'Es una comunidad libre' : contesting the potential of indigenous communities in southeastern Bolivia
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The thesis is a study of a Guaraní community (comunidad) situated in the Department of Santa Cruz in the southeastern lowlands of Bolivia. The thesis uses the concept of ‘comunidad’ as a focus of investigation. While this concept is one that is familiar and firmly embedded in contemporary discourses throughout Bolivia, the meanings which different people and interest groups attach to it and the purposes which they ascribe to it are far from unanimous. Apart from the physical and legal entity, comprising a group of people, the land on which they live, and the legal title for its ownership, a comunidad is a multifaceted and multilayered complex of diverging and sometimes competing ideas, desires and agendas. Questioning the concept of ‘comunidad’ in this way opens up new perspectives on what people are doing and why that could easily be overlooked in continuing to assume that we know what we are talking about when talking about a ‘comunidad indígena’ in Bolivia today. The thesis explores the case of Cañón de Segura by eliciting and bringing together the various claims and perspectives that impact on the lives of its inhabitants (comunarios). Starting with a historical overview to situate the comunidad within Bolivian and Guaraní history, the thesis moves into an ethnographic discussion of the comunarios’ own perceptions and meanings of ‘comunidad’, followed by an exploration of various outsiders’ perspectives on the same topic that impact on the comunarios’ lives in different ways. The aim of the thesis is to illustrate the overlap and entanglements between these different positions in order to show how the different perspectives on the meaning and purpose of a Guaraní ‘comunidad’ all contribute to shape the actual realities of people’s lives ‘on the ground’.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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