Domesticating Democracy

The Politics of Conflict Resolution in Bolivia

Book Pages: 296 Illustrations: 17 illustrations Published: May 2018

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Economics, Latin American Studies > Andes

In Domesticating Democracy Susan Helen Ellison examines foreign-funded alternate dispute resolution (ADR) organizations that provide legal aid and conflict resolution to vulnerable citizens in El Alto, Bolivia. Advocates argue that these programs help residents cope with their interpersonal disputes and economic troubles while avoiding an overburdened legal system and cumbersome state bureaucracies. Ellison shows that ADR programs do more than that—they aim to change the ways Bolivians interact with the state and with global capitalism, making them into self-reliant citizens. ADR programs frequently encourage Bolivians to renounce confrontational expressions of discontent, turning away from courtrooms, physical violence, and street protest and coming to the negotiation table. Nevertheless, residents of El Alto find creative ways to take advantage of these micro-level resources while still seeking justice and a democratic system capable of redressing the structural violence and vulnerability that ADR fails to treat.


"An in-depth study of the complexities of a foreign-founded programme of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and its eff ects, appropriations and interpretations amongst El Alto residents in Bolivia . . . particularly relevant for practitioners and civil servants."
  — Nico Tassi, Anthropology in Action

"Ellison uses insightful accounts to weave people’s daily experiences of conflicts and vulnerability into the work of the ADR centres and the judicial structure of the country. . . . The book is very valuable in helping us understand Bolivia’s complex process of change, the structural impediments to peaceful progress and the vulnerabilities of large proportions of the populations – conditions that are not automatically helped by foreign funded programmes." — Charlotta Widmark, Journal of Latin American Studies

“Ellison’s volume looks at the introduction of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods in El Alto as of the late 1990s, but particularly in the wake of the 2003 ‘gas war’ that brought down the second Sánchez de Lozada government…. She uses as her title the idea of ‘domesticating democracy.’ This is a nice conceit, since ‘domesticating’ can have several meanings…” — John Crabtree, Latin American Research Review

"With deep insight, Susan Helen Ellison maps the confluence of U.S. investment in Bolivian democracy and liberalization policies that steepened personal debt for many Bolivians. She shows in rich detail how the alternative dispute resolution forums backed by NGOs in the name of democracy have become materially central to the form and substance of interpersonal relations. Her trenchant analysis of what she calls political intimacy is compelling, convincing, and moving—a major contribution to democracy studies." — Carol J. Greenhouse, author of The Paradox of Relevance: Ethnography and Citizenship in the United States

Domesticating Democracy is an original, timely, and important book. Susan Helen Ellison provides a fascinating study of alternative dispute resolution as a form of neoliberal governmentality, and her experience as intern and ethnographer in the institutions she studies shines through. Well-researched, clearly written, convincing, and full of rich ethnographic detail, this book will find an audience among anthropologists and legal scholars interested in Latin America, urban studies, and democratization.” — Daniel M. Goldstein, author of Owners of the Sidewalk: Security and Survival in the Informal City


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Susan Ellison is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Wellesley College.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix
Introduction  1
Uprising  31
1. Fix the State or Fix the People  37
2. Cultures of Peace, Cultures of Conflict  64
3. A Market for Mediators  95
A Brief Recess: Conciliating Conflict in Alto Lima  121
4. Between Compadres There Is No Interest  134
5. The Conflictual Social Life of an Industrial Sewing Machine  163
6. You Have to Comply with Paper  194
Conclusion  221
Notes  235
References  255
Index  275
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Honorable Mention, 2018 Victor Turner Prize in Ethnographic Writing

Winner of the Bryce Wood Book Award, presented the the Latin American Studies Association

Winner, 2019 Association for Political and Legal Anthropology (APLA) Book Award

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-7108-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-7093-2
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