Review of Pachakutik and the Rise and Decline of the Ecuadorian Indigenous Movement by Kenneth J. Mijeski and Scott H. Beck Ohio University Press

Pachakutik and the Rise and Decline of the Ecuadorian Indigenous Movement. Kenneth J. Mijeski and Scott H. Beck. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2011. ISBN: 0896802809

This slim volume tells the story of Pachakutik Plurinational Unity Movement-New Country (a.k.a. Pachakutik), the political arm of a social movement coalition formed in 1995 between the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) and other organizations. After introducing its subject in the first couple of chapters, the book considers how CONAIE, which had long opposed electoral participation, abruptly transformed itself into a competitive partisan force (Chapter 3), Pachakutik’s subsequent electoral fortunes (Chapters 4-6), and its future prospects (Chapter 7). In doing so, Pachakutik and the Rise and Decline of the Ecuadorian Indigenous Movement touches on a variety of interesting avenues of inquiry, including the relationship between social movements and partisan electoral politics, the impact of structural changes in the political environment on movement strategy, and the fraught intersection of class and ethnic identity.

While their main focus is on the political maneuvers and fortunes of one particular organization in a single country, authors Kenneth J. Mijeski and Scott H. Beck situate Pachakutik within the broader context of indigenous mobilization in Latin America since the 1980s. Chapter 2 in particular briefly reviews the scholarly literature on the regional “big picture,” and then takes readers on a whirlwind four-country tour featuring overviews of notable indigenous movements in Mexico, Guatemala, Bolivia, and Peru. This comparative framing of the Ecuadorian experience highlights the distinctive features of Pakachutik; namely, that it has been considerably more effective than its counterparts in other countries both as an extra-parliamentary social movement and as a partisan player in the electoral arena. It also makes the book especially well-suited for classroom use; in a course on Latin American history or politics, for example, Pachakutik might serve as a portal for classroom discussions, projects, and further reading on indigenous identity, mobilization, and political participation more generally.

Mijeski and Beck are social scientists (a political scientist and sociologist, respectively), and this professional orientation is apparent in the book’s structure and the evidence it brings to bear on its narrative of Pachakutik’s organizational career and political outcomes. That said, the authors are fairly ecumenical in their methodological approach; while statistical ecological inference (EI) methods are a centerpiece of the analyses of results of the various elections in which Pachakutik participated, primary and secondary texts and personal interviews of key actors are also used extensively to flesh out Pachakutik’s developmental trajectory and gain insight into the reasons for its successes and failures.

In this vein, a less-obvious pedagogical application for Pachakutik would be its use as a supplemental text in a course on research methodology or social inquiry. Although it is not a methodology textbook or how-to guide, the book does provide clear illustrations of some ways in which different methodological approaches can be applied in practice, either on their own or in combination. A four-page appendix on EI also provides a technical yet accessible discussion of the utility of this statistical method, its application to the election results analyzed earlier in the book, and resources students and other budding researchers might use to further their own investigations. Finally, Pachakutik might also serve as an apt springboard for class discussions of the benefits and shortcomings of different kinds of data. Particularly in Chapters 4-7, the book presents numerous opportunities for students to mull over, for example, the limited inferences that can be drawn from election return data or the biases that inevitably come along with valuable first-hand participant and journalistic accounts of political events.

As might be expected of a book this short, Pachakutik and the Rise and Decline of the Ecuadorian Indigenous Movement sometimes raises more questions than it answers. It teases especially in its consideration of the book’s relationship and contributions to previous scholarship on the mobilization and political consequences of social movements. While there is an interesting discussion of the literatures on resource mobilization theory and the rise of “new,” post-material social movements during the latter part of the twentieth century, more attention might have been given to the blind spots of these frameworks and the light shed on them by an analysis of indigenous mobilization in Ecuador. Similarly, some discussion of Pachakutik’s lessons for the less-prominent but perhaps more immediately relevant literatures on party movements and social movement coalitions might have further added to the book’s instructiveness for students of social movement theory. Nevertheless, Pachakutik remains an informative and thought-provoking read that will undoubtedly be enjoyed by students and scholars across a variety of geographic and disciplinary specializations.


Reviewed by Shamira M. Gelbman, Wabash College
Edited by Andrae M. Marak

(c) The Middle Ground Journal, Number 5, Fall, 2012. See Submission Guidelines page for the journal’s not-for-profit educational open-access policy. [Originally published on the St. Scholastica website]