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Politics over Ethnicity: Indigenous Movements and Public Goods Provision in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa (INDIPACT)

From January 1, 2016 to December 31, 2018

Practitioners and scholars alike usually treat ethnicity as a problem for development. As a matter of fact, it is by now almost taken for grantedand backed up by a large and influential scholarship in political economythat ethnic heterogeneity has detrimental consequences for public goods provision and human welfare. This project seeks to take a step back from this consensus. It instead starts off from an explicitly political perspective and treats as highly context-dependent the effects of politicized ethnicity on state provision of public goods. This alternative analytical approach provides the backdrop for analyzing indigenous movements and their consequences for public goods provision. Recent decades have witnessed a striking transformation around the world. Indigenous people became a formidable political force in their own right, something unthinkable even a generation ago. The proposed research pursues a comparative analysis of indigenous activism around land governance and water infrastructure in Argentina, Chile, South Africa, and Botswana.

Drawing on social movement studies and historical institutionalism the project develops an innovative theoretical framework for analyzing how and when ethnic mobilization impacts on public good provision. Specifically, the framework calls attention to the specific mechanisms by which indigenous movements might influence the capacity of states to mediate land conflicts and provide basic water infrastructure, most prominently naming and shaming and shifts in state-society linkages. It also hypothesizes that indigenous movements are more likely to affect state provision of public goods if they have the organizational strength to sustain collective action, and operate in a political context free of major veto players, which is in turn the historical outcome of distinct state institutions built in response to prior episodes of conflict.

In developing this argument, the project engages a variety of broader theoretical and substantive issues. For students of ethnic politics this research offers an alternative approach that moves beyond simplistic assertions about the supposedly negative relationship between ethnic diversity and public goods provision. For scholars of contentious politics the project addresses the relative lack of research on the consequences of social movements by identifying how movements might transform the capacity of states to provide public goods, and when they are likely to do so. For students of indigenous mobilization the proposed research moves beyond the regional fragmentation of the existing literature and combines a systematic cross-regional comparison with less studied cases in Latin America. Finally, exploring the consequences of indigenous movements also provides activists and policymakers with a stronger basis to make informed decisions about universalist and multicultural policy options, and to assess the viability of particular mobilization tactics. The project employs a qualitative methodology. In doing so it combines a variety of data-collection techniques, including protest-event analysis from newspapers and semi-structured interviews with indigenous activists, non-activists, state officials, and economic elites.

External Contributors

Funding institutions

Ministerio de Economia2018

With the support of:

Related IBEI Research Clusters