chapter  8
19 Pages

Localizing rebellion: International development agencies and the rise of the indigenous movement in Ecuador


Social movements engage in constant acts of localization. Their role as local actors that mediate local demands with supra-local actors (such as the nationstate) make necessary a permanent process of translation. Their ability to succeed in translating local demands into supra-local discourses and supra-local politics in local problems is one of the main factors of their development – if they can translate local demands into a coherent supra-local discourse while constituting broad alliances, they will prevail, grow and eventually be able to impose their ideas. Even if the concept of transnational social movements is relatively new (amongst the first in defining it were Della Porta and Tarrow 2005), in the sense developed above, most social movements are transnational to some extent. For the purposes of this study, social movements will be understood as

collective efforts to impose some kind of demand that can be formulated on a local, national or global (i.e. transnational) level, based to some degree on local structures. In almost all cases, those different levels are interrelated – that is, a local social movement has national and transnational contacts, structures or influences. Two central forms of localization can be detected: the installation of organizational structures on the local level that are inspired by other organizations or diffused globally through transnational networks, and the implementation of discursive content that allows for the translation of political ideas and demands between the different levels. In both cases, the reverse process, a globalization of local ideas or structures into transnational organizations or discourses is of central importance – transnational social movements are, in today’s world, a key instrument in order to reach determinate goals. Localization can be understood as ‘a complex process and outcome by

which norm-takers build congruence between transnational norms (including norms previously institutionalized in a region) and local beliefs and practices’ (Acharya 2004, 241). The local actors are therefore an active part of the process of localization; diffusion, ‘the spread of movement ideas, practices, and frames from one country to another’ (Della Porta and Tarrow 2005, 2), is

not received passively, but rather met with ‘the active construction (through discourse, framing, grafting, and cultural selection) of foreign ideas by local actors, which results in the former developing significant congruence with local beliefs and practices’ (Acharya 2004, 245). Local social movements are transnational in the sense that they have more than just a say in whom they cooperate with, whose ideas, projects and materials they accept, and what they do with them. They are the key actors of localization and the first to be blamed (or congratulated) if the adaptation of ideas or structures fails or is successful. They actually use localization (and globalization) both as a tool to gain access to resources and as a resource itself – they accept foreign ideas or structures because they want something from them, usually the key resources for social movements: influence, members and infrastructure. If those potentially transnational local social movements engage with gen-

uine transnational actors such as international development agencies in the broadest sense – including the Catholic Church, initiatives by political parties or social movements and other institutions – localization becomes an act of appropriation that is multifaceted and contradictory. Political power is always an issue for social movements which complicates the seemingly simple transmission of ideas and turns into an openly political act – social movements cannot simply be receivers without critique, they have to translate what they want to adapt and localize into something relevant to their cause. At the same time, many social movements, at least those in the Global South, depend to some degree on international actors to provide them with resources in order to preserve their existence and ability to act. This is why the relationship of social movements and development actors is interesting for research in a broad sense: the first party needs resources, ideas, structures, knowledge – things provided by the second party, but at a cost that usually has the potential to compromise the movement (such as, for instance, becoming perceived as agents of imperialism or instruments, and the first victims of, an elite attempt to demobilize the poor). Both sides try to impose their visions, resulting in a constant interchange of localizing and globalizing attempts in a transnational/local field that is crossed by relations of power. This chapter aims to explore the role of social movements in localization

and globalization of both organizational structures and the discursive contents of movements by examining the concrete example of the indigenous movement in Ecuador. This movement will be understood as the central actor in the process of localization that has since its inception engaged in alliances with international or transnational actors and in acts of localization of structures and discourses. Given the specific characteristics of the Ecuadorian case – a rather small country in the Global South with about 15 million inhabitants and with considerable ethnic and regional diversity or, even, fragmentation – the indigenous movement as a political structure parting from a group that is both economically exploited and ethnically oppressed is of considerable interest. While the organizational base of this movement – the indigenous population – is rather numerous, comprising between 10 and 30

per cent of the total population, it remains in relative political isolation and is largely excluded from the economy which has an adverse effect on its longterm existence and ability to repeatedly mobilize. Nevertheless, the organizations of the indigenous movement were able to find and occasionally change transnational alliances that provided them with the resources necessary to survive as a political actor and actually develop an innovative and effective organizational structure and discursive expressions. This constant negotiation of transnational alliances in relation to the loca-

lization and/or globalization of discursive contents and organizational structures will be analysed in a roughly chronological manner, focusing on the current indigenous movement that began in the 1970s. The concrete examples within the case of the indigenous movement in Ecuador will be: 1) the renovation of the movement via localizations of structures and discourses provided by the Catholic Church, independent intellectuals such as the Barbados Group, and the attempts of an ethnic revitalization in the context of the political current of Indianism; 2) the effort to create and institutionalize indigenous education that was supported by religious groups and international development actors; 3) the failed attempt to localize in a top-down manner certain organizational structures through a project run by the World Bank; 4) the creation or renovation of a new political concept in the discourse on development and quality of life supported by international development actors and its subsequent independence and globalization – buen vivir or “Good Life”. The idea of this structure is to include successful as well as unsuccessful examples of localization, to analyse the reasons for those results, and to open up a perspective on globalization of certain contents as a result of their successful localization.