Carwil Bjork-James – ethnographer, photographer, writer, and participant in creative mass movements
Carwil Bjork-James is an assistant professor of anthropology at Vanderbilt University. His research, both ethnographic and historical, concerns disruptive protest, grassroots autonomy, state violence, and indigenous collective rights in Latin America, with a focus on Bolivia’s urban and indigenous movements. His 2020 book on Bolivian space-claiming protest, power, and race, The Sovereign Street: Making Revolution in Urban Bolivia, is currently available from University of Arizona Press.
He is an experienced participant and occasional trainer in horizontally organized mass actions challenging war and corporate power. He has collaborated in both anarchist and directly democratic organizations including APOC (Anarchist People of Color), the Independent Media Center, Direct Action to Stop the War, and Free University of New York City.
He serves on the Board of Wiki Education, which supports university-level teachers and scholars as they bring sophisticated knowledge to a global audience.
Ethnographer of Social Movements and Revolution
My research focuses on strategies of grassroots autonomy and disruptive protest used by social movements in the highly mobilized, and largely indigenous, country of Bolivia. In the wake of indigenous-led grassroots uprisings in the early twenty-first century, Bolivia offers an unusual opportunity to document the practices and political influence of grassroots movements during a period of massive participation in political life, reorientation of national politics, and restructuring of the state.
Researcher on Protest Tactics and Repression
My work examines protesters’ differing approaches to tactics, including movements that are explicitly nonviolent, violent, or neither; the causes, meaning, and consequences of death in political conflict; and the results of conflicts between unarmed protesters and armed members of state security forces. My database, Ultimate Consequences, documents over five hundred deaths related to social movements, providing a comprehensive record of political conflict in Bolivia since 1982. I served as an expert witness for the plaintiffs in Mamani v. Sánchez de Lozada, the first US Federal Court case to hold a foreign head of state accountable for deadly human rights abuses.
Indigenous and Environmental Rights Researcher and Advocate
My research documents how indigenous peoples have developed and elaborated standards of collective rights as part of their efforts to manage threats to their cultures and territories. My research looks at the political, ethical, and legal tensions that surround resource extraction projects pursued by “post-neoliberal” governments in South America. This work builds on my prior work as an advocate for the rights of indigenous communities affected by oil extraction at Greenpeace and Project Underground.
My work on Bolivian social movements is grounded in part in extended interviews and life history accounts of participants in mass movements and disruptive protest. A sampling of these interviews is collected in Voces y Visiones de la Calle Soberana.
Work & Education
Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Vanderbilt University
My teaching focuses on providing students with anthropological knowledge on globally relevant issues: indigeneity, environmental rights, the state, race, public space, cultural diversity, social inequality, and political change.
PhD in Anthropology from the CUNY Graduate Center
2006 – 2013
M.P.P. in Environmental and Human Rights Policy from the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago
1996 – 1998