Social Reproduction and Identity Politics of the Coca Leaf – A Bolivian Case Study

Authors: Natalie Gordon*, University of Wyoming
Topics: Human-Environment Geography, Latin America, Indigenous Peoples
Keywords: Social Reproduction, Coca, Bolivia, Identity Politics
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:20 PM
Room: Virtual 33
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Over the last 15 years, the MAS (Movement Towards Socialism) party, fronted by Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first Indigenous president, have pushed to create a unified Bolivian indigenous identity around the symbol of the coca leaf. Amid tensions between the two main coca-growing regions of who should have the right to grow coca, Chapare coca growers continue to assert their identity using the coca leaf and the MAS despite their “lack” of a historical president. Chapare coca growers have found an identity with the coca leaf even more salient and necessary to being Bolivian after a year of political turmoil in what many labeled a coup. Informed by feminist theories of identity formation and social reproduction, this paper aims to address changed and continuing articulations of coca’s importance in coca growers’ lives. I argue that the coca leaf, its production, and political and economic importance are at the center of an ever-shifting meaning of what it means to be a coca grower. Through the coca leaf’s usage as a symbol, coca growers and consumers create a common Bolivian heritage that extends beyond the field into the cities, universities, and everyday Bolivian lives. This far-reaching identity is why Chapareños continue fighting for coca despite their “lack” of historical entitlement. Using last year's political uncertainty as a backdrop will show how identity formation around the coca leaf and its political association is constantly shifting as policy changes and a new Bolivian adult generation rise.

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