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A Historical Contribution of Bolivia to Social Sciences


Written by: Juan Carlos Zambrana Gutiérrez


It is well known that the road to economic development has been traumatic, unjust, and destructive for the indigenous peoples of Latin America. Despite their frustrating experiences during the historical progress of the Latin American countries on the way to definitive economic advancement, within the last ten years Bolivians have made a significant contribution to the field of economic and social science by reformulating the issue of development.


Bolivians, inspired by some of their intellectuals and moved by their political leaders, recognized the existence of a process of worldwide acculturation whose cultural flow moves from the economically more-developed countries to the countries on the road to development. It was observed that the endogenous cultures were under attack by a powerful process that threatened to transform them and make them disappear. In the case of Bolivia, this process is called Westernization, and its modus operandi is characterized by the use by some countries of Europe and those to the north of America of economic power, technological advantages, and advances in the field of science as instruments of domination that permit them to reproduce the so-called “Western culture” in the countries on the road to development.


Currently, the process of Westernization makes use of globalization. The case of Singapore is an example of this. Some studies, including those of A.T. Kearney, Foreign Policy magazine, and the World Economic Forum point to Singapore as the most globalized country in the world. However, it’s worth noting that that country has not been able to level intercultural relations, given the evidence of an unbalanced tendency to relations with the countries that dominate the spheres of technological innovation, finances and international trade (in Singapore, the education system uses English and is supervised by teachers from the United States and the United Kingdom).


In addition, the economist Valentino Piana, director of the Economics Web Institute, carried out his own investigation and developed a graphical image of the hierarchical structure of interstate relations of domination, in which he situated five states in the category of “center,” meaning that these were the countries that dominated others without any country being able to exert true dominion over them. These countries were none other than the United States, Great Britain, China, Japan, and Germany.


These are but two ways of demonstrating in brief that the leading countries in the fields of economy, science, and technological innovation use these resources as tools to attempt to homogenize culturally their respective areas of influence by means of their educational institutions and the resource of knowledge, very valuable in a knowledge economy.


As the Bolivians were aware of the extortion underlying the idea of an opening to globalization and Westernization in order to achieve an effective transfer of technologies and knowledge that would allow them to achieve economic development, the first alternative that came to mind for them before the “process of change” was conceived in Bolivia was one that could only impoverish the Bolivians even more in an economic era of global interdependency: it contemplated economic suicide by ethnocentric insulation. This retrograde strategy suggested that the people of Bolivia turn their sights back on their original means of production, provide for themselves on their own, and preserve their languages and customs, insulating themselves absolutely from globalization in order to thus free themselves from the cultural influence of the economic powers. This would have meant for these peoples the loss of the benefits and usefulness of globalization.


Fortunately, in Bolivia something amazing has been achieved in the field of social sciences. There has been institutionalized a national project that seeks the globalization of interculturality with the goal of promoting a balanced and reciprocal cultural exchange. Today’s Bolivians do not flee from globalization: they demand of it an intercultural character.


The Bolivian population has experienced what German philosopher Jürgen Habermas called “emancipatory knowledge,” which he recognized as the fruit of self-reflection generated through dialogue. In the words of  French philosopher Stéphane Haber, “It’s not about directing conscience as a function of an absolute knowledge, but rather about enlightening the agents based on what they know, say, and learn through the dialogues in which they take part.” Thus, as a result of the process of dialogue, practiced at every level within Bolivian society, self-reflection came about, allowing the collective organizations to reach a new state of consciousness and to prepare to demand equality of dignity, rights, and opportunities in a framework of respect for cultural diversity.


At that point, it was feared that the road to development could turn back the benefits the emancipatory knowledge had already generated within the population. There was an effort then to come up with ways to provide the people with the necessary technologies, innovations, knowledge, techniques, and markets to reach economic development while at the same time promoting the beneficial practice of interculturality, indispensable for the Bolivians of the current generation.


Currently, Bolivia’s National Plan of Development demonstrates the notable care with which Bolivians have proposed to take on the matter of development in a framework of interculturality. The document sets forth

The strategy that will the people to continue to leave behind a slanted ethnocentrism in order to advance toward a better understanding of the intricate cultural universe of our planet, which requires a recognition of multiple identities –global, Latin American, national, ethnic, and familial– with the goal of reaching a balanced coexistence that furnishes democratic political instruments (plans, laws and institutions) to promote a new relationship in which all cultural groups can give in the same measure as they receive, calibrating uninterruptedly the balance of a multidirectional and reciprocal interchange.


This project is materialized at the national level by means of the reforms of the educational system, which now promote cultural interchange instead of a mere Westernization of the students; new laws against racism and discrimination; and a broad range of social policies that allow a revaluation of the endogenous cultures and promote an exchange among them. The same thing takes place in the field of international relations, for today they unfold within a framework of interculturality instead of Westernization. The national government is now free to do business and undertake projects with countries the world over, and has moved to form friendly relationships with countries that share a commitment to protect endogenous cultural riches from Westernization, as is the case with China, Iran, Venezuela and Ecuador among many others. The Diplomacy of the Peoples is also a politico-social innovation that promotes popular participation in international relations as well as direct cultural exchanges beyond national borders.


For the reasons mentioned above, and although at first there was necessarily a context of heightened conflict in which the Social Movements had to confront the obstacles that blocked the collective potential of learning and creation, the Bolivian process of change

is becoming one of the major contributions made by Bolivians to the field of social science, as macroeconomic data and social progress show politicians and  academics that it is possible to advance with firm steps on the road to development while escaping the dire destiny of the Westernization of the world, thanks to social consciousness and political commitment.


About Juan Carlos Zambrana Marchetti