Welcome to the fourth issue of Alternautas!
2017 is witnessing two major processes affecting Latin-American politics in very different ways. On the one hand, the Colombian government of Manuel Santos, along with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), succeeded in signing a historical peace agreement proceeding from the long negotiation process started four years ago in La Havana, Cuba. The official signing of the peace agreement in September 2016, and its ratification by referendum a few months later, stands as a major milestone for the reconstruction of the country. However, the government is facing many barriers to the implementation of the agreement, especially regarding rebel groups’ demobilisation. Other long-term challenges to face will concern land tenure reforms, the increasing inequality dominating the country, as well as development opportunities for civil society. On the other hand, the peace process of Colombia is affected by the context of political violence occurring in its neighbour country Venezuela. Indeed, Venezuela is going through a major political crisis due to the confrontation between the government of Nicolas Maduro and its opponents. The latter denounce the undemocratic character of the new constitutional assembly formed by the government, leading to violent protests, deaths and massive movements of migration mainly to Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.
In the face of these political processes, academia is progressively taking position to clarify the empirical facts and produce rigorous analysis. For example, a recent petition has been launched by distinguished Latin-American or Latin-Americanist researchers to call for an end to the escalation of violence in Venezuela. Alternautas is committeed to supporting these kinds of initiatives, by analysing these events through the framework of critical development studies.
We are an academic blog focused on discussing development through critical lenses with a particular Latin-American perspective. During the last four years, we have published original and translated articles from young and prominent scholars from Latin America and other parts of the world, contributing not only to academic discussions, but also to creating a fertile environment where non-mainstream ideas and perspectives on development can flourish.
The contributions presented in this fourth issue offer valuable debates and analysis that resonate with the contemporary transformations and challenges faced by Latin America and the world. On the one hand, several papers offer theoretical discussions of major concepts in the field of critical development studies, such as notions of ayllu, degrowth, cosmopolitanism and cosmopolitics, accumulation by dispossession, and non-western science. The critical lens adopted in the discussion of these concepts is essential in order to conceive new paths of alternative development in the region. On the other hand, some papers adopt a more practice-oriented approach on social policy reforms in the continent, such as social solidarity economy or wage policies. This original focus is intended to create new theories and concepts from the observation of empirical processes.
Fabian Flores Silva’s contribution offers a theoretical discussion of the mutual interpellation between cosmopolitanism and cosmopolitics. Indeed, these two concepts have been traditionally separated in the literature despite their commonalities and complementarity. While cosmopolitanism refers to the consideration of the plurality of human beings and the need to solve social and economic inequalities, cosmopolitics seeks to include both human and non-humans in the debate so as to place nature at the centre of world politics. In this paper, the author argues for a dialogue between cosmopolitanism and cosmopolitics in order to analyse, for example, how placing nature and slowness at the centre of more short-term political decisions can contribute to the resolution of the existing dilemmas regarding social, economic and cultural inequalities. However, the author warns of the necessity for cosmopolitanism theorists, such as Martha Nussbaum, to engage with the “radical otherness” of indigenous peoples’ cosmologies.
Alejandro De Coss’ article seeks to analyse in a systematic manner the recent catastrophes occurring in Mexico through the work of David Harvey. Harvey’s work was intended to analyse the processes of capital accumulation and its effects on the construction and transformation of space. He has been one of the main contributors to Marxist theory in the last fifty years. De Coss uses Harvey’s concept of “accumulation by dispossession” to explain the resulting urban violence and political conflicts multiplying in the country in the past few decades. The author analyses drug manufacturing, energy sector reforms, land tenure laws and trade liberalism. Nevertheless, the author reminds us of the necessity to balance the blind criticism of global capitalism by considering the role played by the national state, local capitalism and internal colonialism.
Anne Toomey’s essay, which we published simultaneously in Spanish and English, discusses the implications of considering non-western, or peripheral, forms of science in order to decolonise knowledge and redefine traditional geographical boundaries. The author focuses on the role of ‘Bolivian science’, specifically the scientific research practices in the biological field, in order to highlight the new debates in social sciences bought about by issues of biopiracy and bioprospecting. Nowhere are these debates more relevant than in countries with high levels of both biological and cultural diversity that have been subject to a history of colonialism, such as in tropical regions of South America. Many authors have written critically about these issues – however, there is less understanding about the links between such histories and the policies, discourses and relationships that occur in scientific practices in these regions of the world today. In particular, little notice has been taken of localised creations of scientific practice in non-western settings, especially in terms of how they shift scientific trends and debates on a global scale.
Alexander D’Aloia’s article provides a discussion of the concept of the Social Solidarity Economy (SSE), and highlights specifically the ambiguity between its definition and its practice in South America. SSE generally refers to abreak with neoliberalisme whereby the economy comes to serve social ends. The author uses a case study of Ecuador, particularly the vanguardist governmental programme called Mobiliario Escolar, to show the benefits of the blurred definition of SSE in allowing a more creative and adapted practice. According to D’Aloia, SSE proceeds from a practice-oriented theory with the potential to become a policy tool for action. In that sense, this article offers an original focus and stands out from the other articles contained in this issue, which develop more theoretically-oriented analyses of discursive and social practices.
Simon Yampara’s piece is an original translation taken from the concluding chapter of his famous book, El ayllu y la territorialidad en los Andes. Una aproximación a Chambi Grande (2001). Here, Yampara discusses the territorial, socio-political, economic and cultural organization of the ayllu. The ayllu is a political, geographical and ethnic unit that encompasses indigenous communities occupying different ecological levels. It was the most basic indigenous territorial organisation before the spread of haciendas in the Andean region and it is practiced today in zones historically unaffected by haciendas, or by communities that seek to rebuild their indigenous socio-political organisation. The text focuses on how the Aymara concept of suma qamaña, normally translated as “living well” or vivir bien in Spanish, relates to a native perspective of development stemming from the ayllu organisation itself. Yampara’s discussion of suma qamaña was highly influential amongst academics and helped to shape the policies adopted by the current administration under Evo Morales. Since there is very little of Yampara’s work translated into English, Alternautas is proud to present this original translation to English-speaking audiences.
Juan Velasco’s work discusses the reforms in social policies that have taken place in Latin America since the return to democracy started in the 1980s. The author provides a comparative analysis of wage policies trends in Chile and Uruguay in order to highlight the role of institutional legacies, electoral competition and party politics. The two case studies offer a panoramic study of the evolution of wage policies in times of dictatorship and political pluralism, with a particular emphasis on the influence of the urgency of the reforms, collective bargaining power and the openness of parliamentary democracy. This paper opens up new perspectives of analysis on policy-making in Latin America.
Finally, Miriam Lang’s review article offers an in-depth overview of the major discussions developed in the Fifth International Conference on Degrowth, that took place in Budapest in September 2016. The conference gathered activists and academics committed to social transformation. In this essay, the author questions the concept of degrowth and its applicability to the Global South. Whereas most of the literature has highlighted the incompatibility between degrowth and the need of social and economic development in the region, the author conversely suggests that degrowth is a valuable option for an alternative development in Latin America. Some alternatives discussed in the essay are political ecology, ecological economics, feminist perspectives, environmental and climate justice, and universal and unconditional basic income.
In 2016, along with a guest editor (Gerardo Muñoz), Alternautas published a dossier focusing on the end of the progressive cycle in Latin America. The dossier sought to reflect on the observed “failure” of various left-wing governments of the continent in improving democratic inclusion and reducing social inequalities. It engaged with a critical discussion on the meanings of the progressive cycle and the possibility of post-hegemonic alternatives.
In the second half of the year, Alternautas published its first special issue focusing on water and (neo)extractivism in Latin America. It gathered contributions from diverse disciplinary perspectives – including anthropology, archaeology, political science, development studies, critical sociology and geography – showing the diversity of existing approaches to study water (neo)extractivism. Moreover, the special issue covered a large geographic area from Honduras and Guatemala to Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil and Colombia. In general, the authors highlighted both the attempts to establish durable alternatives in water management, and the difficulty of profoundly changing the (neo)extractivist structures that dominate the region.
Along with publishing original content, Alternautas also engages in research and diffusion activities to the scientific community. Following this objective, the editorial team has organised and contributed to panels in relevant academic conferences, such as the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) congress, the Society for Latin American Studies (SLAS) conference at the University of Glasgow, and the Nordic Latin American Research Network (NOLAN) at the University of Gothenburg.
Alternautas has seen its audience increasing over the years: since its creation in 2014, the blog has received over 40,000 visits and 60,000 pages views, and our social media accounts have over 1,000 followers. The blog has a global impact but has garnered the most attention in Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, the United Kingdom, Germany, the United States, Chile, Peru, Colombia, Spain, Switzerland, and more. It is mainly read by English, Spanish and Portuguese-speaking audiences, but also by German and French-speaking people among others. Alternautas is now aiming to undertake a process of transformation, following the success and visibility gained since its creation. The current Editorial Board is therefore seeking to transform Alternautas into an indexed Open Access Journal, which will offer an improved capacity to share and make visible critical research on development on and from Latin America.
We are happy to share with you the great news that in the second half of 2017, Alternautas will be publishing a second special issue called “Agribusiness, (neo)extractivism and food sovereignty: Latin America at a crossroads”. This special issue seeks to explore the tensions, changes and conflicts arising from the expansion of agribusiness as the dominant model of accumulation and food production in the region. Tentative special issues and calls are currently being discussed for the future, and could range from indigenous epistemologies to memory studies. More ideas and projects are always welcome!
You can download here the journal issue in PDF. We forward to see this volume shared far and wide.
The Alternautas Editorial Team,
Adrian E. Beling, Ana Estefanía Carballo, Gibrán Cruz-Martínez, Emilie Dupuits, María Eugenia Giraudo, Juan Loera González, María Mancilla García, Sue Iamamoto, Louise de Mello, Diego Silva, Martina Tonet, Julien Vanhulst, and Johannes M. Waldmüller.
From a virtual Abya Yala, July 2017.