Bret Gustafson

Bret Gustafson

​Associate Professor of Sociocultural Anthropology
PhD, Harvard University
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    ​Bret Gustafson's work focuses on the anthropology of politics and the political, with a particular interest in Latin American social movements, state transformation, and the politics of development.

    Gustafson came to these questions through work with Indigenous movements in Bolivia and Guatemala. One set of interests revolves around the conjoined politics of language, race, and decolonization, questions he pursued through a study of the Guarani movement and neoliberal school reform in Bolivia (New Languages of the State: Indigenous Resurgence and the Politics of Knowledge in Bolivia, Duke, 2009). He continues to engage, research, and write on Guarani, and on Indigenous language and education issues in Bolivia and across Latin America. He has also extended his interests in the politics of race, inequality, and education through an ongoing collaborative project on school reform in St. Louis.

    His work with the Guarani – given the impact of recent natural gas development across their territory – led to another line of inquiry into energy politics and extractive industries in Latin America. This book project, Energy and Empire: Bolivia in the Age of Gas, explores hydro-carbons and state transformation in Bolivia, as seen through the Chaco region and the lives of the Guarani and their neighbors, and through the wider geocultural politics of neo-developmentalism and energy integration with Brazil. As with his work on education politics, his interest in Bolivian gas has led him into conjoined explorations of, and teaching on, the cultural politics of fossil fuels in the U.S.

    Selected Publications

    On the cultural politics of nature, resources, and territory:

    2018 Extractivism: A Review Essay. Latin American Perspectives. 45(3).

    2016 (with Natalia Guzmán Solano).  Mining Movements and Political Horizons in the Andes: Articulation, Democratization, and Worlds Otherwise. In Mining in Latin America: Critical Approaches to the “New Extraction”.  Kalowatie Deonandan and Michael Dougherty, eds.  New York: Routledge. Pp. 141-159.

    2012 “Fossil Knowledge Networks: Industry Strategy, Public Culture, and the Challenge for Critical Research.  In Flammable Societies: Studies on the Socio-Economics of Oil and Gas. Edited by J.A. McNeish and O. Logan. London: Pluto.

    2011 "Flashpoints of Sovereignty: Natural Gas and Spatial Politics in Eastern Bolivia." In Crude Domination: An Anthropology of Oil. Edited by A. Behrends, S. Reyna, G. Schlee. London: Berghahn.

    2011 Remapping Bolivia: Resources, Territory and Indigeneity in a Plurinational State. Santa Fe: SAR Press (co-edited with Nicole Fabricant).

    2010  Autonomia e articulação: o gas natural e as transformações das regiões e do poder na Bolívia e Brasil.  In Região e poder: representações en fluxo. Dilamar Candida Martins, Izabel Missagia de Mattos, and Mauro Victoria Soares, eds. Goiania: Editora PUC Goias. Pp. 37-58.

    2010 When States Act Like Movements: Dismantling Local Power and ‘Seating’ Sovereignty in Bolivia. Latin American Perspectives 37(4):48-66.

    2009 Manipulating Cartographies: Plurinationalism, Autonomy, and Indigenous Resurgence in Bolivia. Anthropological Quarterly 82(4):985-1016.

    2006 Spectacles of Autonomy and Crisis: Or, What Bulls and Beauty Queens Have to Do With Regionalism in Eastern Bolivia. Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology 11(2):351-379.

    On the politics of knowledge, language, and indigeneity:

    2017 Diversity and Democracy in Bolivia: Sources of Inclusion in an Indigenous Majority Society. Ottawa: Global Centre for Pluralism. Accounting for Change in Diverse Societies Series.

    2017 Oppressed No More? Indigenous Language Regimentation in Plurinational Bolivia. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 246:31-57.

    2016 (with Felix Julca and Ajbee Jiménez). The Politics and Policy of Language Revitalization in Latin America and the Caribbean. Language Revitalization in Latin America and the Caribbean.  Teresa McCarty and Serafin Coronel-Molina, eds. New York: Routledge. Pp.  35-54.

    2014 Guarani. The Languages of Bolivia. Tomo III: Oriente.  Mily Crevels and Pieter Muysken, eds. La Paz: Plural Editores. Pp. 307-369.

    2014 Intercultural Bilingual Education in the Andes: Political Change, New Challenges, Future Directions. In Cortina, Regina, ed. Educating Indigenous Citizens in Latin America. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters. Pp. 74-97.

    In progress  (w. F. Jullqa and A. Jiménez) “The Politics and Policy of Language Revitalization in Latin America and the Caribbean.” 

    In press “Intercultural Bilingual Education in the Andes: Political Change, New Challenges, and Future Directions.”

    2010 Rethinking Intellectuals in Latin America. Frankfurt and Madrid: Vervuert  (co-edited with Mabel Moraña).

    2009 New Languages of the State: Indigenous Resurgence and the Politics of Knowledge in Bolivia. Durham: Duke University Press.

    Remapping Bolivia Resources, Territory, and Indigeneity in a Plurinational State

    Remapping Bolivia Resources, Territory, and Indigeneity in a Plurinational State

    The 2005 election of Evo Morales to the presidency of Bolivia marked a critical moment of transformation—a coca farmer and peasant union leader became the first indigenous president in the history of the Americas. Gathering work from a new generation of anthropologists and scholars in related disciplines who have been doing fieldwork in the “post-Evo” era, Remapping Bolivia reflects shifting paradigms in Latin Americanist and indigenous-related research.

    Rethinking Intellectuals in Latin America

    Rethinking Intellectuals in Latin America

    Latin America’s political and cultural upheavals in recent years are in large measure attributable to a flourishing renaissance of knowledge production and innovation – intellectual, cultural, literary, grassroots, and artistic projects that have exploded from a multiplicity of social settings and in new media, new movements, and new political expressions.
    Rethinking Intellectuals in Latin America captures unfolding processes and cultural politics through a comparative lens examining both historical precursors and contemporary dynamics. This work offers an interdisciplinary tour de force, combining perspectives from history, literature, anthropology, linguistics, politics, and law, and will be an indispensable source for those who want to capture – in all of its plural complexity – the past and the future of cultural and intellectual shifts transforming the Americas.

    New Languages of the State

    New Languages of the State

    During the mid-1990s, a bilingual intercultural education initiative was launched to promote the introduction of indigenous languages alongside Spanish in public elementary schools in Bolivia’s indigenous regions. Bret Gustafson spent fourteen years studying and working in southeastern Bolivia with the Guarani, who were at the vanguard of the movement for bilingual education. Drawing on his collaborative work with indigenous organizations and bilingual-education activists as well as more traditional ethnographic research, Gustafson traces two decades of indigenous resurgence and education politics in Bolivia, from the 1980s through the election of Evo Morales in 2005. Bilingual education was a component of education reform linked to foreign-aid development mandates, and foreign aid workers figure in New Languages of the State, as do teachers and their unions, transnational intellectual networks, and assertive indigenous political and intellectual movements across the Andes.


    Gustafson shows that bilingual education is an issue that extends far beyond the classroom. Public schools are at the center of a broader battle over territory, power, and knowledge as indigenous movements across Latin America actively defend their languages and knowledge systems. In attempting to decolonize nation-states, the indigenous movements are challenging deep-rooted colonial racism and neoliberal reforms intended to mold public education to serve the market. Meanwhile, market reformers nominally embrace cultural pluralism while implementing political and economic policies that exacerbate inequality. Juxtaposing Guarani life, language, and activism with intimate portraits of reform politics among academics, bureaucrats, and others in and beyond La Paz, Gustafson illuminates the issues, strategic dilemmas, and imperfect alliances behind bilingual intercultural education.