Betrayed: Politics, Pyramid Schemes, and Bolivian Vernaculars of Fraud


ACLS Fellowship Program



Named Award

ACLS/NEH International and Area Studies Fellow named award


“Betrayed” examines the moral economies and governance politics of estafa (fraud) in the conjoined cities of El Alto and La Paz, Bolivia. Questions of fraud sit at the intersection of donor-backed development projects and dubious pyramid schemes, transnational judicial reform efforts, and everyday livelihood strategies in places like Bolivia, as foreign donors and national governments alike emphasize entrepreneurship as the means to alleviate poverty and seek to promote the rule of law. Defined as criminal deception, fraud accusations further provide a vocabulary for citizens to speak against betrayals by presidents and local elites as well as neighbors and kin, and to articulate alternative expectations of social, political, and economic relations. Through a close examination of the intersecting moral, political, and legal valences of fraud, this project illuminates the shifting relationship between desire, private property ownership, virtuous citizenship, and the criminalization of insolvent subjects—with implications well beyond Bolivia.