Binding Leaders to the Community: The Ethics of Bolivia’s Organic Grassroots

Just published in Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology.

Bjork-James, Carwil. 2018. Binding Leaders to the Community: The Ethics of Boliva’s Organic Grassroots (full text). Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology 23, no. 2 (July): 363–82.

Abstract: Bolivia’s largest social movement organizations—including its labor unions, rural communities, and neighborhood organizations—are bound together by a hierarchical organizational structure and a countervailing ethic that subordinates leaders to the grassroots bases from which they emerge. This worldview separates an enduring, morally legitimate world of community organization (the organic) from a corrupt world of political parties, staffed by self-advancing, individualist politicians who engage in transactional, corrupt practices (the political). The organic grassroots ethic, by constructing itself as the heir to both the ayllu (Andean rural community) and the worker-led revolution, generates a deeply felt moral economy that both mobilizes mass participation and guides leadership. It valorizes ethical principles of complementarity, solidarity, anti-individualism, and obligatory participation, blending ethical and political life. Focusing on individual life histories, this article explores the moral boundaries and social expectations that organic grassroots ethics impose on leaders, who must perform selflessness and subordination to community in their political actions.

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