Dr Lorenza Fontana recently attened the graduate conference ‘Contentions against neoliberalism:Reconstituting the social fabric in the developing world’ – Democracy, Governance and Development Conference Series at the Oxford Department of International Development (ODID) at the University of Oxford.
The title of the paper was titled; From Neoliberal Multiculturalism to Plurinational Developmentalism: Land Reform, Rural Movements and Intra-societal Conflicts in Contemporary Bolivia.
In Latin America, the problems linked to the control, ownership and exploitation of land have been at the bases of important mobilizations, and social movements have historically been the articulators of these struggles. In particular, claims for land regulation and tenure has been part of the agenda of the two main traditions that historically articulated political struggles and rural corporative identities in Bolivia:indianism/indigenism and peasant unionism. In the 90s, the legal framework that regulated land tenure in Bolivia since the national revolution of 1952 was deeply modified. The very symbolic and political value of land started to shift from a traditional classist-redistributive focus towards a growing emphasis on cultural and social dimensions. This reform led by the neoliberal governments in power triggered a process of social fragmentation and a series of conflicts among social movements. This trend continued also in the postneoliberal era, with the election of the coca growers leader Evo Morales as new Bolivian president, at the head of a social coalition mainly formed by rural-based movements. We argue that the recent wave of conflicts over land and resources among socialorganizations in Bolivia should be intended as a compelling empirical evidence ofthe problems related to misleading assumptions at the bases of neoliberal multiculturalism but also of plurinational land reforms. Namely, the fact that recognition holds a performative power, that identity should not be treated as an exogenous variables and that society is not a compact entity. Indeed, changes in the allocation of strategic resources inspired by the so-called politics of recognition triggered processes of political ethnicization and identitarian fragmentation, eventually contributing to fuel new types of conflicts over land between (pre-existent or brand new) indigenous groups and peasant unions. Relying upon empirical evidence collected during two years of fieldwork in Bolivia, the paper will highlight the limitations of purely economistic approaches to the agrarian question as well as of some key epistemological premises embedded in the so-called ‘theories of recognition’. It will highlight In the conclusions, the dichotomies recognition vs. redistribution, state vs. civil society and rights vs. claims will be object of an in-depth critical discussion.