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Women and Indigenous Movements in Bolivia: Examining the Relationship between Political Economy and Social Movements

Angus McNelly
PhD Candidate, School of Politics & IR
Primary Supervisor:
Jeffrey Webber
Secondary Supervisor:
James Dunkerley

My route into Politics and International Relations is somewhat unorthodox, having studied for an undergraduate degree in Economics and Mathematics at the University of Bristol and a master’s degree in Development Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies. A cross examination of neoclassical economic theory using the logic mathematics sparked a desire to critically engage with mainstream economic and political theory, something that was fostered during my time at SOAS.

My research project is an examination of women within the indigenous social movements that characterised the revolutionary period of 2000-2005 in Bolivia. These cycles of struggle, grounded in indigenous episteme and a history of radical syndicalism, threw up new and innovative ways of doing politics, eventually culminating in the writing of a new constitution through the participatory democratic process of the constituent assembly. What caused a population to rise up and reject the dominant social logic? And what were the alternatives that were conceived with and then proposed by such social struggles?

Much has been written about this period of Bolivia’s recent history. The most prominent areas of investigation have been the political economy of privatisation, and struggles against neoliberal reforms; the crisis in the liberal state and the political rupture caused by the social movements of this period; and the tensions that arise in a plurinational context shaped by multiple indigenous episteme operating alongside the occidental logic of the post colonial state. However, theorisation about women’s place in these events remains an obvious lacuna in the literature, and thus my research seeks to bridge the gap between analysis of struggles against the liberal state and neoliberalism; and women’s involvement in indigenous movements. I aim to do this by utilising a critical Marxist framework grounded in the work of the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, using theoretical developments that have emerged from Bolivia since the work of notable political theorist René Zavaleta Mercado.

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