Indigeneity, Constitutional Changes and Urban Policies: Conflicting Realities in La Paz, Bolivia and Quito, Ecuador

Horn, Philipp (2015). Indigeneity, Constitutional Changes and Urban Policies: Conflicting Realities in La Paz, Bolivia and Quito, Ecuador. PhD thesis The University of Manchester.



This thesis critically examines the role of indigeneity in urban policies and planning in a context of constitutional changes that have taken place in Bolivia and Ecuador in the recent decade. It departs from previous academic and policy research which mainly studied indigenous rights in rural areas and focused on urban indigenous peoples as outlawed, excluded, or insurgent subjects. Instead, it conceptualises the translation of indigenous rights into urban policies as a complex process in which a multiplicity of social actors – including government officials and urban indigenous groups – are involved. Drawing on the practice-centric literature on urban policy and planning, it recognises that the work of government officials is influenced by multiple factors such as constitutional texts as well as their personal views, interest group demands, and the wider structural and political environment surrounding them. Government attempts to translate indigenous rights are contrasted to urban indigenous peoples’ own understandings of indigeneity and associated interests and demands. In addition, this thesis uses an asset accumulation framework as well as the concept of tactics to identify how urban indigenous peoples address and negotiate their interests and demands and try to influence decision-making processes from the bottom-up.

The thesis relies on La Paz (Bolivia) and Quito (Ecuador) as ‘illustrative cases’ to study the role of indigeneity in urban policies. As both La Paz and Quito represent capital cities, it was possible to approach government officials operating at multiple scales – international, national and local – as well as ordinary urban indigenous residents. Methodologically, the thesis employs a qualitative, case study comparison and draws on information derived from semi-structured interviews, document analysis, participant observation and participatory focus groups conducted during eleven months of fieldwork. In terms of comparison, this thesis makes use of a variation-finding approach. By explaining variations between the cases through focusing on the unique processes and factors that shaped the translation of indigenous rights within each city, it intends to offer a more nuanced and context-responsive approach for studying urban indigeneity and addressing indigenous rights in cities.

A central finding of this thesis is that the incorporation of indigeneity into urban policies and indigenous people’s own practices to fulfil their specific demands were characterised by a set of conflicting realities: First, for government officials the translation of indigenous rights into urban policies sometimes clashed with other priorities – such as addressing universal rights and interests of non-indigenous pressure groups – or with their own views of the city as a ‘white’, ‘western’, and ‘modern’ places. Second, urban indigenous peoples articulated multiple and contradictory identities. They mainly did this by voicing specific demands for land – an important asset which they associated with the preservation of a communal and traditional lifestyle but also with aspirations to lead a modern and capitalist life in the city. Third, the findings reveal that indigenous peoples – particularly their community leaders – had to enter in negotiations with governments to access different assets such as land, housing, or education. In these processes leaders manoeuvred between different worlds. They had to conform to political agendas and – particularly in the case of Bolivia – to official spatialized understandings of identity and rights which often conflicted with their own sense of being indigenous in the city.

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