About AY243: Globalization, Democracy and Political Transformation in Bolivia


Jan Plan 2016

In this JanPlan, we will examine the impact of globalized markets, recent economic and political transformations, and the social movements that attempt to institute reforms through democratic participation in daily life. Bolivia is one of the most interesting countries in which to consider these issues. One of the poorest countries in the hemisphere, Bolivia has been historically politically unstable, and deeply connected to the global economy, as a provider of raw materials (silver, tin, and now coca for the illicit cocaine trade) and as a site for interventions from the International Monetary Fund and other multilateral financial institutions. Despite a majority indigenous population, poor and indigenous people have historically been largely marginalized from political participation. Large protest movements have been successful in opposing official privatization efforts, most notably in 2000 in the case of the water system in Cochabamba, and in later efforts to privatize the country’s natural gas reserves.

In 2005, Evo Morales, a coca federation leader and head of the Movement to Socialism (MAS) party, was elected the country’s first indigenous president. Despite opposition from the country’s elite, he has pushed forward economic and political changes that he claims will improve the living conditions of the poor majority. Since he has come to office, poverty has dramatically declined and the economy has grown. During our time in Bolivia, we will examine these issues, their impact on the daily lives of Bolivians, and the role of the US and other members of the international community. We will also consider the conflicting political claims emerging from the development of an alternative development philosophy promoted by indigenous organizations around el Buen Vivir, life in harmony with others and the environment.

Goals for the course: Students will learn a range of perspectives on recent Bolivian history, and gain the ability to analyze Bolivian politics, economy and social relations. Students will identify and trace critical forms of interconnection between Bolivia and contemporary global systems. Students will build an understanding of anthropological vocabulary and concepts. Through reading and class discussions, students will develop their skills of anthropological thinking and critical analysis, and enhance their ability to express complex ideas and to support their arguments using concrete evidence in both written and oral modes of communication. Students will conduct original research and learn to reflect critically on international fieldwork.

This program is based in Cochabamba. Students live with Bolivian host families. We will hear presentations from leading analysts and activists in the region. We will also travel to the coca-growing region of the Chapare, where we will have the opportunity to interview coca farmers, development workers, and government officials.

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