Breakthrough thinking

Who actually runs a country?

Image of Chris Krupa

Prof. Chris Krupa in Ecuador. (Photo by Bear Guerrera)

When he was trapped in a municipal building as citizens rioted in northern Ecuador in 2002, UTSC anthropologist Chris Krupa was not thinking about writing a book. But that violent clash between police and locals was a critical part of the research he would draw on for a book published this year, addressing what we think of as “the state” and how people respond to this.

Krupa spent two years in the highland Ecuadorian community of Cayambe, where the most influential residents were the owners of large cut-flower plantations that export roses all over the world, including to Canada. The indigenous people who worked on the plantations looked mainly to these owners to provide state-style services, from security to health care. And when the weak, local government tried to raise land taxes, the riot broke out and Krupa became cornered for several hours as glass crashed around him and fighting erupted. “As an anthropologist, you want to put yourself close to what matters to people,” he says. “Sometimes you get caught up in it.”

State Theory and Andean Politics: New Approaches to the Study of Rule, edited by Krupa and fellow anthropologist David Nugent from Emory University, focuses on the Andean nations of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. Twelve experts, including well-known India scholars, anthropologist Akhil Gupta and historian Gyanendra Pandey,  share their research and ideas about the nature of the state, wherever that state may be. As Krupa learned from plantation workers in Cayambe, the state doesn’t just mean government.

“With the flower farms, the question that came up was why an export industry spent so much of its time doing things like building roads and a hospital,” Krupa says. “These are things we could consider more in the realm of politics, and what we think of as giving states and governments their right to exist and ask things of us.”

Another question anthropologists grapple with: What does it take for people to accept and interact with these other “state” entities?

In the Andes, there is a long history dating back to the hacienda system of non-state institutions doing government-style work. But the Andean nations are not unique. “Very few people living in post-colonial societies today,“ says Krupa, “maintain the illusion that the entity that claims to be the state has a monopoly on all the things associated with government.”