Panel Discussion

David L. Nugent
Colby College

This is an unusually rich and interesting set of papers. Collectively, they have much to tell us about state formation in Ecuador, and elsewhere in Latin America. In keeping with the general theme of the panel, I have sought to relate the papers to broader ideas about state formation in Latin America, and to draw out the implications of the papers for theories of state formation. In doing so, I will draw upon the models of state formation referred to most consistently in the papers themselves. These models are:

1. state formation as a project of moral regulation. Here, the state is seen as seeking to impose on popular groups a common discursive framework that sets the terms in which contention can take place.

2. the state as enabled from below. Here, specific popular groups view state building as emancipatory, or advantageous. They embrace these efforts, and thus help bring the state into being in new social arenas. (1)

3. the state as fragmented and internally contradictory. This view seeks to de-essentialize the state by recognizing that it represents divergent and contradictory interests and intentions, aggregated under an illusory "state-effect." [raises the problem of boundaries between state and society]. (2)

-I will discuss the papers in chronological order.

Aleeze Sattar paper. This fascinating paper on the early Republican period argues that elements of two contradictory modes of governance--republican and colonial--had been forced into uncomfortable juxtaposition in highland Ecuador. The Republican mode was based on the notion of citizenship--on the formal equality of citizens, who enjoy the same rights and privileges, and are equal before the law. Co-existing with this model of statehood, however, were elements of another, inherited from the colonial past. In this model, Indians figured prominently. They occupied a separate status in law, were subject to a distinct machinery of state, and had distinct rights (to communal lands) and obligations (to pay tribute).

Indians, Aleeze shows, presented the republican state with a core dilemma, because they made up most of the population but were not citizens. Furthermore, despite the republican rhetoric of equality, Indian and non-Indian alike supported the anti-republican status quo--Indians because their subordinate status helped safeguard their communal land holdings; non-Indians because Indian tribute freed them from having to pay tribute themselves, and also provided the state with key revenue. (3)

Negotiating the disjuncture between rhetoric and reality, Aleeze shows, was particularly treacherous for caciques--whose positions as mediators between opposed forms of governance involved them in a complex web of conflicting and contradictory expectations, both from "above" and from "below."

In terms of the broader concerns of the panel, Aleeze's paper is important because it shows the residual presence of an alternative mode of governance, with its own social hierarchies and forms of legitimate contention, at the center of the republican polity. Aleeze thus does an excellent job of showing the peculiarly hybrid nature of the early republican state--the form of polity that set the stage for subsequent efforts at state formation.

Aleeze's paper is also important for another reason. Her discussion of the broad range of groups that were committed to colonial hierarchies and statuses in the 1840s shows just how much the republican state was an imagined state form. The obstacles to making republican principles a reality, Aleeze suggests, were enormous, and were located in social groups occupying quite varied positions in the national social structure.

Which of the aforementioned models of state formation does Aleeze's paper support? In terms of understanding state formation as a project of moral regulation, it is striking how ineffective the republican state had been in creating "a common discursive field of contention" by the 1840s. Indeed, it would be difficult to claim that either indigenous agendas or subjectivities had been significantly defined or delimited by the republican state. Rather, colonial identities and positions retained enormous reality and salience despite the presence of the legal apparatus of the republican state.

These points suggest that the ability of the state even to pose the question of establishing a common discursive field, or of molding subjectivity, represents an enormous accomplishment--one that pre-supposes that the state has already established significant regulatory power. In other words, it may be true, as Corrigan and Sayer argue, that "states state." The question is, under what conditions are people compelled to listen? And under what conditions may they simply choose to listen, or even to ignore?

Aleeze's material does show, however, that the state was internally fragmented and contradictory. Indeed, at the end of Aleeze's paper one is left with the impression of the republican state and its concerns as standing at real distance from, and being in contradiction with, the concerns of rural society.

Derek Williams paper. Aleeze focuses on the intersection of republican state and Indian community. Her analysis thus emphasizes the limits of state control. Derek Williams' paper provides an excellent counterpoint to Aleeze's by focusing on the institutional apparatus the state itself. Derek argues that an important experiment in state formation took place during the regime of García Moreno, from 1861-1875. This regime, he shows, sought to construct a generalized apparatus of surveillance that could moralize subaltern groups, and also advance the nation in material terms. Indeed, these two goals represented the twin poles of Garcia Moreno's "evangelical modernity," as Derek so aptly puts it.

Derek perceptively shows how, in pursuit of these goals, the centralizing state generated new classifications that criminalized or proscribed behaviors formerly ignored or tolerated. He also shows how the state drew on organizations like the Church, municipios, and haciendas, bending them to its will, even as it gave these bodies expanded powers to implement the central government's nationalizing vision. On this basis, Derek concludes that state formation in 19th century Ecuador diverges from "the standard model" of modern state formation, which stresses the replacement of local and supra-national forms of identity and association by national ones. Instead, under García Moreno the state sought to centralize by empowering rather than replacing existing organizations and solidarities, but to subject their authority to a unifying national interest. (4)

This astute analysis is an important contribution to understanding Ecuadorian state formation. In terms of the broader concerns of the panel, however, it is important to note that G.M's "top-down" experiment in state formation was short-lived. As Derek notes, G.M. was assassinated in 1875, and with the subsequent decline of state power, Church, municipio and hacienda retained state-like powers, but were unregulated by and autonomous of the central government. [state deformation subsequently]

The relatively short-term nature of G.M's success, and the limited impact of his "top-down" reforms, suggest that "efforts from above," important though they may be, are necessary but not sufficient conditions for successful state formation. Indeed, it could be argued that, in seeking to centralize and modernize, G.M. ran up against limits imposed by the very semi-autonomous corporate bodies that had possessed state-like functions prior to his regime. One implication of Derek's paper, then, is that it was precisely the state's need to impose a discursive framework, and to do so against a background of diverse social interests that resisted state reforms, that led to the breakdown of state power. (5)

These limits to 'centralization from above' point to the relevance of the other models of state formation mentioned earlier (state as enabled from below, state as internally contradictory). Derek's rich paper touches on these as well.

Kim Clark paper. Kim Clark's very impressive paper on the early 20th century raises questions that are key to assessing alternative models of state formation. Kim explains that she is interested in the "politics of inclusion"--the wider political context that allowed for specific kinds of claims to be made by subaltern groups, and that affected how such claims changed over time. The politics of inclusion during the Liberal Period (1895-1925), Kim shows, revolved around intra-elite struggles to control Indian labor, which led the central state: (1) to pass legislation championing Indians' freedom in labor contracts; and (2) to adopt a discourse stressing the need to liberate Indians from "bondage" on highland estates. Kim also points out, however, that central laws took effect only to the extent that Indians compelled state officials to act on their behalf--only due to indigenous agency. "Laws may be passed in the upper realms of government" Kim says, "but subaltern action is required to make those rights real and effective at the local level."

This case makes for an interesting contrast with Derek's discussion of the centralizing state under G.M. In Kim's case, as in Derek's, the central government sought to expand the reach of the state. In Kim's case, however, subaltern groups were willing to embrace central decrees. Interestingly, with central efforts thus enabled locally, state formation had a more lasting impact.

Kim presents a parallel analysis of the "politics of inclusion" for the 1930s and 1940s, a period of economic crisis, political instability, and extensive organizing by laboring classes. She shows how pressure from an increasingly mobilized working class forced changes in the structure of the state and in the nature of political culture. Unlike the Liberal Period, then, demands from below had a significant impact on the kinds of subordinate claims that would be considered "legitimate." (6)

Kim's paper has interesting implications for theories of state formation. During the Liberal period, although Indians were compelled to utilize state discourse as they resisted landlord demands, they did so in pursue of their own ends. In such a circumstance, it would difficult to claim that the state was able to engage in the moral regulation of everyday life, or to mold or shape subjectivity. Nor could one say that the state was able to impose a common discursive field that could structure dispute. Even in the sphere of labor relations, state decrees had impact only to the extent that Indians mobilized the state apparatus. (7)

By the 1930s and 40s, political organizing among subaltern groups had occurred to such a degree that political culture itself underwent a significant transformation. Here, it is clear that popular groups played a major role in redefining political culture, and in helping to bring the state into being in new social arenas. (8)

Steve Striffler paper. Steve documents in fascinating detail how the '30s and '40s created new possibilities for the assertion of subaltern rights. He does so through an examination of a land conflict between about 50 peasants, who organized a government recognized "commune," and the mighty United Fruit Company. Contrary to what one would expect, the peasants were ultimately successful in defeating UF.

Steve's paper presents an astute argument about the broader context that allowed the peasants to succeed. He stresses two main factors. The first was a national political culture that had been significantly influenced by popular organizing--one in which it was politically dangerous for high-ranking officials to appear to side too closely with foreign capitalists over popular groups. The second was the fragmented nature of the state apparatus--the fact that peasant commune and foreign corporation alike had access to the state apparatus, but to different officials, offices and agencies within it. As the peasants and UF each sought a favorable ruling on the land conflict, their respective state allies offered contradictory views of who had rights to what, and of who was to prevail. (9)

Ultimately, the peasants were able to draw on legislation that protected their interests even as it served central government desires to more fully integrate the rural population. Peasant commune and the central government thus both played key roles in bringing "the state" into being. (10)

Which of the various models of state formation are supported by Steve's analysis? Elements of all three models are implicated. It seems clear that the state was fragmented and internally contradictory, and thus cannot be understood as a "thing." It is equally clear that peasants played a key role in bringing the state into being, by drawing on state law to empower themselves. It is without question, however, that as a result of peasants' willingness to embrace state reforms, the state was able to begin the process of establishing routines and dependencies that could structure and discipline peasant life. One of the strengths of Steve's paper is that it shows how forms of state regulation can be enabling even as they begin to regulate and shape a common discursive field. Steve's analysis, as well as Kim Clark's, might be thought of examining the drawn out, conflictual social processes that have prepared the groundwork for establishing such a common discursive framework in select domains of rural life.

Marc Becker paper. Marc's rich and perceptive paper, on the "Glorious May Revolution" of 1944, focuses on two questions. First, Marc seeks to assess the potential of the May Revolution to create a new political space for popular empowerment. Second, he seeks to understand why this effort at democratic reform, like others of the 20th century, failed despite the fact that it was supported by a large and powerful popular movement.

Marc begins with a fascinating discussion of the popular uprising of 1944 that overthrew the President, established a progressive interim government, and elected a Constituent Assembly that drafted an unusually forward-looking constitution. Marc also documents dramatic changes in the organization of the laboring classes. He also shows, however, that a "politics of exclusion" undermined the progressive potential of these developments. Indians, women and other marginal groups, all of whom had played leading roles in the Glorious May Revolution, continued to be excluded from full citizenship. As a result, "elite males of the country's privileged white-mestizo class" dominated the political reform process. (11)

The failure of the May Revolution to include subaltern groups within the body politic, Marc suggests, was the movement's downfall. For the restricted class and gender composition of the voting public forced the popular movement into an alliance with seemingly moderate leader Velasco Ibarra. He and his successors quickly reversed the direction of the May Revolution, and insured that politics would remain a highly exclusionary affair.

In closing, Marc asks why Ecuador's popular groups have repeatedly failed to democratize the country. His answer stresses the importance of citizenship rights, and esp. suffrage, which has always been an overwhelmingly elitist affair--a fact that has helped the elite ignore the concerns of the rest of the population. Marc notes that in this situation popular groups (who lack any real political voice) have been compelled to enter into alliances with moderate to conservative forces, that have quickly betrayed popular interests. Without a change in citizenship rights, Marc suggests, Ecuador is doomed to repeat the failures of the past and present.

What are the implications of Marc's argument for models of state formation? Derek's paper on the G.M. regime might be understood as pointing to the limits of state-building "from above" in the absence of support "from below." Marc's paper, on the other hand, might be regarded as showing the limitations of state-building "from below" in the absence of support "from above." That is, in the Glorious May Revolution and its failure we see crystallized the structural limits to popular participation in Ecuadorian state formation.

I will close with an observation. In comparing Aleeze's paper on the 1840s with Marc's on the 1940s, it is striking to note what has changed and what has not. Just as does Aleeze, Marc describes a situation in which the majority of the population is denied full citizenship rights. In the 1940s, however, unlike the 1840s, subaltern groups seek to do away with rather than reproduce their marginal status. They seek to become full participants in national life. One might argue on this basis that the nation-state has succeeded in imposing a common discursive framework on its population. The papers in the panel, however, suggest that it is popular groups rather than the state per se that have played a key role in empowering themselves vis-à-vis the state, and in bringing the state into being--even if popular groups have been only partially successful in defining the terms in which their integration into the state will take place.


1. In the strong form of this position popular groups do much to define the nature of dominant political culture (P. Sahlins, D. Sayer; F. Mallon; papers in the panel).

2. This literature takes its inspiration from P. Abrams, but also T. Mitchell, Peter Sahlins, A. Gupta, etc.

3. It is in the context of these two contradictory models of state that Aleeze locates her empirical material--a fascinating discussion of a court case involving a group of eight "indígenas." These people were said to have attempted to rid themselves of an abusive cacique, and to have done so by drawing on the military personnel of the republican state. Aleeze is very astute at showing how the accused indígenas employed the discourse of the state in order to gloss their conflict with their cacique in republican terms--even as they pursued an agenda that reflected the still salient power structures and hierarchies of the colonial mode of rule. Especially suggestive is Aleeze's assertion that the cacique Peralta had violated the legitimacy binding caciques to their subjects within the ayllu structure (he is seen as a "mestizo-intruder"), which in turn generated their desire to find a more suitable replacement. If I have read her accurately, Aleeze implies that the peculiar tensions associated with Peralta's efforts to mediate between these opposed types of state structure led him to engage in behavior that strained the limits of acceptability in the colonial state model. More development of this point would have strengthened her argument.

4. [similarity to Wolf on Germany, in Envisioning Power].

5. Such a view points to the importance of non-state groups' willingness to embrace and enable the process of state formation. Derek retains the "imposed from above," coercive model of state formation.

6. Kim shows how peasants seized upon this new legislation in creative ways to press demands concerning land and labor that went far beyond gov't. legislation. Peasants also drew on their strengthening ties with radical political parties in order to advance their own unique claims on and contribution to political culture. This consisted of what Kim calls a "peasant path" of agricultural modernization (in which Indians insisted on the central role they played in the creation of national wealth). The changing location of Indians within national political culture, Kim shows, was a function not only of this discursive strategy, but also of new forms of political organization and alliance that helped Indians press their demands.

7. For the most part, rural subjectivities and social relations remained outside the gaze of state offices, agencies and actors.

8. [Kim's argument about the process of recruiting Indians for public works

being more-or-less open to state labor "reforms," while haciendas were not, has interesting implications as well. It suggests the expansion of a state-endorsed public sphere, of sorts, alongside a private sphere that retained strength and autonomy. Both the central government and its highland hacendado adversaries seemed to agree that the state had some legitimate presence, had the right to regulate acceptable social practice and define legitimate social relations, within the expanding public sphere. This was true to such an extent that hacendados did not protest or resist state-mandated changes regarding the use of labor in this arena, despite the fact that the changes in question had a significantly negative impact on hacendados' access to labor. Indeed, if other parts of the Andes are at all analogous, control of public office was a key means of controlling labor, thus making it all the more surprising that hacendados did not contest state action more vigorously. Within haciendas themselves, however, the situation was far different. Both the state and hacendados seemed to accept the idea that the state had no right (or at least lacked the ability) to attempt to transform labor relations. [A similar point could be made about the Church and its "abuses." Regarding the latter, the state's point was that the Church was using its offices for the "private" interests of its members, and therefore was abusing its position.]

This set of tacit agreements implies boundaries between public and private, and the notion of a public sphere, that would be fascinating to trace out in greater detail. This would be an interesting line of inquiry for several reasons. On the one hand, this specific public arena appears to represent one of the state's early successes in its efforts to transform highland labor relations, and highland society in general. On the other hand, as other papers in the panel make clear, in the 1930s and '40s, efforts would be make to reconfigure the boundaries of public and private yet again, but this time in ways that threatened the integrity of the landed property itself (the cooperative movement). This was a pattern that was common in other countries of Latin America as well.

9. They also reassessed the conflict in an ongoing manner, and simply did nothing at all for long periods of time. Foreign capitalist interests had their best connections with powerful national politicians, but they lacked connections, however, with local and regional political officials who were responsible for implementing central decisions. Peasants, on the other hand, had strong ties with local and regional officials, with union representatives, and with some state Ministries. With such allies, peasants were able to frustrate the attempts to UF to mobilize their powerful contacts in the national capital to prevail in the struggle over land.

10. In this way Steve offers an enlightening and convincing analysis of the fragmented nature of the state apparatus. One finishes the paper with a clear sense that "the state" was not a thing that stood outside of, and sought to regulate, economy and society. One also senses that "the state" had quite limited capacity to engage in moral regulation, to impose a discursive framework on popular groups, or to mold subjectivity.

11. Marginal groups, on the other hand, were denied any direct role in drafting the new constitution, or in pushing expanded notions of democracy and citizenship.