In 2009, Bolivia was transformed from a republic into a plurinational state with constitutionally enshrined rights for indigenous peoples and mother earth. Yet, conservative groups of small-scale miners, known as mining cooperatives, exercise significant power within this new state. Through ethnographic and archival work, this research explores the history and politics of Bolivian mining cooperatives. It argues that the tension between plurinationalism and cooperative mining is evidence of an older division between Bolivia’s surface land and its subsoil resources. The latter was produced as a national space and imbued with masculinist and mestizo dreams of progress that continue to motivate resource extraction, even in an era of putatively indigenous nation-building.


ACLS Fellowship Program, 2022


Subterranean Matters: Unearthing the Seams of Plurinational Bolivia




This project explores how Bolivian senses of nationalism were forged in and through the subterranean, and how these histories continued to impinge on recent efforts to remake the (singular) nation into a “plurinational” state. Drawing on over eighteen months of ethnography with small-scale tin miners in Bolivia, as well as extensive archival research, oral histories, and interviews, "Subterranean Matters" offers both a contemporary ethnography and a material history of the relationship between the Bolivian nation and its rocky material bedrock. First, it documents the material constitution of the subterranean through geological, political economic, and affective processes, demonstrating how these histories have transformed the contours of the deep earth. Second, it shows how this space and the materials that comprise it continue to shape not only the people who labor underground but also the political arenas within which they can operate. Ultimately, the book argues that the plurinational project was constrained by a tension between competing visions of nation and nationalism, both of which are entangled with the meanings and matters of the subsoil.