Academic journal article Ethnology

Adolescent Ambiguities and the Negotiations of Belonging in the Andes

Academic journal article Ethnology

Adolescent Ambiguities and the Negotiations of Belonging in the Andes

Article excerpt

Although typically marginal to conceptions of citizenship, children also negotiate their belonging to the nation. This article explores the ways adolescent girls in a rural region of Bolivia use clothing to identify themselves with various collectivities: nation, region, and family. Their consumption and displays of fashion are shaped by national and local discourses of gender, race, and the civilized. Navigating multiple identifications simultaneously, their everyday and ritual practices disrupt assumed oppositions between "Indian" and "Bolivian." (Youth, gender, race, identity, Bolivia)

Hegemonic notions of modern citizens and national identities are typically built on unmarked categories of masculinity, "whiteness," urban residence, and adulthood, yet women, nonwhites, and children also are citizens, both in the formal sense of having the "right to carry a specific passport" (Yuval-Davis 1997) and in a practical sense of actively negotiating their belonging to national collectivities. Although often relegated to the margins of political arenas, the ways in which women and ethnic minorities are materially and symbolically crucial to the construction and maintenance of borders between places and categorical distinctions between kinds of people have in recent years been explored by scholars from a variety of disciplinary and regional perspectives (Albro 2000; Kaplan, Alarcon, and Moallem 1999; Collins 1998; de Grazia 1996; de la Cadena 2000; Layoun 2001; Luykx 1999; McClintock 1995; Nugent 1998; Parker, Sommer, and Yeager 1992; Radcliffe and Westwood 1996; Stephenson 1999; Stoler 1995; Weismantel 2001; Yuval-Davis 1997). Much of this work, drawing on a Foucaultian framework (Foucault 1972, 1978), demonstrates the ways in which colonial and national states engage and depend on establishing not only new political and economic organizations but also social actors able to function within them.

From this perspective Stephens (1995a:6) asks, "In what respects are children--as foci of gender-specific roles in the family, as objects of regulation and development in the school, and as symbols of the future and of what is at stake in contests over cultural identity--pivotal in the structuring of modernity?" In the highland region of Pocoata (Province of Chayanta, Department of Potosi), Bolivia, children and young adults come into contact with urban hegemonic notions of national identity and become integrated into national arenas through education in rural public schools (Luykx 1999; Stephenson 1999), migration to urban areas for work (Gill 1994), consumption of commodities (Colloredo-Mansfield 1999; Parker, Sommer, and Yeager 1992), mass media, and mandatory military service (Gill 1997). But if people's subjective views are partially shaped through state and civil institutions, they are also inextricably intertwined with personal experiences and local conceptions of childhood and youth, and gender and family (Stephens 1995a: 16; Stoler 1995).

Moreover, children and youth are not simply objects of regulation or symbols of future identities. Children imagine themselves and enact themselves as gendered, ethnic, national, and transnational entities. They are themselves social actors who in their ordinary lives do not simply take on the nation's politics as their everyday psychology (Coles 1986; Stephens 1995a:3; also see Amit-Talai and Wulff 1995; Bucholtz 2002; Eckert and McConnell-Ginet 1995; Lomawaima 1995; Luykx 1999; Stephens 1995b). This article explains how the consumption of clothing is a site for understanding how Pocoata youths experience the possibilities and constraints of their own belonging in Bolivia at the turn of the twenty-first century. (2) The focus on Pocoata girls particularly is meant to challenge notions of citizenship and categories of identity not usually assumed to be significant to the nation, and to analyze practices not usually considered political.

The ethnographic episodes presented here are drawn from 22 months of research primarily conducted in rural Quechua-speaking communities in 1995-1996 and more recently with Pocoata migrants in the cities of Sucre and Cochabamba in 2001 and 2003. …

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