Envisioning gender, indigeneity and urban change: the case of La Paz, Bolivia

Special Issue of Gender, Place and Culture: Gendering the City – edited by Melissa Butcher and Kate Maclean

La Paz, Bolivia, and its neighbouring city, El Alto, have been experiencing patterns of urban accumulation, dispossession and displacement that demonstrate the importance of social, cultural and historical logics to understanding the politics of urban space. A striking feature of these patterns is that the image of the person who has accumulated enough wealth to displace people, is that of an indigenous woman. The Aymaran woman, traditionally dressed in pollera skirt and Derby hat, who pays cash for luxurious properties in the affluent, white area of the Zona Sur, is a trope that has entered popular culture and political discourse. In this paper, I explore the development of this cultural trope from its emergence in the 2009 in the film named after the area in question, Zona Sur, and subsequent uses of images of this film in social media to describe and resist political changes in the city as related to space, property and belonging. My contention is that the trope of the rich Aymaran woman, and the reversal of expected patterns of urban development that she represents, places the colonial, cultural and gendered dynamics that structure how capital shapes urban space into sharp relief. The rich Aymaran woman who has made her money in informal commerce transgresses ideas of propriety and belonging in La Paz, and also received ideas about urban processes and gender in critical geographical literature.

Published paper here.

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