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Volume 65 / Social Sciences

SOCIOLOGY: ECUADOR


JASON PRIBILSKY, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Whitman College

THE LAST 20 YEARS IN ECUADOR have been characterized by two seemingly different social currents. On the one hand, the country is in the midst of a diaspora; by most estimates, fully 10 percent of the country's population lives in the exterior, mainly Spain and the US. Despite the global security effects of September 11, out-migration continues largely unclipped, fueled by Ecuador's chronic poverty, under- and unemployment, and a languishing agricultural sector. On the other hand, Ecuador has seen an intensification of civil society participation and a move toward greater inclusion of once marginalized groups and constituencies. In late 2008, voters approved one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, including provisions to uphold sumak kawsay, an indigenous concept meaning "living well" which stipulates harmonious relationships between people, their immediate surroundings, and the environment. While the project of democracy has been far from perfect, and in no short supply of critics, there is little disputing the extreme importance of new democratic pulses.

Several themes related to these social currents show up during this review period. In addition to the steady coverage of migration, researchers have committed themselves to addressing issues of gender, Afro-Ecuadorian political engagement, and the conditions facing communities along the country's northern border with Colombia. Studies focused on bedrock issues such as poverty and health inequality also continue to shape the research agendas of both individual researchers and NGOs and aid groups (items #bi2008000593# and #bi2008000596#).

Since the election of President Rafael Correa, issues surrounding international migration began to receive a public face and were accorded governmental acknowledgement. Correa named a coordinator of migration issues and drafted a "migration policy." Among its most ambitious positions, the policy proposed changing the constitution to grant Ecuadorians living overseas proportional representation in Congress. Previously in 2005, Ecuadorians living overseas were allowed to vote in presidential elections. During the presidential election of 2006, just over 84,000 Ecuadorians (living in 42 countries) cast their votes from afar. In short, there has been an official recognition of transnational migration politics and a greater recognition of the role migration and migrants abroad play in Ecuador's political and economic life. The political will to "bring migration back home" is reflected in a number of new studies. The productive use and potential of remittances in particular (items #bi2008000597#, #bi2007004022#, #bi2008000594#, and #bi2008000661#) has proven to be a major interest of a number of researchers. The new lexicon of migration studies focuses on the NGO-directed programs of "codessarollo," (item #bi2008000589#) which look beyond remittance figures to identify ways to make migration sustainable and to search out alternatives to new migration. Similarly, borrowing sociologist Peggy Levitt's concept of "social remittances," (item #bi2008000661#) new attention seems to be pouring into explorations of the generative capacities of the earnings migrants are sending back home. What perhaps remains absent among the studies of migration are analyses attuned to Ecuador's own receipt of migrants, particularly Peruvians and Colombians. Especially with respect to the former group, almost no attention has been focused on the estimated 60,000 to 120,000 Peruvians now residing in Ecuador, most without legal permission and mostly concentrated in the country's southern provinces. Their story is the flipside of the migration and globalization story told elsewhere. Peruvians flock to the Ecuador to take advantage of dollarization as well as the booming migration-related construction in el austro.

The absence of work on Colombian migration to Ecuador (mostly as political refugees) aside, this review period does reveal an uptick in attention paid to Ecuador's northern border and issues of warfare, security, and threats to both highland and Amazonian livelihoods (items #bi2008000588# and #bi2008000598#). The border region is at once an international issue, made combustible by the US' so-called War on Drugs and Plan Colombia, now in its ninth year. In April 2007, Plan Colombia was matched by Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa's announcement of Plan Ecuador, a five-province development initiative, including the northern frontier, expressly geared towards "replacing war with peace." The plan outlines initiatives to shore up local institutions, provide basic services, protect natural resources, and monitor human rights. While it is perhaps too early to furnish a prognosis on this ambitious project, these works provide a critical baseline for comparison. Vásconez's research (item #bi2008000598#) deserves special mention as it redirects readers toward the culture of fear on the border, reconstructed through media representations.

A final theme in studies examined this review period may be summed up as the remaking of civil society. The state of grassroots democracy and the importance of identity politics in Ecuador's political arena are arguably difficult to diagnose where contradictions abound. Flashes of novel political participation, such as the "asembleas populares" (item #bi2007001013#), point to parliamentary alternatives, yet, as the authors stress, not without compromises. To be sure, the country's new inclusionary constitution has already been tested by Correa's turn toward the conflicted role of capitalista popular. Support of indigenous peoples and other vulnerable groups has been shaken by recent concessions to mining and other extractive industries that disproportionately affect minority groups. During this review period, attention to issues of gender has remained of high priority with a variety of approaches represented, including histories of feminism (items #bi2008000592# and #bi2008000587#), and the intersection of gender and development (item #bi2008000594#). Lastly, important work takes aim at identity construction in largest urban centers, including youth identities inside and outside the rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods of Guayaquil (item #bi2007005152#) and the popular perceptions of Afro-Ecuadorians in Quito (item #bi2006002569#).


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