This study will be conducted by University of Texas doctoral student Tathagatan Ravindran under the guidance of Dr. Charles Hale. This project explores how international discussions about indigeneity influence local social movements. The research is set in the Bolivian city of El Alto, which is an ideal locale for investigating globalization and indigenous social movements for a couple reasons. In addition to being the largest indigenous city in the Americas, it has also been at the center of multiple waves of mass popular mobilizations, particularly in the last decade. This research asks what these political mobilizations can tell social scientists about the nature of social relationships in ethnically diverse societies. Studies on El Alto in the 1980s and the 1990s revealed the existence of discrimination within the urban indigenous communities against recent rural immigrants who were seen to have more indigenous cultural traits. What influence then do indigenous political currents in the city have on discriminatory practices, political stability, and social relations? The research will be based on participant observation, interviews, and the collection of oral histories in two urban neighborhoods, which are both composed of rural migrants and have been active sites for indigenous social movements.
The study will advance anthropological understandings of urban indigeneities, social movements and socioeconomic inequalities. In particular, the project will transform anthropological understandings about what accelerates social movements, and what their impact is on local social relations. In addition to training a graduate student, the study will also contribute to public policy attempts to address social conflict and their resolution.
The intellectual merits of the study are be the following: It expands on the existing work on urban indigeneities, social movements/political mobilization and racism. The study contributes to social movement theory by linking social movement theories centered on identity with those centered on strategy and forms of organization, two aspects that have been analyzed separately. Besides that, this study examines the long term impacts social movements have on everyday social relations and the durable structures of social inequality. It discovers that the impact of the cycle of political mobilization in the early 2000s that seems to have been heavily influenced by anti-racist political discourse, has led to a revalorization of indigenous identity. However, it also reveals the persistence of racism in new guises, in very subtle forms. While most theories of racism theorize the relationship between the dominant and subordinate social groups, I expand its scope to look at the hegemonic construction of hierarchies between two subordinate social groups in Bolivia, namely the indigenous people from the highlands and lowlands. The studyâ€™s broader impact will be on the contemporary public debates on racism and anti-racist strategies within and outside Bolivia. I have disseminated the findings of the study among social movement activists, government officials, political leaders and international networks like the Hemispheric Network of Observatories on Racism. I have entered into a dilaogue with them on the subtle invisible forms in which racism persists and the possible ways in which social movements and state policies might unintentionally reproduce it. This, in turn, can lead to the formulation of better anti-racist strategies and public policies.