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Title:Unsettled elites: reproducing the hacendado in neoliberal Ecuador
Author(s):Hardin, Jennifer
Director of Research:Orta, Andrew
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Orta, Andrew
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Whitten, Norman E., Jr.; Bunzl, Matti; Torres, Arlene
Department / Program:Anthropology
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Social Hierarchy
Cultural Capital
Social Class
Abstract:Based on approximately 16 months of field research in Andean Ecuador, this dissertation is an ethnography of the reproduction of hacendado elite distinction in an environment of neoliberal volatility and unease. Evoking the Spanish colonial past, Criollo independence and nation-building, hacendado elites embody the close association in Ecuador of the possession of landed property with racialized forms of social prestige that have defined the standards for national cultural norms of distinction and political economic power. They are also often portrayed as forces of exploitation and stagnation, suggesting that their positions of privilege are particularly vulnerable during the periods of dramatic change characteristic of neoliberalism. My research concludes that hacendado elites are reproducing their status within new social conditions and deploying novel tactics in the process that are responsive to Ecuador’s deepening integration in the global economy. The dissertation begins by addressing the historical waxing and waning of hacendado elite privilege over time and in relation to broader changes in the country. I argue that forms of colonial ethnoracial social organization inherited from Europe were adapted to the material and ideational needs of an emerging modernity in the New World. Traditional hacendado elite assumptions about the superiority, civility and modernity of “white” Spanish colonists and their descendants undergird continuing efforts to justify monopolization of resources, social separation from other populations and the country’s chronic “underdevelopment.” The remainder of the dissertation focuses on the lived experiences of hacendado elites and the strategies employed to reproduce their privilege in the contemporary moment. Hacendado elites use symbolic and material markers of distinction linked to colonialism to signal group membership and inclusion to others. These include ancestry, genealogy and landed property, all of which accentuate the “whiteness” of hacendado elites by connecting them to a western European cultural heritage, ensuring minimal biological or social mixture with other groups and facilitating ongoing separation from the Ecuadorian masses. Their styles of life and consumption patterns highlight a history of Western education, cosmopolitanism and immersion in global modernity. The dissertation also considers hacendado elite strategies for resisting downward mobility on the social ladder and challenges to their privileged position as the possessors of legitimate culture. To fortify social boundaries, neoliberal and nationalist elite discourses about the transformative power of education and educational credentials for social mobility are tempered by the reassertion of forms of comportment, customs and styles of life that define hacendado elite distinction and underscore longstanding elite ideals about “social whiteness” and essential qualities that signal the possession of cultural capital associated with “good breeding.” I conclude that echoes of the colonial in the present do not necessarily represent legacies that defy the multitude of transformational forces characteristic of the modern period. Instead, they reflect creative reconstructions and reinventions explicitly responsive to postcolonial dictates of global modernity. This process is evident in hacienda cultural heritage and ecotourism ventures that aim to modernize and revitalize landed wealth by embracing neoliberal business models while rearticulating historical social class divisions in Ecuador.
Issue Date:2014-09-16
Rights Information:Copyright 2014 Jennifer Ann Hardin
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-09-16
Date Deposited:2014-08

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