Current Research


Latin America has in recent years seen a wide range of state and NGO-led proposals and measures inspired by multiculturalism, designed to combat racial injustice in a manner quite new to the region. Apart from repression of racial discrimination and improvement in the economic conditions of indigenous peoples, these range from reparation of historic wrongs, such as the usurpation of indigenous land, to economic development grounded in the organized efforts of indigenous groups (ethnodevelopment), promotion of university entrance and civil service employment for people of particular racial background, reserved seats for indigenous representatives in legislatures, and professionalization courses tailored for indigenous project managers. They are in fact a mixture of affirmative action and multiculturalism,  largely inspired by the international development community, by the World Bank, by NGOs, and, intellectually, by the works of Charles Taylor and Will Kymlicka. They have given rise to lively polemics in which issues of nationalism, and international economic justice are mixed up with, inter alia, rival concepts of fairness and social justice, of historical rights and wrongs, and of citizenship.

This wave of activity represents a departure from the corporatist pattern of political incorporation which prevailed in the region from 1930 (or earlier) till the debt crisis of the 1980s, and from the universalistic anti-poverty and redistributive strategies which have been a constant presence in development rhetoric. In the image of Frenchlaïcité disputes, it questions the region’s Republican traditions, and undermines the consensus surrounding the idea of mestizo nations which, for some, has for long papered over the cracks of racial injustice. Of course, these are not zero-sum choices: multiculturalism is an additional element, a change in emphasis which addresses the condition of innumerable groups classifiable by colour, origin, language, territory, or cultural practices, and sharing, but not exclusively defined by, a condition of deprivation and marginality.

Unlike ideological movements in Latin America, this one does not bear the imprint of a few dominant individuals: rather its ideas have spread ‘epidemiologically’ (Sperber 1996). Although much has been written about state policies vis-à-vis indigenous populations and their political contexts, the rise to prominence and the validity of their underlying ideas remains assumed rather than investigated (Brysk 2000; Van Cott 2000; Yashar 2005). The purpose of the proposed research is to trace the international, regional and national social networks which transmit these innovations. It will (1) trace the evolution of these ideas in Latin America in the context of the international debates in which Latin Americans are protagonists; (2) trace networks of political solidarity and project financing as they channel ideas to institutions; (3) produce a coherent account of the changes in prevailing – and conflicting – concepts of citizenship and group belonging among Latin American intellectual and political elites and activist groups. Its approach to the history of ideas will resemble that taken in the applicant’s earlier book Democracy and development in Latin America(1990), but using more focused and systematic methods of data collection. It differs markedly from currently influential work on indigenous policies and movements, which take the ideas for granted and do not discuss either their historical and conceptual foundations or the mode of their diffusion, and, given its evident relevance for Europe, it will break new ground by introducing a comparison with debates over Europe’s predicament surrounding diasporic populations.


The data required for this research are of three kinds: (1) documentary information, Working Papers, and published literature on constitutional and legal arrangements, on development strategies, and on the formulation of development projects, by governments, NGOs and multinational public and private institutions; (2) practical data on meetings, conferences, debating forums, where ways of thinking have been shaped; (3) biographical data and experiential accounts from significant actors occupying relevant roles in policy-making, intellectual debate, and social movements. Personal interviews will be the core of the research, focusing on individuals’ intellectual trajectories and influences. In addition data will be gathered from libraries, documentation centres and the internet and by interviews.

The research will concentrate on three countries and on particular themes, even while the international dissemination of these ideas will be a pervasive feature of the research. The main themes will be affirmative action, recognition of indigenous legal arrangements, and ethnodevelopment. Other related themes such as environment, and gender, though related, will take second place.

The countries to be chosen for detailed consideration are Brazil, Mexico and Peru, though the experiences of others will have to be taken into account. The choice is based on recent political and intellectual developments, not on differences in the character of the countries’ ethnic or cultural composition. Brazil and Mexico have exhibited significant change in the dominant agenda with respect to the implications of race and ethnicity for concepts of citizenship and for changes in laws on indigenous land tenure and self-government in certain states. In Peru the Truth and Reconciliation Commission established to draw up an accounting of the war against the Shining Path highlighted dramatically the indigenous dimension of inequality and suffering from the conflict’s extreme brutality, but identity politics and the accompanying calls for institutional recognition of difference are subdued (Oliart).

Interviews in Latin America will be with (1) individuals who have taken part in decision-making on multicultural and indigenous issues, nationally and internationally; (2) individuals in NGOs and research institutes-cum-consultancies active in ethnodevelopment, indigenous rights and related fields; (3) advisers to and leaders of  indigenist and quasi-indigenist social movements such as the Peruvian CONACAMI, which defends Communities affected by mining, and movements which promote the social wellbeing or cultures of particular  ethnic categories, such as, in Brazil, the Movimento Negro, the Catholic Church’s Pastoral Afro-Brasileira  and organizations training young blacks and poor people to pass university entrance examinations; (4) public intellectuals active in the indigenist cause, including opponents of institutional multiculturalism and activists in academia, the Church, and the media. The interviewees will be selected through both secondary sources and networking: the networking itself will be part of the research, providing the information to build up a picture of channels of influence and foci of activism.

Brysk, A. (2000). From tribal village to global village: Indian rights and International Relations in Latin America. Stanford, Stanford University Press.
Htun, M. (2004). “From racial democracy to affirmative action: changing state policy on race in Brazil.” Latin American Research Review, 39(1): 60-89.
Oliart, P. El Estado peruano y las políticas sociales dirigidas a los Pueblos Indígenas en la década de los 90. Lima, Instituto de Estudios Peruanos.
Sperber, D. (1996). Explaining Culture: a naturalistic approach. Oxford, Blackwell.
Van Cott, D. L. (2000). The friendly liquidation of the past:  the politics of diversity in Latin America. Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Press.
Yashar, D. (2005). Contesting citizenship in Latin America: the rise of the indigenous movements and the post-liberal challenge, CUP.