The Hegemony of Representation: Democracy and Indigenous Self-government in Bolivia

Jason Tockman


In the Plurinational State of Bolivia, the 2009 Constitution articulates a multidimensional conception of democracy, reflecting a legacy of social movement mobilizations that demanded political inclusion and propelled to power a president who self-identifies as Indigenous. Many anticipated that Bolivia could present a propitious environment for an invigorated and post-liberal democracy. This article evaluates the three dimensions of democracy enshrined in the Constitution – representative, participatory, and communitarian – with the aim of understanding the relationship among them. I focus on two important sites of democratic practice: the process of drafting and approving the Constitution, and the construction of “Indigenous autonomies”; that is, institutions of Indigenous self-government based on communitarian democracy. While Bolivian democracy is more stable and inclusive under the current government than under previous ones, this study finds that the expansion of sanctioned participatory and communitarian democratic processes has been limited vis-à-vis the hegemonic system of representation.

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