fields:

  1. Documentation of the new transnational indigenous subject and community, including how the construction of the indian transnational subject is gendered; how it may be essentialised (e.g. in relation to environment); how it is imagined socially (social relations around domestic, public and national spaces pictured by various actors); how the transnational indigenous subject is brought alongside distinct ethnic identities (e.g. Aymara, Quichua, Shuar), and how the boundaries between these subjectivities are negotiated.
  2. Identification of routes through which a transnational indigenous community is constituted: which different networks are used and the nature of interactions within networks, their contradictions and continuities. Emphasis also on how the transnational indigenous subject feeds into local/national politics and contests over territory, resources and citizenship.
  3. Examination of how diverse geographies of global, national, 'local' and regional specificities intersect to shape cross-border flows pertinent to the creation of the transnational indigenous community.
  4. Exploration of the nature of power relations through which a transnational indigenous community emerges, and power relations within and around it constitution. Gender aspects will be complemented by analysis of how (neo-)colonialism is worked through transnational processes (including historical notions of 'race'; Indians as national republican symbols - e.g. Otavalenos sent to 19th century Paris exhibition; present-day political interests of aid donors; Eurocentric emphasis in social policies).

Latin American Transnational Communities

Latin American indigenous social identity is a socio-cultural construct, emerging in the colonial period and undergoing constant revisioning and reorientation. The visibility of a transnational Latin America-wide indigenous identity was highlighted recently by the '500 years of resistance' campaign against Columbus' quincentenary. The imaginative geographies of this community is illustrated by the adoption of a (Panamanian) Kuna name for the entire regional indigenous population. Presently, strong national indigenous movements exist in countries as diverse as Mexico, Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia and Brazil. Each country, with its own diverse ethnic groups, has its own specificities, yet a striking degree of co-ordination across national boundaries in tactics, resources, support and mobilisation is notable. Such transnational social relations exist in a nexus of networks and social organisations through which agendas are drawn up and negotiations with states occur. Election into Congress of members of Ecuador's and Bolivian indigenous movement reflects the national-level discursive and material effects of internationally-enforced claims to identity and difference. In Bolivian, the Law of Popular Participation allowed for decentralisation, permitting reorganisation of local (indigenous) societies and spaces under a neoliberal programme. While such movements are often presented as 'ethnic', the constitution of an indigenous identity rests upon complex interacting processes. CONAIE's (Ecuador's national indigenous confederation) political decision to highlight "indigenous nationalities" as a way of mobilising support resting on its cultural politics and official context.

The empirical research will examine the indigenous ethnic social movement in Bolivia and Ecuador. In each country, indigenous federations are engaged in political and cultural projects pressing their national governments for change in representation, treatment and political culture. While each government uses the rhetoric of 'growth with equity' or democratisation within neo-liberal agendas, Ecuadorian and Bolivian indigenous movements are increasingly engaged in a transnational social project, arising through international exchange and meetings, international agencies involvement in democratisation and neoliberalism, as well as new communication technologies.

The research is comparative, focusing on what is 'at stake' in Ecuador and Bolivia, while positioning these experiences within international Andean and national contexts, thereby capturing the various spatial scales through which transnational indigenous communities are made. The new spaces and societies created by indigenous social movements are different in each country, due to national politics, different socio-economic development programmes, and varied histories of indian politics. Diverse strategies of resistance have been promoted, including entry into formal politics, judicial challenges over territory, cultural politics and representational work. However, while the scales, networks and situated practices of indigenous movements differ they have an increasing number of factors in common as processes of transnationalisation begin to construct a series of new scaled-up social spaces. These new, common social spaces are being created by:

  • Increased use of new communication technologies by indigenous movements
  • Greater engagement by previously-disenfranchised groups with formal international programmes of democratisation, 'good governance' and social reform
  • Raised participation of indigenous movements in national/international NGOs as the state is rolled back and resources channelled via non-governmental routes.

Consequently, while issues of locality, space and participative democracy are highly significant in both Ecuador and Bolivia, their differentiated relationship to, and constitution through, transnational indigenous communities remains to be documented.

Methodology

Using a comparative study of Ecuador and Bolivia, the research focuses on the qualitative aspects of the transnational community, using interviews, secondary literature, monitoring of networks, and participant observation. Six areas will be the case study sites, form which the international connections will be traced. In each area (three in Ecuador, three in Bolivia) interviews will be held with indigenous activists, bringing together a variety of organisations at distinct levels. Further interviews with governmental agencies, NGOs and international agencies will provide information regarding policies and practices in dealing with Andean indigenous groups. Monitoring of international communications will provide data on the extent of networking (via traditional media and new electronic information sources).

In order to examine the complex ways in which the indigenous subject is constructed via transnational processes, research focuses on six localities in Bolivia and Ecuador. These six locales play different roles in national rhetorics of development, have different engagements with international organisations and capital and have distinct legacies of indigenous activism. Choice of sites was driven by our analytical framework to encompass a range of areas/ethnic groups with distinct means and experience of transnationalisation. Ranging from cross-border ethnic groups to areas with a strong 'national' indigenous identity, the sites offer a spotlight on a range of experiences producing the creation of a transnational indigenous community within Latin America and beyond.

The Bolivian case studies will be drawn from La Paz, Cochabamba and the Chapare region. The influx of Aymara/Quechua-speaking migrants to La Paz has strengthened indigenous presence. With its strong bi-lingual and inter-cultural identity, the capital is the base for indigenous movements and political parties. As the headquarters of international NGOs and Western missionary organisations, Cochabamba met the recent in-migration of rural campesinos (small farmers) and Quechua speakers with hostility. Claims for social compensation from central government run in parallel to North American capital flows into missionary work. Resulting from adjustment and relocation policies, immigration contributed to historic tensions between Cochabamba and central government. The Charpare, a key Bolivian coca-growing area, has recently become the focus of international interest as a massive alternative development programme, sponsored by international agencies (UN, USAID) channels money into the region. This programme, together with colonisation schemes, attracted numerous settlers (few self-identifying as indigenous), many of whom, nevertheless, in the 1997 elections supported indigenous/campesino parties and politicians.

The Ecuadorian case studies are drawn from Otavalo, Quito (both in the Andes) and the Shuar area (south-east Amazon basin). Otavalo has a historically-embedded notion of ethnic distinctiveness (this group were historically seen as 'good indians'), combined with a long history of participation in transnational flows (trade in textiles). More recently, 'self-help' and 'grass roots' development paradigms have championed the Otavalo model, enhancing its transnational engagement and symbolic representations. In Quito, migration from rural areas has never been as permanent as in other Andean capitals, while its location made it a centre for international radio communication and headquarters of North American missionary organisations. Now Quito is a node in transnational communication and international meetings (e.g. the 1st '500 years of resistance' meeting). The Shuar federation (FCS) represents an early start in indigenous political organisation, initially under the Salesian order. Their location near the politically-sensitive border with Peru and Shuar populations in Peruvian territory make this group transnational and subject to extensive military surveillance. The Shuar are extremely well networked in making judicial landright claims, and have extensive access to electronic communication.

The growing importance of an Andean transnational group has implications for the ways in state policy, international aid and policy, as well as regional and national interventions work, a facet which has both academic and policy implications. In academic terms, the research will inform theoretical approaches to the new spaces of politics. In policy terms, the research will address the ways in which policy questions are framed within the contemporary 'democratisation' and poverty-alleviation programmes implemented by international and national agencies. The creation of a website into which users, researchers and participating indigenous groups will contribute, will assist the spread of information.

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