Critical Junctures: Crisis and Crossroads in Bolivia

2 February 2021

by Angus McNelly

Angus McNelly is an Honorary Research Fellow in Latin American Politics/International Development at Queen Mary University of London. His research focuses on the experiences of the urban working-classes under the progressive government of Evo Morales in Bolivia, where Angus has spent a significant amount of time conducting research. He is currently part of the QMUL Latin America network, Latin American Geographies-UK and co-organises the Urban and Regional Political Economy working group in the International Initiative for the Promotion of Political Economy.

Reflecting on the crisis that enveloped Bolivia in the late-1970s, critical Marxist René Zavaleta Mercado mused that ‘crisis is the classic form of revelation or recognition of all of social reality’.[1] A crisis is a moment that represents an accumulation of what had already come to pass, a moment when incongruent social formations such as Bolivia can be read through the shared time of politics. By reading politics beyond conjunctural phenomena such as coup d’états and beyond the formal political institutions so detached from postcolonial social reality, Zavaleta reconceptualises crisis as an epistemological tool rather than a normative construct, a way to understand, rather than lament, moments of explosive social change. He also saw the creative potential of crises: crises do not only have a national scope but are themselves nationalising events—the diverse temporalities of indigenous, industrial and feudal segments of Bolivian society are altered with their interruption—and offer the material for intersubjectivity: that is to say, shared or common experiences of crisis provide the building blocks for the collective national subject.

This article was originally published in English and Portuguese in