Along the Bolivian Highway
Social Mobility and Political Culture in a New Middle ClassUniversity of Pennsylvania Press Contemporary Ethnography
Along the Bolivian Highway traces the emergence of a new middle class in Bolivia, a society commonly portrayed as the site of struggle between a superwealthy white minority and a destitute indigenous majority. Miriam Shakow shows how Bolivian middle classes have deeply shaped politics and social life. While national political leaders like Evo Morales have proclaimed a new era of indigenous power and state-led capitalism in place of racial exclusion and neoliberal free trade, Bolivians of indigenous descent who aspire to upward mobility have debated whether to try to rise within their country's longstanding hierarchies of race and class or to break down those hierarchies. The ascent of indigenous politics, and a boom in coca and cocaine production beginning in the 1970s, have created dilemmas for "middling" Bolivians who do not fit the prevailing social binaries of white elite and indigenous poor. In their family relationships, political activism, and community life, the new middle class confronted competing moral imperatives.
Focusing on social and political struggles that hinged on class and racial status in a provincial boomtown in central Bolivia, Shakow recounts the experiences of first-generation teachers, agronomists, lawyers, and prosperous merchants. They puzzled over whom to marry, how to claim public interest in the face of accusations of selfishness, and whether to seek political patronage jobs amid high unemployment. By linking the intimate politics within families to regional and national power struggles, Along the Bolivian Highway sheds light on what it means to be middle class in the global south.
Note on Language
Chapter 1. The Formation of a New Middle Class
Chapter 2. The Intimate Politics of New Middle Classes in Sacaba
Chapter 3. Middling Sacabans Respond to Evo and MAS
Chapter 4. Condemning Clientelism
Chapter 5. Laments of Betrayal
Chapter 6. Middle Classes and Debates over the Definition of Community
Family Tree of Doña Saturnina Ramírez
"Shakow has produced a fascinating and beautifully written ethnography that explores the question: 'What might postneoliberalism look like?' In her portrayal of upwardly mobile urban indigenous Bolivians, out go polarized constructions of the social categories class and ethnicity. Instead we see an indigenous middle class dynamically shaped by effects of the coca boom, free-market government reforms, and different interpretations of Evo Morales's state socialism. Shakow shows us the work world of this heterogeneous labor force and their debates about social transformation, clientelism, and commitments to new sorts of collective action. This is a pathbreaking, theoretically sophisticated ethnography that is an exciting, very accessible read."—Kay Warren, Brown University
"This detailed and insightful ethnography focuses on the ambiguities and complexities of race, class, and political-economic transformation in the Bolivian middle classes, which are often ignored in studies of power and resistance."—Bret Gustafson, Washington University in St. Louis
"Along the Bolivian Highway draws upon rich ethnographic research to document changes in class and other civic sensibilities across a dramatic period of change in contemporary Bolivian society."—Andrew Orta, University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign