The research for the thesis was conducted in the village of Usibamba, located in a high-Andean area called Alto Cunas east from the Mantaro Valley in the Peruvian Central Andes. Special attention was paid to the institutional context and the everyday life conditions in which the social construction of community takes place. The thesis focuses on ongoing changes in agrarian situations relating to processes of modernization, globalization and different kinds of migration experiences (both national and international). The research consisted of surveys, interviews and the selection of case studies as a means to develop an actor oriented ethnography adapted for the study of social transformations in rural areas.
The dynamic of the community was analyzed from the perspective of the everyday experiences of a diversity of social actors. Different kinds of life situations were selected such as being part of a family, a neighborhood and a peasant community, taking up authority positions and engaging in new endeavors, such as migration, that require the establishment of new types of social relationships. The following topics were studied: transformations in property relations, land use and possession, changes in community governance, communal life and local forms of organization, as well as changing notions of what it means to be a villager and a member of the peasant community institution (the comunidad). These latter changes are important factors in the creation of a diversity of social networks and relationships inside and outside the locality as well as in the constitution of a local identity. An additional factor influencing the constitution of such a local identity is the high level of competition between different villages, all differentially affected by experiences with national and international forms of migration. As a result past social networks based on relations of kin were redefined. Presently such networks have become more extended and have led to the production of de-territorialized forms of community practices.
In contrast to other anthropological approaches to the study of Andean communities a constructivist approach is used in order to document and analyze the impacts of globalization processes. In other words these impacts were studied taking as a point of departure experiences and situations internal to the Andean community while taking into account external factors, thus viewing the community as an entity that is continuously being reformulated. This approach made it possible to assess structural modifications in the functioning of the community, changes in the relationship with the state, peasant responses to the globalization of local and regional markets, as well as participation in social networks that extended far outside the locality of Alto Cunas. In short, the socio-cultural process of community construction were studied from the point of view of the livelihoods and lifeworlds of Andean comuneros in a context of globalization that entailed the incorporation of all sorts of values and practices resulting from the migration experience.
The thesis is composed of 6 chapters. In the first chapter the literature on Andean studies is reviewed paying special attention to the chosen theoretical and methodological frameworks, as well as to the kinds of preoccupations and representations of Andean reality these frameworks engaged with. An historical analysis of the most important ethnographic researches undertaken by Peruvian and foreign anthropologists is presented within the light of the dominant theoretical currents that were in vogue at the time they were written. Also, reference is made to works analyzing historical transformations in Peru and the Central Andes in particular since the 1970’s. These include works undertaken from an actor perspective. Subsequently the central theoretical ideas are presented. The first chapter ends with some methodological reflections which were developed during field work. Concepts such as livelihoods, lifeworlds, human agency and social networks constitute the theoretical and conceptual framework used in this thesis.
In Chapter 2 a dynamic vision of the locality of Usibamba is presented. Usibamba is a locality in the sense that it is both an administrative entity, a village and district, and a peasant community. Community life is both constituted through a diversity of social events taking place in the midst of the village and the comunidad, as well as in mundane contexts pertaining to family life. These social spaces are full of differences, conflicts and contrasting views, as well as mutual agreements, and mechanisms for reaching consensus. This description of the comunidad contrasts with idyllic representations of the comunidad as constituting a world constituted by forms of reciprocity and mutual support. This chapter thus criticizes essentialist notions of Andean cosmology and (neo)-indigeneism.
In Chapter 3 I study the formation of the community of Usibamba from the perspective of the continuous struggle by comuneros for access to natural resources. Here we study the formation of the community of Usibamba from the perspective of the continuous struggle by comuneros for access to natural resources. Land in particular is a scarce resource due to demographic growth and as a result property and tenure relations have been subject to change. Neo-liberal privatization models have played an important role in shaping these changes. In order to visualize the process of social construction of community I include in the analysis a number of internal conflicts for resources as part of struggles surrounding what villagers call ‘land division and restructuring ’. These struggles are recurrent and take place after long periods during which land comes to be concentrated in the hands of a restricted number of families. The historical backdrop to these events is the land reform program implemented in Peru since 1969. The deactivation and dissolution of the Communal Enterprise of Usibamba is analyzed as part of a lager process of land restructuring and division that took place under the threat of violent subversive forces (the Shining Path). Together with the rise of a new category of actors - the migrants – this process led to the formation of another arena of dispute and negotiation over communal resources. Finally, I offer a dynamic vision of the significance and role of the community for comuneros.
Chapter 4 centers on the role of the state in local power relations by focusing on the desire of Usibambinos to upgrade the administrative status of their village by converting it into a district. The strivings for the creation of new districts as part of a program of regional administrative decentralization in rural areas in Peru constitutes an internal dynamic that underpins the permanent reorganization of the Peruvian state. In a context of a weak presence or even absence of the state it is important to pay attention to the importance villagers pay to the administrative status of the locality they inhabit. Interestingly, at the same time they refuse to downplay the role of the peasant community, which in fact is one of the objectives of these programs. To be a district signifies inhabiting a privileged political and social space vis-à-vis the state, and with the external world, and it is within such a symbolic space that power relations unfold and that forms of local leadership are forged. The peasant community as a political springboard plays a central role in the strategies that these local leaders develop in order to capture political positions at district level.
Chapter 5 discusses the contrasting notions and visions that diverse social categories entertain about the community. Chapter 6 centers on the process of international labor migration to the United States of America by sheep shepherds. Special attention is paid to their perceptions and decisions to migrate, the skills they acquire during the migration experiences as well as the extension, operation and use of social networks that transcend the village and the communal institution. Also the images and notions of community developed by migrants are discussed. In addition I explore the development of new types of social networks among ‘successful’ migrants who use their savings to move to the valley cities of Chupaca and Huancayo. Also the example of social support relations established by ‘sons of residents’ in order to facilitate access to jobs is analyzed. Finally, the establishment and consolidation of other social networks, outside the locality but based on relations of kin and community is studied by centering on the Transport Enterprise Alto Cunas, founded by former shepherd migrants. The thesis ends with the conclusions.