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States of Extraction: The Emergence and Effects of Indigenous Autonomy in the Americas

  • Author(s): Carter, Christopher Lee;
  • Advisor(s): Dunning, Thad S;
  • et al.

From the arrival of the first European settlers, indigenous groups in the Americas have experienced near-constant extraction of their land, labor, and capital, but they have also sometimes been offered greater autonomy over their local affairs. This dissertation explores the emergence and effects of indigenous autonomy. I investigate three central questions. Why do central states grant indigenous autonomy in some cases and not others? Why do native communities sometimes embrace government offers of autonomy and sometimes resist? And how does autonomy shape indigenous groups' long-term access to political representation? To answer these questions, I develop a theory that emphasizes the central explanatory role of resource extraction by state and private actors.

In a first section of the dissertation, I examine the decision by central states to grant indigenous autonomy. I argue that individual incumbents recognize autonomy when two conditions jointly obtain. First, national-level incumbents must view indigenous elites as strategic partners in achieving their central goal of remaining in power; this provides an incentive for incumbents to recognize autonomy. Second, rural elites, who view autonomy as a barrier to their extraction of indigenous land and labor, must be sufficently weak that they cannot block incumbents from recognizing indigenous autonomy. Once incumbents decide to grant autonomy, the specific form it takes--political or economic--depends on the relative value of indigenous factor endowments. To test this argument, I employ a series of historical and contemporary case studies from the Americas.

In a second section of the dissertation, I examine a central puzzle around indigenous community responses to autonomy. Scholars often argue that autonomy is the central demand of native groups. Yet, in a number of historical and contemporary cases, individual indigenous communities within a given country have resisted central state offers of greater autonomy. I argue that the decision of indigenous groups to embrace or resist autonomy arises from prior experiences with extraction, which may vary across native communities within the same country. Exposure to extraction by the central state generally leads indigenous communities to resist autonomy. Conversely, exposure to extraction by rural elites increases the likelihood that native communities embrace autonomy. I evaluate this argument using historical natural experiments from Peru and the United States, along with survey data and case studies from Bolivia.

In a final section of the dissertation, I examine how autonomy affects indigenous groups' representation within the state. I argue that economic autonomy undermines indigenous institutions and thereby reduces coordination to achieve political representation. I then argue that political autonomy often lumps disparate indigenous communities together, generating conflict and also undermining native groups' access to political representation. Granting both political and economic autonomy, on the other hand, may increase indigenous groups' access to political representation. I evaluate this argument using archival data, original surveys and experiments with indigenous elites, and natural experiments.

This dissertation develops and tests a theory that seeks to bridge historical and contemporary research on indigenous-state relations in the Americas. As such, it makes several distinct theoretical and substantive contributions. First, it highlights the key role of intra-elite conflict in shaping the decision of central states to extend indigenous autonomy. Second, it builds on a body of work in historical political economy that highlights the key role of extraction and factor endowments in shaping the long-term welfare of indigenous groups. Finally, the project highlights a number of important yet often understudied costs that may arise from autonomy. As I show in the different sections of the dissertation, autonomy may carry benefits for indigenous communities, but it may also increase their vulnerability to extraction by non-indigenous actors and reduce their long-term access to descriptive and substantive political representation.

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