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Place and the politics of knowledge in rural Bolivia: A postcoloniality of development, ecology, and well-being

Karen Marie Lennon, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation is a study of the dynamics of place and people in a rural municipality in southeastern Bolivia. A study of the dialectical relations between knowledge, ecology, and culture that are manifest through the daily life of the municipality, it is an ethnography that illuminates the multiple discourses of colonialism, nationalism, modernity and decolonization that overlay one another. The contradictions and tensions produced through these intersecting discourses represent major obstacles to the project of "decolonization" and the formation of viable and equitable "intercultural" relationships, as promoted by the indigenous leadership which is the governing party of the Bolivian state since 2006. This yearlong ethnography of everyday life, conducted together with semi-annual follow up visits, reveals how people within the municipality negotiate differing and conflicting life worlds: one sustained by traditional practices of barter and local knowledge about farming, food, health and ecology); and the other governed by bureaucratic agencies and professional expertise. These life worlds signify contrasting notions about development and well-being, culture, and politics; and how between both of these it enables an equivalence that moves us closer toward the decolonizing imperative. Taking a postcolonial approach, I argue that knowledge and the systems of education in which knowledge is largely disseminated (schools, health facilities, NGOs, municipal venues, television, Internet, etc.) are crucial places for moving toward critical reflections, social change, and justice. I also intertwine an analysis of food not only as an agricultural product, but as an integral component of communal livelihoods, interactions with others, and nutritional well-being (physical, mental, and spiritual). Using concepts of border crossings and analyses to perceive and interpret local knowledge occurring in and from the margins of development, ecology, and "well-being," I advocate for the need to disrupt systems of geopolitical values, racial configurations, and hierarchical structures of meaning and knowledge in order to see and validate multiple ways of thinking, knowing and doing. Therefore, rural localities such as this one are essential "places" to learn from and learn with, and to include in the critical discussions and debates on decolonization, inter/intra-culturality, development, and well-being.^

Subject Area

Ecology|Social sciences education|Latin American studies|Political science

Recommended Citation

Lennon, Karen Marie, "Place and the politics of knowledge in rural Bolivia: A postcoloniality of development, ecology, and well-being" (2012). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3518384.