Uncertain Citizenship: Everyday Practices of Bolivian Migrants in Chile

Uncertain Citizenship: Everyday Practices of Bolivian Migrants in Chile

by Megan Ryburn

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Uncertain Citizenship explores how Bolivian migrants to Chile experience citizenship in their daily lives. Intraregional migration is on the rise in Latin America and challenges how citizenship in the region is understood and experienced. As Megan Ryburn powerfully argues, many individuals occupy a state of uncertain citizenship as they navigate movement and migration across borders. Drawing on multi-sited ethnographic research, this book contributes to debates on the meaning and practice of citizenship in Latin America and for migrants throughout the world.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520298774
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 10/19/2018
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 192
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Megan Ryburn is a Fellow in Human Geography at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Citizenship, Migration, and Uncertainty

Predicated on being a "full member of a community," citizenship acts to include and exclude. Citizens must be constructed in opposition to an "other," and frequently that "other" has been a migrant. Nevertheless, the boundaries between citizen and migrant are, and always have been, blurred. As Engin Isin argues, "[C]itizenship and otherness are ... really not two different conditions, but two aspects of the ontological condition that makes politics possible." In this chapter I am interested in how these two aspects have been understood as fitting together. I trace the origins of citizenship, examine critiques of the classic liberal interpretation, and explore iterations of citizenship in Latin American contexts. I then similarly outline how interpretations of the processes lived by migrants have changed over time, also providing a brief account of migration in and from Bolivia and to Chile. This serves to enable the final discussion, which draws together perspectives on citizenship and migration with work on uncertainty to develop the twin concepts of transnational spaces of citizenship and uncertain citizenship.


Broadly speaking, there have been two main politico-philosophical schools of citizenship: the liberal and civic republican traditions. The foundations of the liberal tradition of citizenship can be found in John Locke's Two Treatises of Government (1689), as well as in the US Bill of Rights (1789) and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789). This tradition holds at its core the values of individual liberty — conceived of as "negative freedom," or the freedom to do what one likes as long as it does not impede others' right to do the same — and the right to property. Participation of the citizenry in the running of society is largely through voting and the payment of taxes. This liberal notion of citizenship was reformulated in the mid-twentieth century in T.H. Marshall's seminal work Citizenship and Social Class. While maintaining a focus on the individual, he incorporated the idea of "social rights" as being crucial to citizenship in addition to civil and political rights. As those before him had, he saw the state as bestowing these rights on those it governs. He contended that the provision of rights had expanded progressively from civil to political to social rights.

In contrast to the liberal tradition, the civic republican tradition highlights the collective rather than the individual. Its roots can be traced back further than those of the liberal tradition, to Aristotle and the Athenian city-state. While both traditions conceive of the individual as preexistent to and choosing to enter into society, in the liberal tradition the individual then has minimal responsibilities, and political engagement occurs through representation. In the civic republican tradition, by contrast, direct political participation is vital; as Stephen Castles and Alastair Davidson put it, this is a tradition "based on popular wisdom" through the active engagement of all in the creation and upholding of laws.

In the twentieth century, communitarianism emerged as a "cousin" of civic republicanism, and its followers further developed arguments about the importance of community and the collective in order to challenge the individualistic focus of liberal interpretations of citizenship. Crucially, communitarians, perhaps most notably Michael Sandel, call into question the liberal notion that the individual is "unencumbered" — that is, rational, autonomous, and self-sufficient. Rather, they argue, the individual is very much "encumbered" by community because, as Alison Assiter writes, humans are "social beings." Thus our actions as citizens are influenced by our relationships to our community and cannot be separated from them (in other words, the individual is not preexistent to society). While considered to offer valuable contributions regarding how we might better comprehend citizenship, communitarianism has not been without its critics. Indeed, both the broadly liberal and broadly civic republican traditions and their offshoots have been strongly critiqued from a variety of theoretical perspectives, not least a feminist one.

The feminist critique of both liberal and civic republican traditions of citizenship is founded on an analysis of who the citizen is supposed to be. Feminist interrogations of this question expose the answer to be, as Ruth Lister explains, "a definitely male citizen, and a white heterosexual, non-disabled one at that" under the "universalist cloak of the abstract, disembodied individual." The supposedly universal, gender-neutral citizen is in fact profoundly gendered because of the classic binary created between public and private spheres, whereby the rational and abstract is associated with the public sphere and masculinity and the emotional and embodied with the private sphere and femininity. The citizen acts in the public sphere and so must be rational, capable of abstraction, and therefore masculine. Moreover, as those working in the communitarian tradition had identified, this rational, autonomous citizen fits within a highly individualistic concept of citizenship. While a communitarian perspective did attempt to overcome the individualistic approach of liberal citizenship and, to a lesser extent, civic republicanism, feminist theorists such as Iris Young criticized communitarianism for its reification of the idea of community and therefore its failure to admit difference.

More recent understandings of citizenship, such as Ruth Lister's, have highlighted the fluidity and multiplicity of identity and group belonging while maintaining the ideal of universal rights for all. Through a focus on agency, she proposes a synthesis of the liberal and civic republican traditions:

Citizenship as participation [civic republican tradition] represents an expression of human agency in the political arena, broadly defined; citizenship as rights [liberal tradition] enables people to act as agents. Moreover, citizenship rights are not fixed. They remain the object of political struggles to defend, reinterpret and extend them. Who is involved in these struggles, where they are placed in the political hierarchy and the political power and influence they can yield will help to determine the outcomes. Citizenship thus emerges as a dynamic concept in which process and outcome stand in a dialectical relationship to each other.

Thus, Lister is advocating an understanding of citizenship as both "being" and "doing," as a status and a practice. Furthermore, she argues that citizenship occurs on multiple levels, blurring the perceived gap between public and private and giving prominence to the idea that the experience of citizenship is not limited to state-level interactions but also includes participation in more "informal" arenas, such as collective participation in community organizations. As Luin Goldring indicates, Lister is also highly aware of the impact of social identities, such as gender, on the ability of individuals to act at different levels.

Iterations of Citizenship in Latin America

In the Latin American context, Bryan Roberts, though not writing from an overtly feminist standpoint, has taken a similar approach. He understands citizenship as "always negotiated[,] since by their participation citizens can change their rights and obligations and, equally, governing elites may seek to limit or influence these changes as a means of consolidating their power." Roberts traces the history of citizenship in Latin America back to the aftermath of the wars of independence, a period that saw the adoption of liberal constitutions in many Latin American countries, often directly modeled on those of the United States or France. He argues, however, that following these liberal beginnings, "the evolution of citizenship in Latin America is not linear, nor did the extension of one set of rights, whether civil, political or social, necessarily entail the extension of others." He is also cognizant of the different ways in which citizenship in Latin America is and has been experienced according to gender and ethnic identities, and he emphasizes particularly the significant exclusions suffered by indigenous populations. Thus, Roberts disrupts Marshall's argument regarding the linear way in which the provision of citizenship rights expanded, in addition to arguing for an understanding of citizenship much more akin to Lister's.

Indeed, Roberts argues that in the majority of Latin American countries, from the 1940s to the 1970s social rights were the first "set" of rights to be extended to the population in a relatively comprehensive fashion, although there were still significant gaps in provision. He suggests that this reflected the priorities of both the growing urban poor, for whom education, health, and other social welfare provisions were of obvious importance, and the state and the elite, with whom the developmentalist theories of the time, with their emphasis on health and education as the keys to development, resonated strongly. Moreover, the expansion of social rights represented a way for the state and elite to quell and co-opt potential discontent from the working classes. Bolivia arguably fits within this assessment to a considerable degree, and Chile to a lesser extent (as Roberts acknowledges).

The 1930s and 1940s in Bolivia were a period of deep unrest and turbulence after the 1932–1935 Chaco War with Paraguay, which was a disaster for Bolivia. Huge swathes of Bolivian territory were captured, and the human cost was staggering. By the end of the war many of the men who had fought were disgusted with the corruption, racism, and classism of the military elite, and more broadly with the Bolivian oligarchy and social inequalities in the country. This sentiment hardened into political resolve, spawning various movements and parties. The one that ultimately came to the fore in 1952 was the Movimiento Nacional Revolucionario (National Revolutionary Movement), led by a coalition of members of the urban middle class and workers. A coup d'état was staged, which overthrew the established order.

From these beginnings the revolution burgeoned in the coming years into an attempt at fairly sweeping social and economic change as increasing numbers of more radical miners and peasants joined the movement. One of the consequences of the revolution was agrarian reform, and large haciendas in the western altiplano were seized and redistributed to the indigenous population. Another key consequence was the expansion of health care and provision of education. Civil and political rights were also expanded, most notably through the enfranchisement of indigenous people and women. Nevertheless, the eventual outcomes of the revolution were mixed, and the degree to which it produced a lasting social change has been debated. In particular, serious violations of indigenous peoples' civil rights very much persisted, and politics continued to be highly volatile in Bolivia.

The Chilean context was somewhat different, and until 1973 Chile had one of the strongest democratic traditions in Latin America. There was a well-developed party system and high levels of political participation among large sectors of the population, particularly from the 1930s onward as enfranchisement gradually expanded; universal suffrage was achieved in 1947 when women won the right to vote. During this period there was marked investment in health, education, and social services, which did bear some fruit, although much of the population still lived in poverty. Throughout the 1960s, during the presidencies of the right-wing independent Jorge Alessandri (1958–1964) and particularly that of the centrist Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei (1964–1970), political awareness and discontent with the status quo, especially the serious social inequalities within the country, increased dramatically. The Frei government did bring about some not insignificant changes, including the expansion of state ownership of the copper mines and a program of agrarian reform. However, there was a sense of frustration that change had not been deep enough nor sufficiently far-reaching. During the late 1960s, many who were disillusioned found in the Unidad Popular (UP, Popular Unity) — a coalition of left-wing parties led by Salvador Allende — a party that expressed these frustrations and offered a solution: the "Chilean road to socialism."

Elected by a narrow margin in 1970, Allende and the UP initially fostered a heady sense of optimism among their supporters. This rapidly deteriorated, however, as the country became riven by division and anger. The coup d'état of September 11, 1973, irrevocably changed the course of Chile's history and the fabric of its society. As is well-known, the subsequent seventeen years of dictatorship under General Pinochet saw massive human rights abuses, including the murder or disappearance of more than 2,200 people by government agents and the torture of nearly 30,000. It also resulted in the exile of approximately 200,000 people, 2 percent of Chile's 1973 population. Civil and political rights were effectively entirely repressed. In addition, Chile became the first testing ground for neoliberal ideology and was thus subject to particularly extreme versions of policies of privatization, deregulation, and cuts to social spending. This stalled Chile's progress in terms of social welfare and had a deleterious impact on equality in the country.

Similar regimes took over throughout the Southern Cone in this period. Nor was Bolivia unaffected. Indeed, the 1970s and early 1980s was an especially chaotic and brutal epoch in Bolivian politics. From 1971 to 1978 the country was under the dictatorship of General Hugo Banzer. Then, over just four years, from 1978 to 1982, there were three different regimes: a transitional military regime following the Banzer dictatorship, a brief period of civilian rule, and then the forceful installation of a military junta initially headed by General Luis Garcia Meza. A period of extreme violence and repression, it left the economy devastated due to corruption and mismanagement by both the state and private sectors. Democratic, civilian government returned in 1982 under the presidency of Hernán Siles Zuazo, swiftly followed by Víctor Paz Estenssoro in 1985, who assumed the presidency for the third time. In his first year back in power, Paz Estenssoro — infamously — implemented Decreto Supremo no. 21060. In keeping with what was at that time common economic policy in the region and globally, it incorporated a series of tough, orthodox measures intended to bring the economy under control, thus ushering in an era of neoliberalism in Bolivia as well.

Roberts contends that throughout the 1970s and 1980s, with this movement toward neoliberal economic policies throughout most of the region, the emphasis in terms of citizenship rights shifted to the civil and political. This was in part because, as indicated, the rollout of neoliberal policies entailed cuts to social service provisions; subsequently, "by throwing more of the responsibility for social and economic welfare onto the populace, states, both directly and indirectly, promote[d] the independent organization of citizens." Moreover, in the dictatorships of the Southern Cone during these decades, groups began to organize — often putting themselves in great danger — to defend their civil and political rights. They played a key role in the eventual return to democracy in Chile in 1990 and in the rest of the Southern Cone.

The legacy of dictatorship has been long-lasting, however. One respect in which this has made itself felt in the Chilean context (and others) is that, as Patricia Richards argues, "the imposition of neoliberal reform represented a transformation of the content of citizenship." The key elements of this transformation, she continues, are that it has reduced "the role of citizens ... to voting, consuming, and participating in community projects to make up for the loss of state services, rather than making demands on the state." Throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s, this change has gone hand in hand with a shift toward "multiculturalism" in many Latin American countries, resulting in what has been critically referred to as "neoliberal multiculturalism." Under the policies of such a framework there may be official recognition of cultural differences, for example, through celebration of the more "folkloric" elements of indigenous culture. This is not, however, accompanied by serious attempts to redress the severe social, political, and economic disadvantages faced by indigenous peoples and other historically oppressed groups. While falling within the paradigm of "neoliberal multiculturalism," as Richards argues, Chile has been a "particularly reticent" case with respect to enacting both policies of cultural recognition and policies that would have substantive impacts on indigenous populations. Around 9 percent of the Chilean population self-identifies as belonging to one of Chile's nine officially recognized indigenous peoples, 84 percent of whom self-identify as Mapuche. They continue to suffer serious discrimination.


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Copyright © 2018 Megan Ryburn.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

1. Citizenship, Migration, and Uncertainty
2. Places of Uncertain Citizenship
3. Papeleo
4. ¿El Sueño Chileno?
5. Solidaridad
6. “¿De Dónde Somos?” “¡De Bolivia!”


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