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Dignity for the Voiceless

Dignity for the Voiceless: Willem Assies's Anthropological Work in Context

Ton Salman
Salvador Martí i Puig
Gemma van der Haar
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 348
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  • Book Info
    Dignity for the Voiceless
    Book Description:

    Willem Assies died in 2010 at the age of 55. The various stages of his career as a political anthropologist of Latin American illustrate how astute a researcher he was. He had a keen eye for the contradictions he observed during his fieldwork but also enjoyed theoretical debate. A distrust of power led him not only to attempt to understand "people without voice" but to work alongside them so they could discover and find their own voice. Willem Assies explored the messy, often untidy daily lives of people, with their inconsistencies, irrationalities, and passions, but also with their hopes, sense of beauty, solidarity, and quest for dignity. This collection brings together some of Willem Assies's best, most fascinating, and still highly relevant writings.

    eISBN: 978-1-78238-293-5
    Subjects: Anthropology, Business, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Geert Banck

    It was a fateful day in May 2010. Willem had returned home for the weekend of Pentecost from Hannover, where he was a guest researcher at the Leibniz University. At dinner he choked on a piece of meat and fell into a coma, dying days later on May 22. His family, especially his partner Gemma and their young daughter Laura, were left in despair, his many friends in shock. How was this possible? Of course, this is a normal reaction when confronted by such a swift stroke of fate, and words likefateandfatefulcould be just a conventional...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)
    Gemma van der Haar, Salvador Martí i Puig and Ton Salman

    Soon after Willem Assies’s untimely death it became clear how intensively Assies had been involved in a broad range of lively correspondence with colleagues and students about his work, his ideas, his analyses, and his many publications. From one day to the next, all this came to a halt, leaving his many contacts not only in mourning but also bereft of cherished communications on all the themes Assies had worked and published about. Among these thematic fields—all focused on Latin America—were social movements, agrarian issues, indigenous (land) rights, ethnicity and citizenship, and political developments in Bolivia. To be...

  6. Part I. (Urban) Social Movements in Latin America

    • Introduction
      (pp. 9-10)
      Geert Banck

      In the post-1968 intellectual turmoil, debates raged about which strategies were best for a plethora of emancipatory mobilizations such as the peace and liberalization movements, feminist struggles, peasant and indigenous mobilizations, and, last but not least, urban movements. These calls for action were almost wholly grounded in Marxist theoretical debates, be it often mixed with an ever shifting bricolage of Gandhian nonviolent action, Lacanian psychology, Foulcaultian philosophy, and the Beatles’ song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” metaphor for drugs-related inspiring insights.

      In the spirit of 1968 there was not much room for Komintern orthodoxy, for Leninist central democracy in...

    • 1 Of Structured Moves and Moving Structures: An Overview of Theoretical Perspectives on Social Movements
      (pp. 11-42)

      In the preceding part of the essay, not reproduced here, Willem Assies basically explored the developments in (neo)Marxist thinking on (urban) social movements and their significance for “the revolution,” in class consciousness and the analysis of the development of capitalism. In the excerpt below, he turns his attention to developments in Latin America.

      When in the 1960s the term “marginality” was coined in Christian Democratic circles in Chile it was meant to refer to those who somehow remained “marginal” to the process of “modernization.” Marginality was becoming visible in the rapid growth of shanty towns around the major cities. According...

    • 2 Urban Social Movements, Democratization, and Democracy in Brazil
      (pp. 43-58)

      When Brazil entered its drawn-out process of democratic transition in the mid-1970s, one of the striking phenomena was the proliferation and vitality of neighborhood-based organizations and activism among the urban poor. Had not a kind of consensus been reached by then among social scientists about the latter’s relative conservatism and lack of revolutionary aspirations? That consensus had partly developed in response to versions of marginality theory that either feared or cherished a revolutionary propensity among the urban poor. Their social discontent, it was now argued, was limited, since they had turned out not to be so marginal after all, but...

  7. Part II. Agrarian Issues

    • Introduction
      (pp. 61-63)
      Cristóbal Kay

      Willem Assies published about nine essays on specifically agrarian issues. Besides the two essays selected for this section, his other agrarian essays are Assies 1997, 2000, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009a, and 2009b. Twenty-five years separate the publication of the two selected articles. The first article discusses the 1969 agrarian reform in Peru, while the second article deals with some aspects of the 1996 so-called “Ley INRA” in Bolivia, orLey del Instituto Nacional de Reforma Agrariato gives it its full title. This essay on Peru is his first publication and it is based on his MA thesis in anthropology...

    • 3 The Agrarian Question in Peru: Some Observations on the Roads of Capital
      (pp. 64-98)

      Under the military governments of Velasco (1968–1975) and Morales Bermúdez (1975–1980) one of the most important agrarian reforms of South American history took place in Peru. According to Alain de Janvry (1981) this reform involved a shift from a Junker-road to a farmer-road toward the development of capitalism in Peruvian agriculture. In the first part of this study de Janvry’s approach to the “agrarian question” and his evaluation of the Peruvian reform will be discussed. It will be argued that he overestimates the importance of farmer-type capitalism and pays too little attention to the cooperatives established during the...

    • 4 From Rubber Estate to Simple Commodity Production: Agrarian Struggles in the Northern Bolivian Amazon
      (pp. 99-148)

      In October 2001 the Bolivian government convoked an “Earth Summit” (Cumbre de la Tierra) to be held a month later. The previous years had seen an escalation of peasant unrest. In the Andean highlands the peasantry had turned increasingly to militant action with strong ethnic overtones. In the eastern tropical lowlands a colonists’ movement had gathered strength, and in the year 2000 a movement of landless peasants had erupted, eliciting a violent response from large landowners who, in turn, pressured the government with their own claims. By the end of June that same year indigenous people of the tropical lowlands...

  8. Part III. Indigenous (Land) Rights

    • Introduction
      (pp. 151-153)
      André J. Hoekema

      Assies’s involvement with the social movements of marginalized citizens and their fight against oppressive state policies brought him to the scene of numerous indigenous movements around the world. The next two articles relate the history of these now burgeoning indigenous movements and their plight to obtain recognition as distinct but equally respected communities within a multinational state.

      In the first article, “Self-Determination and the ‘New Partnership’” (1994), Assies sketches an image of the indigenous awakening all over the world that finally led to the official declaration of the United Nations’ Year of Indigenous Peoples (1993). Well-established notions of “the unity...

    • 5 Self-Determination and the “New Partnership”: The Politics of Indigenous Peoples and States
      (pp. 154-185)

      Under the heading “A New Partnership,” the United Nations have proclaimed 1993 the “International Year of the World’s Indigenous People.” This reflects the increasing success of indigenous peoples in manifesting themselves politically. A central demand of the international indigenous peoples’ movement is the right to self-determination. The states into which indigenous peoples have been forcefully incorporated perceive this demand as a threat to their sovereignty and territorial integrity. Moreover, the demand sits uneasily with the universalistic conception of citizenship. Indigenous peoples’ movements argue that they do not seek full independence, but arrangements for self-government that would allow them to preserve...

    • 6 Indian Justice in the Andes: Re-rooting or Re-routing?
      (pp. 186-206)

      “That’s to say, we thought that when whipping you should lash many times, but the elders said that that should not be done. You should only strike three times: in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. That is what God forgives.” It’s April 2001 and some thirty young Indians have come together for a workshop in Peguche, Ecuador, to discuss the findings from their research on Indian justice. A series of sanctions practiced in the communities passed review, such as bathing in very cold water or rubbing the body with stinging nettles. It was also...

  9. Part IV. Ethnicity and Citizenship

    • Introduction
      (pp. 209-211)
      Salvador Martí i Puig

      I met Willem Assies in Barcelona in May 2004 when he participated in a seminar that I was coordinating: “Indigenous Peoples in Latin America: The Current Situation and Their Challenges.” However, as often happens in these cases, I had already been familiar with his work for some time.

      The first time I read one of his texts was in the 1990s, when I was carrying out research on the Sandinistas’ agrarian reform and the peasantcontra. At the time, Willem Assies was involved in the agrarian debates that set those supporting the peasants against those who supported the pro-development industrialists,...

    • 7 The Limits of State Reform and Multiculturalism in Latin America: Contemporary Illustrations
      (pp. 212-229)

      In early 2000, the city of Cochabamba, Bolivia, was the scene of a pitched battle known as the Water War.Aguas del TunariCompany, a Bolivian corporation linked to the multi-national consortium Bechtel, won water development and distribution rights in Cochabamba through a shady process, and then boosted city water rates supposedly to help finance improved services. The protest that followed was not just an urban consumer revolt or an isolated event. Irrigators in the region who saw their rights to water threatened were also involved and the Water War ultimately resulted in a substantial amendment to the Drinking Water...

    • 8 Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: Indigenous Peoples and Autonomies in Latin America
      (pp. 230-264)

      The last three decades of the past century have seen a remarkable surge of activism by and on behalf of indigenous peoples in Latin America. States, in turn, have responded by formally abandoning the integrationist and assimilationist policies ofindigenismoand have reformed their constitutions to recognize the pluriethnic and multicultural composition of their populations.¹ The region furthermore stands out for the fact that among the seventeen countries that ratified ILO Convention 169 (1989) thirteen are Latin American.² The constitutional reforms and the ratification of ILO Convention 169, one might surmise, provide a legal framework for the emergence of autonomy...

  10. Part V. Political Developments in Bolivia

    • Introduction
      (pp. 267-268)
      Ton Salman

      Willem Assies began to work on Bolivia systematically in 1994 with a range of publications on, for example, tropical rain forest extraction policies, questions of ethnicity, protest movements, and political developments in general, for which he became a frequently asked specialist. In 2000, he was among the first to publish on the now iconic “Water War” in Cochabamba. The first Spanish version of that article was published in 2001 in the Bolivian journalT’inkazos; the revised English version of 2003 is published here along with another article on ethnopolitics in Bolivia that was published in 2006. A selection of two...

    • 9 David versus Goliath in Cochabamba: Water Rights, Neoliberalism, and the Revival of Social Protest in Bolivia
      (pp. 269-291)

      “Ours is a small country and it hardly owns anything anymore. Our mines were privatized, the electrification company was privatized, and the airlines, the telecommunications, the railways, our oil and gas. The things we still own are the water and the air, and we have struggled to make sure that the water continues to be ours,” said Oscar Olivera, a trade-union leader from Cochabamba, Bolivia, addressing one of the assemblies protesting the annual spring meeting of the IMF/World Bank in Washington, DC, in April 2000. Olivera had been freshly flown in from the city that had been the scene of...

    • 10 Neoliberalism and the Reemergence of Ethnopolitics in Bolivia
      (pp. 292-316)

      Bolivia, although a much poorer country than most of its neighbors, was not a stranger to welfare policies. During the middle decades of the twentieth century, it had taken steps toward the development of programs dedicated to economic and social security. Although the system was limited in many ways, it did provide elements of protection to at least some parts of the population. In the 1980s and 1990s, however, two major trends transformed the Bolivian political landscape. One was neoliberalism, which exposed the population to significant economic hardship and reduced the limited social programs that had been inherited from the...

  11. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 317-318)
  12. Bibliography Willem Assies
    (pp. 319-330)
  13. Index
    (pp. 331-334)