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Reencountering Development: Livelihood Transitions and Place Transformations in the Andes

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Neither poststructural nor neoliberal interpretations of development capture the full extent and complexity of rural transformations in the Andes. Poststructural critiques tend to view development as a process of cultural destruction and homogenization, while neoliberal interpretations identify a different development ‘failure’ that inheres in ‘inefficient’ patterns of resource use, and the ‘nonviability’ of large parts of the Andean peasantry. In each case, the state is seen as a problem: as an agent of dominating modernization, or as a brake on market-led transformation. The paper reviews these positions in the light of the transformations in governance, livelihoods, and landscape that have occurred in the regions of Colta, Guamote, and Otavalo, all centers of indigenous Quichua populations in the Ecuadorian Andes. These transformations question the accuracy of arguments about cultural destruction or nonviability. Instead they suggest that people have built economically viable livelihood strategies that, while neither agricultural nor necessarily rural, allow people to sustain a link with rural places, and in turn allow the continued reproduction of these places as distinctively Quichua. The cases also point to the increased indigenous control of political, civil, and economic institutions and the important roles that development interventions, including those of the state, have played in fostering this control. In sum, this suggests the need for more nuanced interpretations of development that emphasize human agency and the room to maneuver that can exist within otherwise constraining institutions and structures. It also suggests the value of placing livelihood and the coproduction of place at the center of any interpretation of the processes and effects of rural development.

Keywords: Andes; critical development geography; livelihood; place; social movements

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Geography, University of Colorado at Boulder

Publication date: September 1, 2000


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