Sustainable Development as Path for Updating the “Living Well” in the Context of the Bolivian Democratic and Cultural Revolution

In recent years, there has been a general disenchantment with the dominant models of development. It’s become ever more clear that the dominant model - in essence global capitalism and globalization -  is unable to solve humanity’s problems. The strong relationship between capitalist development and its cognitive-material base (driven by “scientific and technological progress”) means that the search for alternatives requires a critical review of existing institutions and ways of producing knowledge or "doing science and technology." This critical review must occur within an alliance of academic communities and social movements that recognize the importance (to transforming the dominant development model) of a new understanding and organization of knowledge production. Such social movements promote sustainable endogenous development, agroecology, organic farming, and non-Western medicine. In addition, environmental movements increasingly recognize the interrelation between the environmental and political and the importance of the spiritual dimension.

This new knowledge production requires a broader framework than what can and should be addressed by the academic community. It establishes a multi and interdisciplinary framework and a transdisciplinary one that integrates non-scientific knowledge.

We describe transdisciplinary research by these eleven principles:

  1. Objectives are determined by negotiation and collective learning with the actors involved ensuring that the problems and possibilities considered reflect their everyday concerns and priorities.

  2. Results are planned, implemented, evaluated and interpreted as part of an ongoing dialogue between the scientific community and stakeholders.

  3. Simultaneously and participatorily generates “systemic knowledge” (understanding of the dynamics and relationships between internal and external factors), “normative knowledge” (the normative bases in the transformation of the socio-economic, political, and cultural structures) and “knowledge of transformation” (achieving objectives present in the daily lives of those involved).

  4. Considers multi- and interdisciplinary perspectives not as primary sources of dialogue with society but in accordance with the co-production of knowledge.

  5. Recognizes the coexistence of different levels of reality recognizing heterodox forms knowledge from peasants, indigenous people, and civil society movements committed to the defense of public goods.

  6. Expands and creates new social spaces, platforms, forums, and networks to enable and promote solidarity and constant interaction among stakeholders.

  7. Is a collective learning process at the community and public level based not on a predefined agenda but an iterative process of generation, evaluation and monitoring of knowledge between society and science.

  8. Is based on dialogue, negotiation and collective learning that interferes in the constellations of power and interests. Thus, in addition to solid and contextualized expertise, a high degree of social and communicative competence becomes a prerequisite for successfully co-producing knowledge.

  9. Requires new benchmarks for evaluating efficiency. In its opposition to orthodox science, transdisciplinary research not only aims to produce knowledge but to contribute to the transformation of existing structures impeding the emancipating projects of the peasantry, indigenous peoples, and social movements.

  10. Efficiency is evaluated by considering the limitations of the emancipating projects by the extent of the internal and external conditions of social interaction that allow for the transformation from “acting strategically” in pursuit of individual goals to Habermas’ “acting communicatively” which focuses on understanding and inter validation of situations and structures that impede the realization of projects arising from the daily lives of those involved.[ref]Translator’s note: According to Habermas, in strategic action, actors are more interested in achieving their individual goals they being into a situation. For example, “Actor A will appeal to B’s desires and fears so as to motivate the behavior on B’s part that is required for A’s success. B cooperates with A not because B finds A’s project inherently interesting or worthy, but because of what B gets out of the bargain.” In communicative action, success is achieved when the “actors freely agree that their goal (or goals) is reasonable, that it merits cooperative behavior.” [/ref]

  11. Places the researcher in a three dimensional frame of reference that concerns: (i) his/her disciplinary background; (ii) the interdisciplinary context involved; and (iii) the social environment of societal groups affected by the research process that presents a host of difficult hurdles.

Institutional Experience and Praxis of the University Center of AGRUCO

During its 25 years of institutional life, the University Center of AGRUCO[ref]AGRUCO is the Spanish acronym for Agroecology University of Cochabamba[/ref] has followed a process of ongoing systematization and reflection of its experience training, researching, and socially interacting with farming, indigenous and original peoples. AGRUCO has gone through different phases from organic farming; agroecology; the revaluing of indigenous, original, and farming peoples knowledge and wisdom; to endogenous sustainable development which we understand as the interface to articulate "living well."

The organic agriculture (1985-1987) phase emphasized healthy and clean agriculture to conserve the environment. It promoted techniques that preserved the productive basis and improved the quality of life of indigenous, original, and peasant families. In this phase, we learned that communities already had a wealth of knowledge and technologies. We realized that we had to consider this knowledge and technology as the starting point of any innovation. The attempt to understand and apply this knowledge and technologies led us to agroecology which complemented the technical agronomic with the social, human, and economic sciences. In the process, it developed a holistic and transdisciplinary focus which established a permanent dialogue with the research team and the communities. Both interacted in search of ever more sustainable alternatives and to contribute new paradigms for science and development.

The experience working with communities showed the legitimacy of the wisdom of the original indigenous people and farmers questioning the notion of modern scientific knowledge as the only way to achieve the sustainable development proposed in the 1992 UN World Conference on Environment and Development. However, this knowledge was not found in books, nor taught in undergraduate and graduate universities. We realized that it resided in communities. That is where we must focus our research to revalue this knowledge.

The institutional experience and reflection between the academic community (AGRUCO) and indigenous and farming communities led us to endogenous sustainable development as the guiding model of knowledge. Sustainable endogenous development is oriented towards the material, sociopolitical, cultural, and spiritual reproduction “from within” around local needs and capacities including monetary and nonmonetary systems and local and universal knowledge that prevent the loss of biocultural diversity.

The challenges of implementing “living well” in public policy and support programs for indigenous, original, and farming communities

The ethical horizon of sustainable endogenous development is “living well.” We understand living well as an “ethical moral principle of a plural society” incorporated into the Bolivian constitution in 2009. From the perspective of original indigenous and farming organizations, “living well” means “living in peace,” “living in joy,” and “living and co-living in harmony.” This notion is not an anthropocentric view of life but one understood in the most expansive meaning encompassing the living cosmos. "Living well" implies access to and enjoyment of material goods in harmony with nature and people. People do not live isolated but in families, society, and nature. One can not live well if others live poorly or if nature is damaged.

The government is creating indices for living well based on the following elements: residing well (housing, basic services); knowing well (education, knowing, knowledge, innovation); feeling well (nutrition, health); arts, sports, and recreation; co-living well (citizen’s rights and security, national security, justice); participation with identity (social and communal power, plurinational state, autonomy); dignified work and income (production, employment); and eating well (food security with sovereignty).

It is worth noting that while “being and feeling well in harmony with society” is a part of “co-living well” and “participating with identity,” being and feeling in harmony with nature, and the relations of systems of production and nature are completely absent. It is also worth noting that it is important to intersect the social levels of existence and satisfaction with gender and ethnic equality.

Other elements of the more theoretical debate contrast the “living well” - a cosmocentric notion - to the “living better” - the dominant Western model of anthropocentric development that emphasizes the well-being of people over all other living beings and worlds leading to the pursuit of endless growth. The original Aymara (suma) and Quechua (sumaq) term of living well also included the element of “maximum level possible.” In other words, living well does not refer to a static threshold for a good life. Instead, it involves a dynamic threshold constantly rising to new levels and higher states within the framework of harmony with nature and others that implies co-living, interchange, reciprocity, and “living like humans.” In short, it implies an economic and material dimension that overcomes mere survival and values and appreciates others. In this regard, there is an affinity in living well towards eliminating material, social, and spiritual poverty. That said, the role of environmental quality must be added to a population’s “living well.” This poses the challenge of restoring areas of the Andes that have been polluted and degraded.

Endogenous sustainable development and living well: new scientific and development paradigms

Sustainable endogenous development assumes that overcoming poverty, social and ethnic marginalization and the deterioration of natural resources and insufficient productive innovation can be achieved only if we rethink our goals from just economic development to also include local understanding and action of and about the natural environment and social cohesion. Thus, endogenous sustainable development is a way towards “living well.”

According to our experience and (limited) knowledge of the reality of local actors, we consider that the first essential step for the strengthening of endogenous sustainable development is to consider the local strengths, potential and opportunities and also weaknesses, limits, and threats. In this way, endogenous sustainable development combines the theory of living well with the methodology to achieve it. The methodology creates moments and spaces, not necessarily free from tension, where knowledge is revalued, and experiences and points of view are exchanged in order to choose the best options and solve concrete problems.

Comprehensive and holistic programs require synergic participation from outside actors (state and private) and with local actors. Our experience indicates that self-management and self-development actions (in other words completely autonomous development) is not possible nor desirable. It is not possible because the economic, social and environmental problems in the communities do not have an endogenous origin; They respond largely to external socioeconomic, political and cultural structures. If communities could work for themselves within "living well," they would have already done it. In addition, it is not compatible with indigenous farmer logic.

The bottom line is that sustainable endogenous development as an external approach to "live well" Amerindian, are only possible within a framework of synergies and complementarity of efforts, knowledge, and even worldviews. In this context, the dialogue of knowledge,  co-management of projects, and learning communities, overcomes unilinealist[ref]Translator’s note: unilineal is based on the notion that there is only one line/path, excluding the possibility of diverse outcomes.[/ref] or biased conventional evaluations.

written by Freddy Delgado[ref]Freddy Delgado is executive director of the University Center of AGRUCO of the San Simon Major University, Cochabamba, Bolivia. He is also coordinator of the international program CAPTURED and university professor of the FCAPFyV. He has a PhD in Agroecology and sustainable development from the Institute of Sociology and Farmer’s Studies of the University of Cordoba in Spain.[/ref], Stephen Rist[ref]Stephen Rist is university professor of the Center for development and environment of the University of Bern, Switzerland. He has a PhD in Rural Sociology from the University of Munich, Germany. He thanks the NCCR North South and his research project of research and transformation of agrarian systems for having facilitated participation in co-authoring this article.[/ref], Cesar Escobar[ref]Cesar Escobar Is the Latin American coordinator of the international program Comparing and Supporting the Endogenous Sustainable Development (COMPAS in Spanish). He is a researcher at the University Center AGRUCO of the Major University of San Simon. He has a Masters in Science in Agroecology and sustainable development from FCAPPFyV of the UMSS.[/ref]