24 Jul 2024  |  Ruben Darío Chambi

Negotiating public space by Aymara traders in the city of El Alto

EASA Conference (University of Barcelona)

Since its foundation in 1985, El Alto (Altu Pata in Aymara) has become Bolivia's second largest city and one of the economic centres in the Andes. It stands out for its mainly Aymara population, which makes it the most important emerging Indigenous city in the region, and for its (informal) commercial sector, which has turned it into a city where traditional and transnational economic practices coexist.

Despite having been projected as an industrial city, over time it has been transformed into a market city (Khatu Marka), where Aymara traders' associations, under community and trade union logics of organisation, articulate complex processes of negotiation with local governments and the state, in the constitution of commercial spaces and urban planning. This negotiation - sometimes conflictive - is accompanied by a gradual empowerment of these associations and the emergence of an Indigenous bourgeoisie that is increasingly acquiring greater social, economic and political prominence.

Based on ethnographic and historical work, this paper proposes to delve into the processes of negotiation of public space by Aymara traders and how they reconfigure and project the future of the city of El Alto. It proposes to approach the negotiation processes from an understanding of their own logics and cosmological frameworks that guide their aspirations and visions of well-being in urban life and how these - on occasions - contrast with the official contemporary urban planning projects.

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The paper will be presented as part of the panel number P090 "Future matters. Urban transformations between utopia and dystopia", hosted by Daniela Giudici (Polytechnic of Turin) and Ségolène Guinard (McGill University). The 18th EASA Biennial Conference "Doing and Undoing with Anthropology" is convened by the University of Barcelona, 23-26 July 2024.