Embodied Citizenship in the Making : Bolivian Urban Youth at the Crossroads of Social Hierarchies

Abstract: This thesis analyses the body as a nexus for playing out power relations and feelings of belonging. Based upon twelve months of fieldwork amongst young urban people living in La Paz and El Alto, it examines the connections between bodily conceptions, social hierarchies and societal inclusions. During the fieldwork in 2014-2015, Evo Morales and his MAS Party had been in power for almost a decade. The young people had thus grown up with the “process of change”, the project of decolonizing the society and building a plurinational state. This served as the study’s backdrop. The material shows that despite the government’s “process of change”, old and discriminatory structures and notions prevailed amongst the youth. Social hierarchies and the production of differences were integral parts of their everyday life. The young people, engaged in an organization working for sexual and reproductive rights, navigated complex and contradictory norms and values in a conflictive socio-political landscape. With political practices at the micro-level of everyday life, they questioned, negotiated and reproduced old notions and developed their political subjectivities. The topic of sexuality emerged as a particularly intense site for interrelational struggles between adults and young people. A new political position surfaced, claiming space in the nation’s body politic – the political subject of youth. The study of youth fruitfully unravelled social and political developments and adults’ interests, highlighting constructions of temporalities and the need to consider age.The thesis makes evident how notions of race, class, gender, age, sexuality and place materialize bodies. Some bodies merged with salient norms, whereas others “stood out” and felt “out of place”. It is suggested that the relationship between society, state and the individual is productively studied with the framework of “embodied citizenship”. Embodied citizenship is theoretically and analytically uncovered by linking projects of nationhood, how belongings at different societal levels and social hierarchies are produced and interrelated, together with an intersectional gaze on power relations. This elucidates that citizenship is an ongoing, embodied and lived experience in everyday life. It develops in relation to social hierarchies and projects of nationhood whose inherent power relations work to materialize bodies.