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Marketing indigeneity: identity negotiations of two generations of informal vending women in neoliberal Bolivia

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Title: Marketing indigeneity: identity negotiations of two generations of informal vending women in neoliberal Bolivia
Author(s): Scarborough, Isabel
Director of Research: Orta, Andrew
Doctoral Committee Chair(s): Orta, Andrew
Doctoral Committee Member(s): Abelmann, Nancy A.; Gottlieb, Alma J.; Jacobsen, Nils P.
Department / Program: Anthropology
Discipline: Anthropology
Degree Granting Institution: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree: Ph.D.
Genre: Dissertation
Subject(s): indigeneity informal markets economic anthropology Bolivia
Abstract: This work is an ethnographic study about a group of informal market women who have crafted an alternative merchant middle class in Bolivia’s cities and who are called cholas; a term denoting a person of mixed indigenous and European descent. In a society where upward social mobility was barred to the indigenous majority, cholas differed from other sectors because rather than attempting to assimilate into the white upper classes through emulation they maintained and took pride in their distinctive ethnic garb. At the same time that cholas embody indigeneity— through this dress, language, and cultural practices—they have also earned a reputation in the regional social imaginary as savvy businesswomen and traders. In fact, Cochabamba’s cholas have consciously fed this dual identity through the centuries, thus blurring the boundaries between indigeneity and entrepreneurship. In the dissertation, I argue that cholas position themselves outside the social continuum that presupposes a teleological progression from indigenous to white. Rather, based on Pierre Bordieu’s notion of social class formation, these market women provoked a “shift” in the definition of Cochabamba’s urban middle class to the point where it stretched to encompass their group and their unorthodox combination of ethnic markers and commercial success. Further, I also contend that the youngest generation of these chola women is now creating a similar shift for the definition of indigeneity in contemporary Cochabamba where an indigenous identity is no longer only an ethnic category but stretches to encompass political and economic characteristics, claimed through market knowledge and practice. I have titled this work “marketing indigeneity” because it illustrates the ambivalence of the cholas’ indigenous and entrepreneurial duality and because I argue that these women’s everyday experiences assign different values to these two identities. Indigeneity and entrepreneurship then become a form of cultural capital that is spent, bartered, and exchanged to determine power relations. The stories I tell in this dissertation relate how chola market women in the past two and a half decades were active participants in the local cultural, economic and political processes that are dramatically changing the Bolivian nation in the wake of neoliberalism. My method consists of examining two generations of these market women to trace their journeys of mobility across Bolivia’s class and ethnic spectrum. In this examination, I contrast the youngest two generations of cholas whose stories help define the current transition period in which Bolivia enters a market-based era based on a new system that values a global ethnic identity. My findings and discussion on the chola’ experiences contribute to an emerging body of comparative work on the role of marginalized sectors in postcolonial developing societies.  
Issue Date: 2012-06-27
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/2142/31987
Rights Information: Copyright 2012 Isabel Scarborough
Date Available in IDEALS: 2012-06-27
Date Deposited: 2012-05
 

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