New Languages of the State

Indigenous Resurgence and the Politics of Knowledge in Bolivia

New Languages of the State

Narrating Native Histories

More about this series

Book Pages: 352 Illustrations: 8 photographs, 1 table, 1 map Published: July 2009

Author: Bret Gustafson

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Latin American Studies > Andes, Pedagogy and Higher Education

During the mid-1990s, a bilingual intercultural education initiative was launched to promote the introduction of indigenous languages alongside Spanish in public elementary schools in Bolivia’s indigenous regions. Bret Gustafson spent fourteen years studying and working in southeastern Bolivia with the Guarani, who were at the vanguard of the movement for bilingual education. Drawing on his collaborative work with indigenous organizations and bilingual-education activists as well as more traditional ethnographic research, Gustafson traces two decades of indigenous resurgence and education politics in Bolivia, from the 1980s through the election of Evo Morales in 2005. Bilingual education was a component of education reform linked to foreign-aid development mandates, and foreign aid workers figure in New Languages of the State, as do teachers and their unions, transnational intellectual networks, and assertive indigenous political and intellectual movements across the Andes.

Gustafson shows that bilingual education is an issue that extends far beyond the classroom. Public schools are at the center of a broader battle over territory, power, and knowledge as indigenous movements across Latin America actively defend their languages and knowledge systems. In attempting to decolonize nation-states, the indigenous movements are challenging deep-rooted colonial racism and neoliberal reforms intended to mold public education to serve the market. Meanwhile, market reformers nominally embrace cultural pluralism while implementing political and economic policies that exacerbate inequality. Juxtaposing Guarani life, language, and activism with intimate portraits of reform politics among academics, bureaucrats, and others in and beyond La Paz, Gustafson illuminates the issues, strategic dilemmas, and imperfect alliances behind bilingual intercultural education.


New Languages of the State is a vital contribution to understanding what Xavier Albó calls ‘the return of the Indian’ (7), and Gustafson’s nuanced findings, as well as his robust methods of ethnographic inquiry, should prove to be influential as we continue to explore this evolving zone of social transformation.” — John H. McDowell, Journal of Folklore Research

New Languages of the State is as much a rich, careful study of language and social identity by an anthropologist as a labor of love from someone who shares the indigenous cause.” — Kwai Hang Ng, American Journal of Sociology

“[New Languages of the State] is a spectacularly successful example of how to write multi-sited and multi-scalar ethnography. Divided into three sections with interludes that turn vivid narratives of personal experience into key analytical questions, beautifully crafted writing fuses thick description of people and places with consistently perceptive analysis. The book’s discussion of the problems of challenging the coloniality of power through education has significance beyond Latin America, without sacrifice of careful contextualization.” — John Gledhill, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

“Although the ethnographic lens in New Languages focuses less on classrooms and schools than on government ministries, development agencies, teachers’ union and Guarani movement spaces, Gustafson skillfully shifts and refocuses his work’s temporal and spatial scope across many sites, capturing these diverse actors’ interventions in education reform. The effect is a rich composite picture of the processes unfolding around education policy in Bolivia. . . . With increasing discussion in Bolivia and beyond about what the ‘decolonization’ of education could look like, New Languages provides a welcome contribution.” — Karl F. Swinehart, Anthropology & Education Quarterly

New Languages of the State is an excellent and engaging piece of scholarly work, based on long-term ethnographic and historical research in three diverse areas of enquiry, which the author articulates into a complex study of the state, education reform, and indigenous movements. It should appeal to scholars interested in these themes in Latin America and in other regions of the world.” — Maria L. Lagos, American Ethnologist

“Bret Gustafson has written a subtle and illuminating ethnography of the interactions and intersections of grassroots and official projects of interculturalism in Bolivia. . . . A core success of the book stems from Gustafson’s ability to push against unidirectional analytic or critical positions without leaving readers stranded on islands of particularism or mired in irreducible complexity.” — Andrew Orta, Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology

“Gustafson has written a magisterial book on Indigenous politics in Bolivia that should be required reading for all graduate students interested in Indigenous politics, decolonization, and political ethnography.” — José Antonio Lucero, A Contracorriente

“Gustafson’s nuanced and dynamic portrait of reform provides a wealth of information and insight for followers of indigenous education and politics. Hopefully, his narrative about this oft-neglected corner of the globe will find an audience not only among fellow anthropologists but among educational activists and policy-makers as well.” — Aurolyn Luykx, Anthropos

“In New Languages of the State, Gustafson provides the vivid narrative of EIB from the colonizers’ destruction and violence, which is justified and legitimated by the colonizers, through the Guaraní challenge and resistance to the official lies. Students of bilingual education everywhere will benefit from reading this account because everywhere, bilingual education is about challenging and resisting the hegemony of colonizers and their languages.” — Sheila M. Shannon, Latin American Politics and Society

“While arguably the best ethnography of Guarani country produced in recent years, Gustafson’s book is also situated at the intersections of state-building and social movements; it will therefore be of broad interest to scholars in anthropology, political science, sociology, and beyond. . . . This book is clearly a major contribution to our understanding of contemporary Bolivia, indigenous movements, and the politics of indigenous education. . . . With a keen understanding of the contentious nature of Bolivian society, Gustafson has provided a complex and compelling portrait of new forms of struggle, belonging, and hope. As news of violent conflicts in Bolivia continues to surface, the need for such a message could scarcely be more urgent.” — María Elena Garcí, Current Anthropology

“A beautifully crafted, magnificently expansive, and inspiring work of engaged historical ethnography! Bret Gustafson traces Bolivia’s heralded experiment in bilingual education by planting it deep in the subsoil of Guaraní culture and politics and by projecting it against the larger canvass of neoliberal reformism in the 1990s. In plotting the choreography of state, NGO, and grassroots struggles over indigenous knowledge and schooling, Gustafson opens up new horizons on Bolivia’s vibrant Guaraní movement and its radicalizing agendas in the early 2000s. This is, quite simply, the work of a seasoned anthropologist and gifted writer.” — Brooke Larson, author of Trials of Nation Making. Liberalism, Race, and Ethnicity in the Andes, 1810-1910

“Much anticipated by anthropologists of Latin America, New Languages of the State is an entirely new contribution to the ethnography of the Andes, and it speaks to much broader issues about development banks, globalization, indigenous movements, and more. Bret Gustafson makes sense of transnational processes, bureaucratic logics, and ideological formations by moving between diverse locales in Bolivia, from the most remote locations in Chaco, to the upscale professional offices of La Paz, and then on to international meetings in Thailand and the United States.” — Julia Paley, author of Marketing Democracy: Power and Social Movements in Post-Dictatorship Chile


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Bret Gustafson is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis.

Table of Contents Back to Top
About the Series ix

Acknowledgments xi

Acronyms xv

On Languages and Labels xix

Introduction. Ethnographic Articulations in the Age of Pachakuti 1

Part 1. Resurgent Knowledge

1. Soldiers, Priests, and Schools: State Building in the Andes and the Guarani Frontier 33

Interlude. To Camiri 61

2. Guarani Scribes: Bilingual Education as Indigenous Resurgence 65

Interlude. To Itavera 95

3. Guarani Katui: Schooling, Knowledge, and Movement in Itavera 101

Part 2. Transnational Articulations

Interlude. To La Paz, via Thailand 135

4. Networking Articulations: EIB from Project to Policy 143

Interlude. Bolivia or Yugoslavia 171

5. Prodding Nerves: Intercultural Disruption and Managerial Control 175

Part 3. Return to Struggle

Interlude. La Indiada, como para Dar Miedo 209

6. Insurgent Citizenship: Interculturalism beyond the School 215

Interlude. Interculturalism to Decolonization 247

7. Shifting States 253

Notes 285

Glossary 301

References 303

Index 319
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4546-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4529-9
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