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Recognition Politics: Indigenous Rights and Ethnic Conflict in the Andes

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Lorenza FontanaORCiD



This is the authors' accepted manuscript of an authored book that has been accepted and is due to be published in its final definitive form by Cambridge Univeristy Press, 2021.

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Recognition Politics provides an empirically grounded analysis and original theoretical framework to understand a new wave of widely overlooked ethnic conflicts that have emerged across the Andean region commensurate with the implementation of internationally acclaimed indigenous rights. Challenging some of the mainstream progressive interpretations of the politics of recognition as offering more fair and inclusive arrangements for ethnically diverse societies, this book argues that these politics contain seeds of conflict. While they aim to improve social inclusion, under certain conditions they increase social differentiation between communities of rural poor, reduce incentives to cooperate and generate new social tensions. Recognition conflicts, as I define ethnic conflicts emerging as part of broader claims for recognition, generally occur in rural remote areas between peasants and indigenous peoples—groups identified along class and ethnic lines—characterized by widespread poverty, social marginalization, environmental fragility and a deep colonial history. Why are groups that have peacefully cohabited for decades suddenly engaging in hostile and violent behaviours? What is the link between these conflicts and changes in collective self-identification, claims-making and rent-seeking dynamics? And how, in turn, are these changes driven by broader institutional, legal and policy reforms? The book argues that institutional reforms linked to recognition of ethnic groups strengthen identity boundaries and can work as triggers of old and new social tensions. These tensions are rooted in the differential treatment that communities receive under the new recognition framework, which fuels perceptions of discrimination and injustice. This is the case particularly in those regions and communities characterized by high socio-demographic heterogeneity, often as the result of migration and displacement, and by precarious livelihoods that increase competition over resources, such as land and control over natural assets, but also social provisions. To develop this argument, I rely on extensive empirical material collected through qualitative and ethnographic methods in three Andean countries that have been pioneering the implementation of indigenous rights and recognition reforms in Latin America and worldwide: Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. One of my key findings concerns the surprisingly similar features of recognition conflicts across countries, which, despite being part of the same geographical sub-region, are in fact quite different in terms of economic development, political orientation and stability, histories of civil violence and ethnic demography. The comparison leads to a compelling, novel framework that links the new wave of inter-communal conflicts with the implementation of recognition reforms.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Fontana LB

Publication type: Authored Book

Publication status: In Press

Year: 2021

Acceptance date: 26/10/2021

Publisher: Cambridge Univeristy Press