Cholo citizens : negotiating personhood and building communities in El Alto, Bolivia
This thesis addresses the dialectic between collective and individual senses of self and
political agency, and the implications of that dialectic for how residents of Rosas Pampa,
in the city of EI Alto, Bolivia, experience their citizenship. It examines the ways in which
citizenship is performed, practiced, and constructed by rural-urban migrants living in a
peripheral urban area in Bolivia, and interrogates this central concept in political theory
using anthropological theories and methods. It is based upon a year's fieldwork in Rosas
Pampa, a poor neighbourhood whose adult residents are predominantly first or secondgeneration
Aymara-speaking migrants of rural origin.
In contrast to the abstract way citizenship is generally understood in the national and
international context, and purveyed as a key policy by a multitude of NGOs and
governmental agencies operating in poor urban areas of Bolivia, the people of Rosas
Pampa experience citizenship in intensely physical and embodied ways, and within
several different political spheres, at personal, local and national levels. This thesis
explores the nature of political action, and highlights the values that thereby emerge to
shape political agency. It argues that there is a dynamic interaction between academic and
policy-based notions of citizenship and selfhood and those rooted in people's urban
experiences and rural backgrounds.
The first part of the thesis outlines the citizenship practices of the residents of Rosas
Pampa, and explores how they constitute themselves in various ways as collective
political subjects, covering community politics, voting, the annual fiesta and religiosity.
The second part focuses on citizenship as a negotiation of personhoood, through
exploring how relational senses of self operate in Rosas Pampa and then outlining
governmental citizenship projects that seek to modify those senses of self. Throughout it
emphasises the citizens' own responses to those projects.