An alternative to ‘alternative development’?: Buen vivir and human development in Andean countries

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In Bolivia and Ecuador the concept of Buen vivir, based on indigenous cosmologies, has been formulated by indigenous organisations as an alternative paradigm to mainstream development theory. It has also inspired environmentalist movements in their struggle for a different environmental governance beyond extractivism, and it has been appropriated by national governments to justify economic and social policies and their political agendas. In Peru, Buen vivir is emerging as a political project to express ecological concerns, as well as self-determination, territoriality and cultural rights of indigenous peoples. In these experiences the formulation and implementation of Buen vivir is a complex and contentious process which expresses the tensions and dynamics between indigenous politics and the political economy of extraction. This article explores the different meanings of Buen vivir in Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru and the struggle of indigenous peoples to re-appropriate the concept which has been co-opted by the state using conventional views of development. We argue that Buen vivir serves as a political platform on the basis of which different social movements articulate social and ecological demands based on indigenous principles, in order to challenge the economic and political fundamentals of the state and the current theory, politics and policy-making of development.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)271-286
Number of pages16
JournalOxford Development Studies
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2 Jul 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Buen vivir
  • Human development
  • indigenous peoples


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