Congratulations to SOCLAS Latin American Studies postgraduate  Katinka Weber, who has just been awarded her PhD for the thesis Chiquitano and the State: Negotiating Identities and Indigenous Territories in Bolivia.

“My thesis analyses how Chiquitano people engage with the Bolivian state and to what effect. To explore this, in 2006 – 2007, I spent eleven months in and around the former Jesuit missions of Concepción and San Javier in Santa Cruz department in the eastern Bolivian lowlands.

I was especially interested in the emergence of the local Chiquitano movement, the interaction of Chiquitano with the local municipal government and the Chiquitano struggle for their own territory – an issue causing much local conflict, some of it violent.

Chiquitano were pressuring the Bolivian state bureaucracy to declare them the rightful owners of a large area of mainly primary rainforest. They desperately needed this space because most land in the region is occupied by large agricultural estates and cattle ranches, leaving Chiquitano communities with little room to carry out their own subsistence activities. However, many local cattle ranchers and loggers were opposed to the Chiquitano claim and, in turn, had declared themselves the legal owners of parts of the area.

Crucially, the Bolivian state in the 1990s instituted a series of legal reforms to benefit Bolivia’s indigenous population. While these included that groups could obtain legal titles to territories they claimed to be ancestrally theirs, the Bolivian state only recognises certain types of indigenous organisations and stipulates how the land that people get granted should be used.

I therefore found that while the Chiquitano organisation interact with the state to protect Chiquitano ways of living, they are pressured to accept certain state impositions on the ways they should live and organise, as this is the only way to achieve protection and benefits through the state legislation.

However, I also make the case that local Chiquitano communities more subtly resist state impositions, by continually reproducing Chiquitano beliefs, forms of organisation and social relations in general.”

Katinka is University Teacher of Latin American Sociology in SOCLAS for 2010-11. She is currently working on publications based on her PhD research and applying for postdoctoral positions.