This dissertation seeks to understand the conceptualization, structure, main benefits and challenges, and institutional environment for the Social Economy (SE) and Community Economic Development (CED) in Bolivia. In particular, the research seeks to understand if and how the SE and CED support shifts of indigenous peoples from spaces of marginalization to places of participation in economic, political, and socio-cultural terms. Bolivia provides a relevant context for exploring the intersections between questions of indigenous-led development, CED and the SE. A new constitution, adopted in February 2009, enshrines indigenous rights to traditional territories and self-governance; decentralization of resources and decision-making to local levels; and an economic development model that includes ‘social and community forms of economic organization’. Field research explored three cases of collective economic initiatives in rural indigenous communities in the Bolivian highlands within the context of changing local and national governance relationships. The research shows that the particularities of SE conceptualization and practice in Bolivia relate to the country’s indigenous and colonial heritage. There is significant variation in the structures, activities, and scales between the three cases, indicating heterogeneity in indigeneity and a corollary need to move past the traditional-modern dichotomy that shapes much discourse about indigenous peoples. The case studies demonstrate that SE and CED approaches can support improvements in local well-being, measured in social, economic, and cultural terms. Local institutions such as campesino unions and municipal governments are actively supporting the SE but are hindered by national policies and lack of capacity. Finally, place matters to the potential, form, and agency of development, since the culture, history, and institutions and web of interactions in each place can shape, support or impede efforts to foster the SE and CED. The Bolivian examples provide learnings that can be generalized to development theory and practice in general. Although the SE manifests in different forms in different places, it emerges for similar reasons – to address uneven development caused by the social and economic exclusion of particular places and groups of people at the local, national, and international levels. Previously colonized people can use SE and CED approaches to foster increased independence and collective well-being.
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Thesis advisor: Markey, Sean
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