From National to Pluri-National: Rethinking the transformation of the Bolivian state through struggles for autonomy

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Following a series of profound conflicts in the early 21st century, Bolivia became the world’s first pluri-national state in 2009. The idea of the pluri-national state goes beyond the (uni-)national state; imagining a state that allows peoples’ coexistence on an equal footing in a state that facilitates their autonomy (Garcés, 2011). However, recent research indicates that, in practice, the Bolivian state transformation is full of tensions.Based on a framework that brings together Open Marxism (Holloway and Picciotto, 1977; Clarke, 1991c; Bonefeld et al., 1992b, a; Bonefeld et al., 1995b) and the 'de-colonial option' (Quijano, 2006), I offer in-depth insights into contemporary Bolivia. In this, I understand the state as the political form of the social relations of capital, which is marked by modernity and its 'darker side' - coloniality (Mignolo, 2011). This thesis offers tools for studying how the state 'translates' indigenous- and non-indigenous struggles into policies, law and polity (Dinerstein, 2015) while also mediating external pressures.After embedding the pluri-national state in its historical context, covering the emergence and development of the Bolivian state form, I look in depth at the pluri-national state. In this, I unpack the multifaceted struggles for autonomy and find that when mediating autonomy into the pluri-national state, something essential to the definition of plurinationality is lost in translation. First, struggles for autonomy as peoples’ self-determination and deepened decentralisation became subordinated to, yet not annihilated by the government’s social-communitarian model that is advocated in the name of the pueblo’s self-determination and ensures the state’s material basis. Secondly, state-recognised autonomy comes at the cost of submission to a state which continuously operates pre-dominantly according to modern/colonial ideas of law, order and organisation. The contradictions found in the pluri-national autonomy regime and the state are inherent in it and hence, cannot be resolved through reform.
Date of Award21 Mar 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorAna Cecilia Dinerstein (Supervisor) & James Copestake (Supervisor)


  • Autonomy
  • State transformation
  • Self-determination
  • Decentralisation
  • pluri-national
  • indigenous peoples
  • Bolivia

Cite this