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Indigenous Conflict in Bolivia Explored through an African Lens: Towards a Comparative Analysis of Indigeneity

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 March 2018

Andrew Canessa
University of Essex
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Since Evo Morales was first elected President of Bolivia in 2005, indigeneity has moved from being a language of protest to a language of governance with concomitant profound changes in how indigeneity is imagined and mobilized. However, one of the striking features of Morales's presidency is his administration's open conflict with various indigenous groups. Although a number of scholars have addressed these issues, they have largely focused on the peculiarities of the Bolivian example in a Latin American context; this has obscured the advantage of significant comparative analysis with other areas of the world. I argue that indigeneity as it is currently practiced and understood is a recent global phenomenon and that there are more similarities between African countries and Bolivia than is generally appreciated. In particular, scholarly debates surrounding the difference between autochthony and indigeneity, and the case of Cameroon in particular, have much to offer in our understanding of the Bolivian case. To date, the primary frame for understanding indigeneity is an ethnic/cultural one and this can obscure important similarities and differences between groups. The comparative framework presented here allows for the development of analytical tools to distinguish fundamental differences and conflicts in indigenous discourses. I distinguish between five related conceptual pairs: majoritarian and minoritarian discourses; claims on the state and claims against the state; de-territorialized peoples versus territorialized peoples; hegemonic and counterhegemonic indigeneity; and substantive versus symbolic indigeneity. These nested pairs allow for analytic distinctions between indigenous rights discourses without recourse to discussions of culture and authenticity.

Slow Violence
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