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Along the Bolivian Highway

Along the Bolivian Highway: Social Mobility and Political Culture in a New Middle Class

Miriam Shakow
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Along the Bolivian Highway
    Book Description:

    Along the Bolivian Highwaytraces the emergence of a new middle class in Bolivia, a society commonly portrayed as the site of struggle between a superwealthy white minority and a destitute indigenous majority. Miriam Shakow shows how Bolivian middle classes have deeply shaped politics and social life. While national political leaders like Evo Morales have proclaimed a new era of indigenous power and state-led capitalism in place of racial exclusion and neoliberal free trade, Bolivians of indigenous descent who aspire to upward mobility have debated whether to try to rise within their country's longstanding hierarchies of race and class or to break down those hierarchies. The ascent of indigenous politics, and a boom in coca and cocaine production beginning in the 1970s, have created dilemmas for "middling" Bolivians who do not fit the prevailing social binaries of white elite and indigenous poor. In their family relationships, political activism, and community life, the new middle class confronted competing moral imperatives.Focusing on social and political struggles that hinged on class and racial status in a provincial boomtown in central Bolivia, Shakow recounts the experiences of first-generation teachers, agronomists, lawyers, and prosperous merchants. They puzzled over whom to marry, how to claim public interest in the face of accusations of selfishness, and whether to seek political patronage jobs amid high unemployment. By linking the intimate politics within families to regional and national power struggles,Along the Bolivian Highwaysheds light on what it means to be middle class in the global south.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0982-2
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Note on Language
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-19)

    This book traces the experience of a new Bolivian middle class. Though seldom acknowledged, middle classes have deeply influenced politics and social life in Bolivia, as in much of Latin America and the Third World.¹ Over the past twenty years, with the rise of powerful new leftist parties, Bolivians have faced surprising dilemmas in their everyday lives. Those who aspire to become middle class—first-generation teachers, agronomists, lawyers, and prosperous merchants—have encountered daily conflicts over the question of whether to promote racial and class superiority or equality. Their personal struggles to assert themselves as morally upright, sometimes through ideals...

  5. Chapter 1 The Formation of a New Middle Class
    (pp. 20-33)

    Marisol, a Sacaba pharmacist, provides one example of the difficulties the MAS government faced in convincing most Bolivians to identify themselves as indigenous members of the working orcampesino(peasant) classes. In August 2009, four years after Evo was elected president, Marisol was thirty-three years old. She had opened her pharmacy five years before in Sacaba’s busy provincial town plaza after becoming the first person in her family to go to college. Marisol wore her straight, jet-black hair long, in the style of many working-class women in Bolivia’s cities and provincial towns, and she was always immaculately groomed. The three...

  6. Chapter 2 The Intimate Politics of New Middle Classes in Sacaba
    (pp. 34-72)

    Doña Saturnina Ramírez was in her late sixties in 2013, a plump, formidable woman.¹ She had many godchildren, evidence that she was held in high esteem by many people in her hometown of Choro, even as some of Choro’s poorest residents were intimidated by her sometimes severe manner and by her children’s astounding professional achievements. Doña Saturnina’s family trajectory illustrated the sudden windfall that the coca boom had meant for many Sacabans. She wore a fullpolleraskirt and her hair, streaked with gray, in two long braids. As acholain early twenty-first century Bolivia, she identified herself as...

  7. Chapter 3 Middling Sacabans Respond to Evo and MAS
    (pp. 73-118)

    As she stepped through my front door in January 2006, a week after Evo Morales’s inauguration as president, Amanda fairly pounced on the newspaper on my kitchen table. She asked if it listed Evo’s newly announced cabinet ministers. I opened the newspaper and showed her the chart that listed the ministers’ names and pictures. This line of photos presented a startling departure from those of prior administrations in that it included several women. Amanda looked right at the photo of the new minister of justice, who gazed soberly out from the page; her skin was dark and she wore her...

  8. Chapter 4 Condemning Clientelism
    (pp. 119-154)

    In early May 2006, the leaders of the Sacaba municipal branch of the MAS party called an emergency public meeting. Sacaba MAS leaders were outraged that the Sacaba City Council had recently forced the MAS mayor, Luis Orellana, to resign. City council members had charged Mayor Orellana with corruption and the failure to buildobras—infrastructure projects such as bridges and schools. Orellana’s ouster followed six years of political turmoil in Sacaba Municipality and the untimely downfall of four previous mayors following similar charges of corruption. At the public meeting, the MAS leaders hoped to galvanize support from rank-and-file supporters...

  9. Chapter 5 Laments of Betrayal
    (pp. 155-181)

    Many people in Sacaba, like national policy makers, argued that clientelism, liberal democracy, and grassroots indigenist democracy were utterly opposed to one another. Yet these distinctions often broke down in practice. What one person condemned aspeguismo, the giving and receiving of patronage jobs through clientelism, another person defended as affirmative action or the hiring of a qualified person who deserved it. Furthermore, Sacabans’ arguments that a stark opposition existed between subalterns and elites in theory was confounded in practice by middling identities and levels of wealth, as when Doña Felisa portrayed her own newfound prosperity as representative of the...

  10. Chapter 6 Middle Classes and Debates over the Definition of Community
    (pp. 182-208)

    October 3, 2005, was a bright, chilly, spring morning. In the Rural Planning Office on the second floor of Sacaba’s city hall, several men and women were entering data into Excel spreadsheets. The high ceilings and battered, ornate ironwork on the office doors betrayed the age of the building, circa 1880. Inside, across from me at a scuffed table, sat Don Carlos and Lucho, his enthusiastic agronomist friend and employee. Completing the group was Diego, a high-ranking municipal planning official who lived in an expensive gated high-rise condo building in Cochabamba City. Diego’s chain-smoked cigarettes filled the office with a...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 209-216)

    I was leaving Doña Patricia’s house in the urban corridor of Sacaba in May 2006. We had been speaking for three hours, during which she had offered tale after tale of political double-dealing, the selfishness of other political activists, and the betrayal of her hopes to become a Sacaba city council member. Her faith in the Sacaba MAS party—or any political party—as an agent of radical transformation had been deeply shaken. But as she accompanied me through her flower garden and bid me goodbye in the hot, late afternoon sun, Doña Patricia worried out loud that her focus...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 217-230)
  13. Family Tree of Doña Saturnina Ramírez
    (pp. 231-232)
  14. Glossary
    (pp. 233-234)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 235-248)
  16. Index
    (pp. 249-256)
  17. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 257-262)