Gender and Modernity in Andean Bolivia

[ Latin American Studies ]

Gender and Modernity in Andean Bolivia

By Marcia Stephenson

How the state's desire for a racially and culturally homogenous society has been deployed through images of womanhood that promote the notion of an idealized, acculturated female body.



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6 x 9 | 271 pp.

ISBN: 978-0-292-77743-9

In Andean Bolivia, racial and cultural differences are most visibly marked on women, who often still wear native dress and speak an indigenous language rather than Spanish. In this study of modernity in Bolivia, Marcia Stephenson explores how the state's desire for a racially and culturally homogenous society has been deployed through images of womanhood that promote the notion of an idealized, acculturated female body.

Stephenson engages a variety of texts-critical essays, novels, indigenous testimonials, education manuals, self-help pamphlets, and position papers of diverse women's organizations-to analyze how the interlocking tropes of fashion, motherhood, domestication, hygiene, and hunger are used as tools for the production of dominant, racialized ideologies of womanhood. At the same time, she also uncovers long-standing patterns of resistance to the modernizing impulse, especially in the large-scale mobilization of indigenous peoples who have made it clear that they will negotiate the terms of modernity, but always "as Indians."

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction. Race, Gender, and Modernity in the Bolivian Andes
  • Chapter One. Skirts and Polleras: Ideologies of Womanhood and the Politics of Resistance in La Paz, 1900-1952
  • Chapter Two. Mothering The Nation: Antonio Díaz Villamil's La niña de sus Ojos
  • Chapter Three. Dismembered Houses
  • Chapter Four. Fashioning The National Subject: Pedagogy, Hygiene, and Apparel
  • Chapter Five. The Politics of Hunger
  • Afterword. "'AlterNative' Institutions"
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

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"¡Unidos pares el cambio!" [United for Change!]. In the June 1993 Bolivian elections, this slogan galvanized popular support for the slate pairing reformist presidential candidate Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada (Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario [Revolutionary Nationalist Movement]) and the Aymara Indian vice presidential candidate, Victor Hugo Cárdenas (Movimiento Revolucionario Tupaj Katari de Liberación [Tupaj Katari Revolutionary Movement for Liberation]). The conventional reading of the phrase suggests a commonality of purpose among diverse ethnic and social groups in support of state and economic reform. At the same time, the slogan and the poster images of the two politicians together position the running mates in such a way as to enable a reading of them as marriage partners in a union that paradigmatically correlates modernization with miscegenation. Indeed, the prevailing historical tradition has consistently aligned rural indigenous peoples with the feminine insofar as they are perceived by the (white) metropolitan criollo elites as being outside the dominant sociosymbolic order. The seemingly egalitarian guise of pluralism represented in the presidential ticket effectively negates the legitimacy of those demands put forth by urban and rural indigenous social movements because the new government's policies privilege a racially neutral modernity of private property and individual rights over and against "underdeveloped" indigenous peoples and their communal identities (see Rivera Cusicanqui 1993). To gain full understanding of this impetus to create a coherent, totalizing identity, one needs to appreciate how modernity tries to relocate subjects in terms of their cultural, racial, gendered, and spatial identities.

Hegemonic appeals to modernize attempt to legitimize political, social, and economic practices that endorse racial homogenization. By promoting racial acculturation, modernization seeks to "reform" communal indigenous socioeconomic practices based upon exchange and reciprocity in favor of a liberal economic enterprise that endorses participation in market systems as individual producers and consumers. In Bolivia, therefore, hegemonic discourses have anxiously reiterated a desire for the selfsame throughout the twentieth century. Such desire can guarantee its own reproduction only through the repression of both internal and external contradictions. Hegemonic criollo notions of modernity consistently emphasize the dividing line, or threshold, that distinguishes between the familiar (civilized) interior and the unfamiliar or unrecognizable (barbaric) exterior. This prevailing imaginary depends on the deployment of multiple boundaries that necessarily reinforce differences between the inside and the outside.

These boundaries differentiating the space of the modern selfsame from the premodern other, however, are neither fixed nor stable. A brief consideration of the terminology used to delineate the territories of identity in Andean Bolivia reveals their ambiguous contours. For example, during the twentieth century, the words "criollo," "mestizo," "cholo," and "Indian" have conveyed spatial, economic, political, and racial implications. If Indians tend to be associated predominantly with a rural, agrarian, collective identity, criollos, mestizos, and cholos are more apt to live in urban centers. Although the term "criollo" originally designated people of Spanish descent born in the Americas, in the Andean region, it has come to mean a member of the oligarchy, someone who holds sway over economic, legislative, and judicial power. Often referred to by Indians as "los blancos" [whites], criollos speak Spanish and identify generally with western notions of civilization, progress, (neo)liberal market relations, and citizens' rights.

On the changing meaning of the term "Indian," Olivia Harris contends that during the colonial period, Indians were a "fiscal category," thereby being defined and situated in relationship to the colonial state according to their economic obligations (Harris 1995: 354). This positioning underwent change during the mid-nineteenth century as increasing distinctions between Indians and mestizos became more significant: "The contrast between tribute-paying Indians and those who enjoyed access to their labor and resources as intermediaries of the state was thus increasingly inscribed as an ethnic difference" (361). In accordance with Harris, Brooke Larson notes how, during the period between 1880 and 1930, the designation "Indian" underwent social, economic, and ethnic transformation when liberal and positivist discourses recast the Indian as "an impoverished, hapless, illiterate, and uncivilized subject ... who remained on the margins of the market economy, neither interested in nor capable of mercantile initiative or productive enterprise" (Larson 1995: 29; see also Harris 1995: 364-367). Larson and Harris identify this period of the fin de siècle, with its shift in economic and ideological discourses, as the historical era when criollos defined the Indian as a being situated politically and economically at the periphery of the incipient culture of modernity (Larson 1995: 29-30).

Mestizo identity similarly underwent redefinition during the nineteenth century to take on increasing importance as an economic and political category. Moreover, new racist ideologies facilitated the notion of a homogeneous indigenous people, distinct from the mestizos: "In fact, it is plausible to argue that it was precisely because the relationship between mestizos and Indians was not securely a class one that ethnic difference became so important a means for mestizos to legitimate their domination over the Indians. This would help explain the paradoxical nature of mestizo 'identity' which in some cases seems to reside in nothing more secure than not being Indian" (Harris 1995: 366-367; emphasis in the original). In the twentieth century, the phrase "acculturated mestizo" refers to someone who can pass as white. Passing, in this context, similarly carries racial, cultural, and economic meaning. An acculturated or westernized mestizo speaks Spanish (even though the person may be bilingual), wears western clothing, and emulates western values and market relations.

In contrast, the cholo is an urban mestizo whose cultural and ethnic ties associate him more closely with communal, indigenous practices than with western traditions and values. Some contend that, in particular, the working-class chola constitutes a third term in the white-indigenous binary. For example, historian Rossana Barragán has observed that cholas consciously distinguish themselves through their clothing from criollas as well as from indigenous women (Barragán 1992). It can be argued, therefore, that Andean tradition and western modernity collide in the figure of the chola: "¡sí, la emergencia de la figura de las cholas [18th c.] representa no sólo la ruptura de la dualidad indios versus españoles-criollos relacionada a la emergencia de nuevas actividades económico-sociales, sino también la interferencia de los valores entre ambos mundos y la creación de una identidad conflictiva que lleva en su seno, simultáneamente la 'tradición' y la 'modernidad"' (Barragán 1992: 61) [In this way, the emergence of the figure of the cholas (18th c.) represents not only the rupture of the duality Indians versus Spanish-criollos caused by the emergence of new economic and social activities, but also the interference of the values of both worlds and the creation of a conflicting identity that carries in its core, simultaneously, "tradition" and "modernity"].

Due to the reformulation of the terms "Indian" and "mestizo" at the turn of the twentieth century, the country's complex matrix of race relations came under increasing scrutiny, generating consternation and alarm among many upper-class intellectuals. Because racial difference was cast by criollos in positivist terms as a pathological illness, many feared that Bolivia's strides toward modernity would be cut short by its own festering disorder. Modernity, in other words, was understood as being guided by the logic of the criollo selfsame.

A central claim of Gender and Modernity in Andean Bolivia is that hegemonic desire for the selfsame unfolds not only in and through the racialized body but in and through the gendered, racialized body. In Andean Bolivia, racial and cultural differences are most visibly marked on women, notably through their clothing and hair styles as well as their language choices (Aymara, Quechua, Spanish), and occupation of public and private spaces. Reading modernization through psychoanalytic and feminist theories reveals that criollo desire for the selfsame represents a modern desire. What's more, this modern desire is cathected and deployed through images of womanhood that reinforce the notion of rupture or turning away from a premodern (indigenous) ontology. The modern imperative requires a process of loss and replacement, specifically the loss of the indigenous mother and her replacement with the westernized mestiza through disciplinary practices that project the virtues of an idealized, acculturated body. The maternal body thus claims symbolic currency in repressive and resistant practices.

Gender and Modernity in Andean Bolivia engages a variety of texts, including critical essays, novels, testimonials, education manuals, self-help pamphlets, and position papers of diverse women's organizations, to analyze a series of interlocking tropes present throughout the twentieth century. It contends that in order to facilitate this fetishizing process of loss and substitution, hegemonic discourses of desire deploy a succession of associated metaphorical images of domestication, incorporation, consumption, and hunger (appetite). Each metaphorical cluster, in turn, is both racialized and gendered as it is strategically rendered through dominant ideologies of womanhood. By investigating specific themes rather than following a strictly chronological approach, this book makes visible ongoing patterns of countervailing movements to oppression as disparate groups position themselves and are positioned differently with respect to dominant cultural symbols. For example, images of womanhood (motherhood) and therefore of related features such as domesticity, fashion, hygiene, and hunger are seized and shaped by nationalist discourses to serve upper-class interests of political, economic, and racial unification.

The closer a woman comes to the indigenous pole of what sociologist Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui terms the horizontal axis of identities (1993), the more she is perceived as a bodily presence and, consequently, the more she is linked emblematically to racialized images of pollution and disease. Mary Douglas has argued that cultural constructions of pollution essentially define order and disorder. The multilayered pollera worn by the Indian woman or the urban chola consequently emerges as a hegemonic symbol of a disorderly, polluted body that can only be cleaned up once the traditional garb has been exchanged for a (modern) skirt. Nevertheless, cholas resist being conscripted by certain kinds of gendering, particularly notions of motherhood that would relegate them to the private confines of the domestic sphere. The testimonials and other texts examined show that cholas, because they work in the public realm of the marketplace and as domestic employees of the middle and upper classes, have traditionally been able to resist the seduction of ahistorical, nationalist discourses. Thus the pollera becomes a visible symbol of resistance that exemplifies the many struggles lived out each day for indigenous and chola women who deliberately refuse to be "refashioned."

Drawing from dominant ideologies of womanhood, nationalist discourses similarly interpellate Woman through hegemonic depictions of the home. The idealized, acculturated mestiza is represented as a woman readily taking up her assigned place inside the home as a housewife with the primary responsibility of reproducing the equally idealized nation. This modern housewife inhabits a normative home that architecturally emphasizes the privatization of space and clear-cut distinctions between inside and outside. In contrast, actual rural indigenous houses are characterized by communal living spaces and by more permeable interiorexterior boundaries—women work outside the house in the fields, for example. Thus modernization's discourse emphasizing privatization/ individualism and racial acculturation cannot be separated from the architectural layout of the house nor from dominant representations of woman as housewife. This relationship can be taken one step further to suggest that hegemonic depictions of modernity are structured through a rhetoric of the house insofar as the individual dwelling functions as a spatial metaphor through which representation can be controlled or domesticated precisely because it distinguishes between modern interiors and uncivilized exteriors.

By juxtaposing discourses on fashion and hygiene, Gender and Modernity in Andean Bolivia turns to the question of how the modern transforms gendered and racialized bodies into sites of conflict. This analysis elucidates some of the ways in which both fashion and the disciplinary practices of bodily hygiene can be seen as primary metaphors of the cultural incorporation of the dominant socio-symbolic contract. Most obviously, of course, as individual bodies become increasingly regulated, so, too, does the larger social body. As already suggested above, the clothing worn by Indians and cholas is considered to be, by definition, unclean. The pathology of the premodern body is thereby transferred onto the clothing itself. Indian women in particular become identified with disease and contagion because customarily they are the ones who produce and wear native Andean clothing. Similarly, in urban areas, cholas who don the pollera and manta [shawl] visibly depict racial and cultural difference and therefore are perceived as the embodiment of disorder.

The investigation of pedagogical manuals for rural coed and urban girls' schools from the 1920s and 1930s brings to light early links between hygiene, fashion, and modernization through models of consumption. Indian schoolchildren were introduced to the values of the liberal market economy as they rehearsed make-believe trips to the store to buy their own bar of soap and toothbrush. In contrast, the upper-class schoolgirl was warned against the seduction of fashion that would lure her away from the protected domestic sphere of the home. Perceived as eroding the boundary between public and private worlds, the fashion industry epitomized the negative side of modernity because it appealed to woman's "irrational" nature to consume voraciously. Girls were encouraged to focus their energies on personal hygiene instead, because it instilled dominant, patriarchal values emphasizing bodily and household management.

Of final consideration is hunger and the related phenomena of eating and appetite as they intersect with racial and economic questions of incorporation and consumption. These issues, in turn, are linked to cultural constructions of desire (appetite). If, indeed, we are what we eat, the distribution and allocation of food resources become central micro-practices in the regulation of ontological, political, and economic relations. Recent studies of women's relation to eating and hunger suggest that a specifically "feminine" appetite is perceived as threatening a "masculine" self (Bordo 1993; MacSween 1993), and thus it can be argued that the "racialized" (indigenous-chola) female appetitive body in Bolivia looms as an eruptive hunger and dangerous desire that threatens the dominant criollo order. Moreover, hunger (desire) calls attention to a permeable sense of self and to the appetitive relations that throw into question boundaries between the self and the other. For example, the hunger strikes initiated by the miners' housewives during the late 1970s generally resulted in political concessions from the military government because the collective manifestation of hungering mothers and children in the public arena provoked an outpouring of support throughout the nation. Ultimately, the strikes were important catalysts in bringing about the downfall of General Hugo Bánzer Suárez's military dictatorship.

In contrast to the previous two decades, the 1980s saw draconian economic and political reform resulting in enormous social cost for the working and popular classes. The New Economic Policy (NEP) effectively dismantled labor's formidable political power through the massive layoff and relocation of miners, factory workers, and public employees, definitively reshaping urban class structures. The NEP promotes citizens' rights over and against communal indigenous identities, in part through an even more aggressive emphasis on individual consumerism (Rivera Cusicanqui 1993: 90-96). Prioritizing consumerism in the face of widespread unemployment, homelessness, and hunger suggests, ironically, that the same "unifying" processes of consumption and incorporation are driving an even larger wedge between culturally and economically diverse subjectivities. In the same way, the growing pervasiveness of a discourse of consumption appears to have forestalled the ability of hunger to estrange onlookers.

These tropes—motherhood, desire, the home, fashion, hygiene, and hunger-when read together define a complex paradox. On the one hand, each culturally coded thematic locus is deployed by hegemonic discourses as a vehicle for enjoining the racialized others to cross the threshold of the dominant symbolic and become modern (civilized). However, the ability to cross over points to the instability of the same boundary. Neither unbreachable nor impermeable, the boundary is instead precarious and subject to reconfiguration or even erasure. This fluidity creates anxiety in the criollo imaginary because it suggests that the other can transgress the boundary after all and cease being identifiable as other. Hegemonic desire is therefore split between the desire to incorporate the other and the desire to maintain the self inviolate.

The ambiguous racialized and gendered underpinnings of Andean modernity are foregrounded in the spatial ordering of the city of La Paz and its immediate environs, the primary geographic area on which this study focuses. From its founding in 1548, Nuestra Sehora de La Paz [Our Lady of La Paz], referred to in Aymara as Chukiyawu, Chuquiago, or Chuquiabo, has been encircled by communities of indigenous peoples; indeed, one might say that the racial and geographical boundedness of the city reflects the boundedness of the criollo imaginary haunted by a self-other oppositional logic. The racial divide that indigenous peoples were enjoined to cross in order to become modern had an actual physical manifestation in the wall that enclosed La Paz up through the nineteenth century. This wall separated whites who lived inside the city gates from the Indians who lived outside them. The outlying areas, or "extramuros," encompassed peripheral neighborhoods that had once been communally held indigenous lands which, after the 1874 Law of Expropriation, were gradually incorporated into the limits of the city (Barragán 1990: 224-228).

The increase of comuneros [Indians] living in La Paz gave rise to new social classes, particularly as indigenous migrants developed artisan trades or became small-scale merchants. This process of transformation and adaptation often created a rupture between the incipient artisan class and the rural, communal way of life (Barragán 1990: 228). Rossana Barragán has argued that the rise in numbers of the mestizo population noted in the 1877 census was due not to an increase in white-indigenous unions, but instead to the gradual loss of ties with the indigenous community structure known as the ayllu and the subsequent donning of western dress by men and the pollera and manta of the chola by women (Barragán 1990: 232-236). By the twentieth century, the growth of the urban upper-class population created the need for more domestics and providers of labor services such as sewing, tailoring, and laundering. Not surprisingly, then, the number of cholas working in the central, predominantly white neighborhoods of La Paz also began to increase. Although the growing presence of indigenous women and cholas reflected, in part, a response to the expanding demand for their services, their presence also reproduced the upper-class oligarchy's anxieties that the (white) social body was being invaded by an alien other.

This image of the outskirts breaking into the center becomes a metaphor of subaltern movement and resistance found throughout this book. In spite of the often violent means adopted by the state to force indigenous peoples to conform to the strictures of western modernity, native opposition has proved to be long lasting. The large-scale mobilization of indigenous peoples, witnessed particularly since the 1970s, has enforced their ideological stance that they will negotiate the terms of modernity but always "as Indians."

Marcia Stephenson is Associate Professor of Spanish at Purdue University.

"Gender and Modernity is a valuable contribution to our understanding of ethnic and gender relations in Bolivia. Stephenson achieves an original reading of the complex role of the state efforts to maintain their cultural identity and integrity in the face of a design to mask ethnicity. This is a rich book, full of intriguing and original ideas, and a must for students of modernization and social change."

"This is an important feminist/cultural studies reading on the subject of racial formation in Andean Bolivia that has women at its center.... It would be useful for courses such as Latin American women's history, feminist theory, cultural studies, the anthropology of women, gender studies, history of consciousness, and Andean studies."
—Guillermo Delgado-P., Director, Latin American and Latino Field Studies, University of California, Santa Cruz