"Putting on a Poncho Does Not Make You an Indian": Identity, Class, and Strategic Framing in Bolivian Indigenous Movements

Friday, 20 July 2018: 16:00
Oral Presentation
Anna KRAUSOVA, University of Oxford, United Kingdom
Social movement scholarship has often pitted ‘old’ class-based organising against ‘new’ identity-focused movements. At the same time, indigenous people across the globe continue to struggle for both cultural recognition and material redistribution. Indigenous mobilisations have recently garnered renewed media attention, such as protests of Native American communities and their allies again the Dakota Access Pipeline in the US. Yet what do we mean by allies, and how easy it is to distinguish who is indigenous and who is not in the first place? In many instances, such as the case of Bolivia, this identity boundary is often blurred with fluid self-identification and indigeneity being taken up in various, often conflicting, political struggles. Even though Bolivia as a case of spectacular indigenous mobilisations has been studied extensively in the academic literature, less has been written about the complex interactions between indigenous communities and rural unions in Bolivia, and the way in which in which indigenous, rural and class identities are developed, negotiated and rallied around in rural politics and protest. This paper seeks to fill this gap by using the perhaps unique but illuminating case of Bolivia, specifically by comparing five indigenous social movement organisations in the country, two based on traditional community institutions and three on rural union structures. In particular, this paper traces both the alliances and the discords between these organisations since 2000, through their evolving relationship with the Evo Morales presidency they had helped bring to power. It conceptualises the symbolic use of indigeneity as a framing strategy, rather than a given, which indigenous social movement organisations have used in varied ways at different times. In doing so, it shows the strategic decision-making of indigenous leaders and activists throughout an evolving political landscape, and shows how the meaning of indigeneity itself is often part of such strategies.