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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The City Effect: Urban Institutions, Peripheries and Political Participations in Bolivia

  • Author(s): Cielo, Maria Cristina Malong
  • Advisor(s): Enriquez, Laura
  • et al.

Mass mobilizations by historically marginalized citizens of Bolivia have radically reconfigured the country's social and political landscape in the last decade. Their protests, struggles, and eventual ascent to state power have demanded new state-society relations that challenge "modern" forms of propertied citizenship and representative democracy. Among the principal actors in these transformations are the urban poor who live in precarious, informal areas at the edges of cities, known as "periurban" areas. Such areas are now home to between 40 and 60 percent of the urban population of Latin America. According to United Nations studies, a billion people now live in peripheral urban areas in developing countries, and their number will continue to grow by 25 million a year. What does this tremendous demographic shift mean in the context of rising social demands for equality and democracy?

This dissertation explores possibilities and challenges for the contemporary construction of more equitable cities and political communities, through a focus on its most marginalized sectors. It is based on research in periurban neighborhoods of Cochabamba, Bolivia, which I analyze in the context of rapidly evolving state-civil society relations in Bolivia, and in Latin America more generally. The study explores the daily practices - as shaped by the social institutions of property, resource management and political participation - that reconstruct and reformulate political identities over time. This project, thus, focuses on contemporary forms of belonging that have emerged as a result of and a response to the structures of exclusion that persist despite national and institutionalized participatory projects. In particular, I seek to understand the role that contemporary state-directed institutions play in producing collective political subjects who struggle over legitimate definitions of property, access to resources and legitimacy.

These institutions encourage certain logics, practices and political subjectivities over others, concurrently promoting particular forms of social and political relations. I am particularly interested in the ways that the institutionalized distinctions between the formal and informal, the lived distinctions between included and excluded, and the subjective distinctions between center and the periphery define different periurban collective perspectives. These distinctions produce the city and the state as central and determinant structures that seem to exist apart from, and shape the lives of, peripheral actors. Following Timothy Mitchell's (1998) compelling definition of the "state effect," in which such distinctions are embedded in institutions, bureaucracies and practices and help to maintain a given political and economic order, my dissertation explores the "city effect." This approach highlights the ways in which the powers of the city and the state do not lie in their inviolable permanence, but rather in the institutions that stabilize their permanence. Urban and governmental institutions shape daily practices and naturalize conceptual distinctions and categories. These conceptions imply a model of liberal inclusion that reinforces inequalities by depoliticizing subject positions as it obscures the inherently political constitution of social subjects.

I focus, particularly, on the formation of collective logics and political subjects in neighborhoods in peripheral urban areas of Bolivia's growing cities, which have become important spaces in the socio-political transformations in the country. By looking at the power of dominant institutions that shape Bolivian cities, as well as challenges to their exclusionary mechanisms, I seek to better understand the nation's and the region's contemporary transformations. Periurban residents' collective forms and practices, forged at the crossroads of the city's institutional mechanisms and their own recombinant collective capacities, point to alternative visions of development and state-society relations. The very liminality of peripheral social forms and practices questions the legitimacy of the urban and state structures that marginalize them.

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