Current Institutional Affiliation
Associate Professor, Anthropology, Wellesley College

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2010
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, Brown University
Mediating Democracy in El Alto: The Politics of Alternative Dispute Resolution in Bolivia

This ethnographic research project examines the proliferation of foreign-funded “Alternative Dispute Resolution” (ADR) programs in the city of El Alto, Bolivia, in the wake of a 2003 uprising led by rural and urban poor Bolivians. Many of the ADR programs currently offered in El Alto provide residents with pro-bono legal aid while stressing mediation as a more satisfying alternative to the formal legal system. ADR programs have sought to change the ways Alteños deal with conflict in their everyday lives, as well as their engagement with social organizations such as trade unions and neighborhood associations. Anthropologists of development have analyzed the processes through which aid programs like those offered in El Alto are rendered apolitical. However, since 2008, conflict resolution programs have become entangled in a much larger national debate over who sets the terms of democracy in Bolivia and how justice will be defined. My project examines the processes through which nominally apolitical ADR programs are re-invested with political meaning. Specifically, this research seeks to understand what kinds of political practices ADR engenders or inhibits, and with what consequences. Through in-depth and semi-structured interviews, archival research, and document analysis, this research will reconstruct the history of Bolivian engagements with ADR-like initiatives and probe the stated aims and contested meaning of conflict resolution programs in the country. To examine this system in practice, the bulk of this research will be dedicated to extensive participant observation in El Alto-based mediation centers and in civic education and mediation workshops aimed at the general public.