Hobbes’ Border Guards or Evo’s Originary Citizens? Indigenous People and the Sovereign State in Bolivia
Andrew Canessa (University of Essex)
Thomas Hobbes was the first major thinker to locate an imagined pre-political State of Nature in the Americas. Even his critics such as Locke and Rousseau followed him in seeing native Americans as living in a world which they imagined existed in pre-historic Europe and, most importantly, beyond meaningful dialogue. These and other thinkers used America as a tool through which to think the status of the individual political subject and his relationship with the state. This article argues that indigenous people were much more than rhetorical tools but, rather, were necessary elements for imagining the modern nation state; they were in Shaw’s words, Hobbes’ ‘border guards’ (2008: 38). Indigeneity, however, does more than act symbolically as a ‘border guard’ facing the ‘other’ across the parapet of the boundaries of the sovereign state; indigenous people were and are actively challenging those boundaries, shaping its contours, and occasionally breaching the wall altogether. In this paper, I look at Bolivia as an example of how indigenous peoples have through history contributed to, challenged, and moulded the various states – from colonial to contemporary indigenous --- over the past half millennium. I also explore the contemporary indigenous state and the ways in which the indigenous subject is imagined as the canonical citizen but ask if this move forecloses the possibilities of a radical critique of the sovereign state.
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Andrew Canessa is a social anthropologist and has worked for many years with Aymara speakers in highland Bolivia. More recently he was the PI in an ESRC funded project looking at the evolution of a British Gibraltarian identity over the course of the 20th century. Member of the University of Essex Human Rights Centre. ESRC research project: Bordering on Britishness: An Oral History of Gibraltarian Identity in the 20th Century. Teaching interests: Latin America, race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, indigenous peoples, anthropology.