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Political Knowledge Regimes: an approach to the Bolivian case

[Editor’s note: This post was written by Fernando Martín Moreno, Political Science graduate by the Complutense University of Madrid and second year student of the International Master of Contemporary Latin American Studies. For author correspondence, please write to The concept of Political Knowledge Regimes was developed by Adolfo Garcé as part of a Poltics & Ideas’ initiative]

In recent years we are witnessing a process of effervescence in many areas of life in several countries of Latin America. Among them the Bolivian case has become one of the most relevant for academics and researchers from all over the world, as shows the numerous scientific production that has been done since the early 2000s, with the emergence of indigenous and peasant movement that will take the Movement for Socialism (MAS) headed by Evo Morales to the government


In this paper (available in Spanish) we tried to approach the (political) knowledge regimes of Bolivia in order to understand the evolution of the machinery of knowledge and ideas that influence the public debate and the policymaking process has developed, especially those that supported the so called Bolivian Revolutionary Cycle. Although it might seem that the policymaking in Bolivia is based largely on intuition, underpinned by an eminently political rationality as many authors point out, evidence demonstrates that the role of expert knowledge has been essential during the entire process of transformation and reformulation of the State until today. In this sense, we try to approach the landscape of policymaking regime using both the concept of knowledge regime (KR) developed by Campbell and Pedersen (2005; 2011; 2014) and the concept of political knowledge regime (P-KR) proposed by Garcé (2014).

It is worth remembering that KR are understood as “the organizational and institutional machinery that generates data, research, policy recommendations and other ideas that influence public debate and policymaking”. For the systematization of their analysis Campbell and Pedersen differentiate between two types of economies or varieties of capitalism (liberal market -EML- and coordinated market -EMC-) and two types of State or policymaking regime (centralized and closed and decentralized and open), in which different research units shall prevail (scholar, state, advocacy and partisans). This crossing will produce four ideal types of knowledge regimes: a) market-oriented; b) politically-tempered; c) consensus-oriented; d) statist-technocratic.

Meanwhile, in the P-KR proposal of Garcé, it is considered that “the social valuation of science also leaves a profound mark on the supply and the demand of research. In the countries where a more rationalist culture predominates, the demand for research tends to be more intense and accepts that science can be neutral” whereas in the “political cultures that are suspicious of the knowledge of experts, the demand for scientific knowledge will be lower and there will be an instrumental use of knowledge”. Consequently the author proposes the following typology of what he calls Political Knowledge Regimes: a) technocracy; b) technocratic pluralism; c) plebeian majority; d) plebeian pluralism.

The first limitation of the Campbell and Pedersen approach can be summarized with the assertion of Aguirre and Lo Vuolo when they point out that in Latin America there is “a kind of variety of capitalism where development is led by the State creating new institutional advantages without converge on an EML or EMC.” By placing the first stage of Bolivia (1982-2000) in this first axis we find difficulties, although we consider that there is a greater proximity to the EML. Regarding the second variable, the country would look like centralized and closed because although it is true that in this years the process of opening and decentralization begins, decisions related to policymaking remain concentrated in a few isolated areas of the State. Thus, according to Campbell and Pedersen´s proposal, the KR would be politically-tempered but it shares more characteristics with other types, as will happen when it modifies its position in the categories following the changes occurring in subsequent years. It is a forced application to Bolivia where the model has great difficulty in explaining the specific characteristics of the case.

On the other hand, according to the typology proposed by Garcé, during the first stage we would find a technocracy P-KR because in the political system premium rationalism and its policymaking regime is centralized. With the deepening of decentralization and openness of the system since 1990, to mitigate the emerging discontent caused by macroeconomic adjustment, it could be argued that the political knowledge regime turns to one of technocratic pluralism.

With this background, our work tries to show that especially since the arrival of representative democracy to Bolivia, NGOs financed largely by international cooperation will play a role as think tanks of different actors who were part of the culture of “politics on the streets”, that is actors who practiced politics not necessarily within institutional channels and usually focused on the transformation of democratic institutions -similar will be the role played by many foundations with respect to political parties or International financial institutions (IFI’s) in relation to the state but from another perspective and other spaces.

Especially relevant is the case of CEJIS and CEDLA whose role as generators of expert knowledge were very important when organizing and synthesizing the social movements’ demands in the negotiations with the government within the framework of neoliberal reforms. We can see how these organizations reached the unity of social movements under the Coordinator of Solidarity with Indigenous People that later became the “political muscle of the MAS of Evo Morales, because it was the cornerstone of the Political Instrument for the Sovereignty of the People (IPSP)”. In addition, elections in late 2005 served as an “institutional approach of certain NGOs to MAS, and a wave of recruitment of its members by the apparatus of President Morales”. In this sense, today several members of NGOs and other intellectual groups as Comuna that exercised as think tanks participate by leading ministries, embassies, being deputy ministers or civil servants, and acting as senior advisers.

After discussing how the concepts of KR and P-KR can be applied to the Bolivian case, we consider that the P-KR model proposed by Garcé provides us a more accurate explanation to Bolivia’ landscape, where the variable “demand for expert knowledge by the movements” is very relevant to explain the links between research and policy. Besides this, the model still not provide an adequate response to the question of change, as occur with the Campbell and Pedersen´s one. For this reason, we suggest that that the discursive institutionalism opens the door to a possible explanation: rather than approaching discourses in terms of persuasiveness (Schmidt, 2011), we should analyze its performative component. Performative acts are linguistic acts that generate an action by being used in certain circumstances. In this regard, Stefanoni (2011) argues that “we should not depreciate the performativity of emancipatory discourses in contexts of internal colonialism such as Bolivia”.

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