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Volume 63 / Social Sciences

SOCIOLOGY: ECUADOR


JASON PRIBILSKY, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Whitman College

THE EMERGENCE OF ETHNIC POLITICS in a period of increasing instability of the nation- state has cast a shadow over much social science research on Ecuador in recent years, including work broadly defined as "sociological." To say this, however, glosses over important avenues of current research into other areas relatively new in Ecuadorian studies, including gender, as well as long-standing interests such as rural poverty and agricultural change. Moreover, focus on issues of migration and urbanization—forces perpetually shaping modern Ecuador—continue to draw the attention of scholars, journalists, and social critics.

Sociological and anthropological research into indigenous social movements and political organization dates back to the mid-1980s with the rise of CONAIE (the Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas del Ecuador) and the historic marches of the 1990s. In recent years, more comprehensive work has turned toward providing analyses of the 2000 coup d'état (or popular rebellion depending on political perspective) whereby indigenous political groups joined forces with the military to oust then-President Jamil Mahuad. Some important studies put this event into its immediate historical framework (see, for example, Gerlach's Indians, Oil, and Politics: A Recent History of Ecuador in HLAS 61:1232 and 62:1631) while others plumb the early 20th century antecedants of modern indigenous citizenship and plurinationality (item #bi2005001716#). Now, as the national movement begins to show fissures, new analyses of Ecuador's indigenous movement are needed, particulary ones that provide regional foci and look at internal differentiations along the axes of geography, religion, and economy. At the same time, scholarly interest in the more quotidian and less overtly political worlds of indigenous peoples in Ecuador continues to produce noteworthy research. In Otavalo, a community heavily studied by anthropologists and sociologists, recent works by Meisch on indigenous global intrepreneurs (see HLAS 61:817 and 1240) and Butler's study of alcohol use and abstention (item #bi2006000511#) point to the continuing complexities of Andean communities.

The impact of migration is a concern that carries throughout Latin America and has been receiving consistent scholarly coverage by observers of Ecuador in the last 15 years. Early treatment of migration focused on internal rural-urban movements and rural-rural movements of agricultural labor migration. Studies addressing international (and transnational) migration originally reflected an urgency to document an emerging phenomenon which, because of its largely clandestine activity, was deficient in terms of quantification (see HLAS 61:617). In this recent period, studies of international migration have continued the need for greater documentation, especially in regions outside epicenters of traditional migration activity (Guayas, Azuay, and Cañar provinces) (item #bi2006001143#). In addition, however, more specified studies have emerged that look at the profound social, cultural, economic, and psychological effects of migration on sending communities (see HLAS 61:817 and 61:1240, item #bi2007002855#, and item #bi2006001144#). As varied as these studies are, they collectively demonstrate how local communities in Ecuador can no longer be studied without attention paid to global processes.

Global processes can also be glimpsed in the studies of communities and regions undergoing intense movements of change due to intensive capitalist development, internal migration, and the eroding power of the state in a period of global economic restructuring. Martínez (item #bi2006001142#) and the volume edited by North and Cameron (item #bi2007002856#) demonstrate the continued relevance of studying rural Ecuador and precarious agricultural livelihoods. Providing examples other than the oft-noted commercial flower industry (items #bi2007002864# and #bi2006001140#), these authors show how neoliberal free-market policies and strucutural adjustment initiatives often stymie innovative efforts to eke out a living as rural producers, both at the private level of family subsistence and the public political arena defined by an intense NGO presence.

The result of agricultural collapse can also be seen in new works addressing urban development. Arroyo (item #bi2006001134#) and Dosh and Lerager (item #bi2007002853#) bring a focus on urbanization and urban planning that has been surprisingly absent in studies of Ecuador in the last 15 years. In one sense, these studies reflect migration's demographic sibling—intensive urbanization. Both studies make important contributions to scholarly research on urban planning in Ecuador with powerful interdisciplinary approaches that bring together political, geographical, and environmental perspectives on housing. It will be valuable for future researchers to build on these general findings and provide studies that focus on living conditions of residents in an expanding urban Ecuador.

A final area of research concentration continues to be work on the role of gender—both its basic formulation as "a study of women" and more recently and theoretically as an organizing principle of social relations. Studies of gender produced in this period reflect the overt politicization of gender and especially issues concerning women's rights in Ecuador. To be sure, in her excellent ethnographic study of women's community organizing in Quito, Lind describes how between 1995 and 2000 alone, more than 20 gender- based legislative actions were initiated in Ecuador (item #bi2007002854#). Many of the studies of this period indirectly point to the difficulties of enforcing gender-based legislation, especially those laws devised to protect elderly women (item #bi2006001138#) and children (item #bi2006001145#).


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