This article discusses the terms in which ethnoracial difference is understood in a context where migrants from the highlands of Bolivia have come into contact with an indigenous group in the lowlands. Ethnographic fieldwork conducted between 2007 and 2010 found that these differences were not normally discussed in terms of inherent and unchangeable characteristics, but rather in terms of a fluid position in a hierarchy of human development. This hierarchical scale is described and enacted locally in terms of practices and social relationships. Commerce, social organization, and cultural production are indicators of a group?s social progress. As groups change their practices, they change their position in the hierarchy. Further, changes in the local context are expected to encourage groups to change their practices. This contrasts with national discourses that generally focus on the opposition of white and Indian and see change in terms of race mixture ? mestizaje ? between these opposing designations. In these national discourses, the attributes of whiteness or indigeneity are seen to be fixed and essential characteristics, and difference is achieved through degree of biological and cultural mixture. I conclude by suggesting that each of these conceptions of social difference have historical antecedents that date back to the colonial encounter and may contribute to our understanding of present-day national politics.
- ethnoracial difference
- social hierarchy