To Make Do in the City
Social Identities & Cultural Transformations
among Aymara Speakers in La Paz

By Charlotta Widmark
December 2003
Uppsala University Press
ISBN: 91-554-5791-6
274 pages, Illustrated, 6 " x 8 "
$62.50 Paper Original

This Ph.D. dissertation deals with cultural transformations and negotiations of social identity among urban Aymara speakers (bilingual Spanish-Aymara) in the city of La Paz in Bolivia in the last decade of the twentieth century. The main question concerns how they experience and express their sense of belonging in relation to their subordinated roles in society and the new spaces that are opened up by the democratization process. This question is dealt with through the study of social strategies of survival, for a better life and social mobility.

The study also discusses how people use and contest traditional social and cultural ideals when dealing with and organizing everyday problems and activities. Theoretical perspectives on identity formation in relation to migration could be located on a continuum in terms of the emphasis that is placed on adaptation, on the one hand, and cultural continuity, on the other. This study shows that migrants do not conceptualize moving to the city as a big rupture but rather as a gradual process. Even if migration is part of a striving for social mobility, the migrants do not aspire to assimilate into the cultural context of the elite, but rather to advance within their own real and imagined community. In the urban setting, people form identities that combine or balance various points of reference, of which the most important are the citizenship in the state (class identity) and the membership in the Aymara community (ethnic identity).

While people use rural practices and traditions as models for many of their activities and preoccupations, these are constantly contested and negotiated. People make their choices of strategies from a marginalized and subordinated position within the socio-economic and political structure of the city and the country. In the city all inhabitants, irrespective of background, are part of a cultural context in which different values and cultural models are constantly confronted and negotiated.

Uppsala Studies in Cultural Anthropology, No. 36

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