SOAS University of London

Department of Development Studies

From jornaleros to soyeros? Class formation amongst smallholders in Bolivia’s eastern lowlands, 1990-2017

Enrique Castañón Ballivián (SOAS)

Date: 13 November 2019Time: 5:15 PM

Finishes: 13 November 2019Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: G51a

Type of Event: Seminar

During the 1970s, large numbers of highland peasants migrated to Bolivia’s eastern lowlands to work as wage labourers in cotton and sugarcane plantations. Their labour was in high demand and they were happy to find the employment so elusive in their places of origin. Yet, for most of them, working as jornalero was only a transitional stage as they hoped, and indeed fiercely strove, to become independent small farmers. Several ‘spontaneous’ peasant settlements emerged as a result. In the mid-1990s, conditions on the region were radically transformed as neoliberal governments aggressively supported the expansion of soy agribusiness. From the perspective of small farmers, the arrival of soy represented an opportunity to consolidate their position. Witnessing  how some Mennonites and large farmers became prosperous, they aspired to become soyeros themselves. But adopting this capital-intensive crop proved to be risky and difficult. Contrary to analyses that frame soy expansion as a ‘corporate assault’, I trace the process of class formation amongst smallholders in one of these settlements from the early 1990s to the present. The analysis is based on a year-long ethnographic fieldwork and pays particular attention to the context-specific mechanisms through which class differentiation has occurred.

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