Roundtable on Vivir Bien: Ana Estefanía Carballo


An exchange on Vivir Bien: Old Cosmovisions and New Paradigms

Ana Estefanía Carballo Ana Estefanía Carballo is a Teaching Fellow at the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne and a founder of the academic blog and peer-reviewed journal Alternautas. Her research focuses on Latin American development theory, indigenous epistemologies, environmental ethics, and social movements and environmental conflicts in Latin America, particularly those linked to resistance to extractivist practices.

I believe that this rich exchange on Pablo Solón’s essay is a small example of what the VB discussions have roused in Latin America, that is, offering a framework to re-think and question some of the core assumptions that have dominated development thinking in the last century. Creating an interstice in the monolithic understanding of life offered in Western modernity, VB has contributed to revitalizing a necessary space for dialogue—a dialogue in which the multiplicity of lived experiences that offer other, interconnected interstices to this monolithic notion can be recognized.

While VB in and of itself has been subject to multiple cooptations (often of questionable transformative value), it has offered, in turn, a space to challenge, as Marisol De la Cadena would put it, “politics as usual.” It is precisely in the opportunity of incorporating the indigenous cosmologies, albeit it has done so in a very limited manner, that VB offers an opportunity to re-think our collective future. The dichotomous nature in which indigenous cosmologies have been historically placed against ideas of development or progress—the “civilization or barbarism” mantra deeply ingrained in the Modern colonial project in Latin America and across the world—is disrupted by the emergence and inclusion of VB discussions in the public sphere. In other words, the incorporation of the indigenous heritage into the policy and academic discussion of ideas of development where it had been historically rejected, precisely because of its indigenous nature, is in my view the strongest element that this discussion has highlighted for a GT.

The emergence of VB into current development discussions, despite the multiple cooptations, has brought with it the symbolic revitalization of a critical space to challenge some of the strongest pillars dominating Western development thinking. Despite the multiplicity of forms of cooptation and interpretation of the indigenous cosmologies, VB’s boundaries highlight two core elements: the rejection of the idea of progress intrinsic to Western modernity and the idea of development; and an ethical shift that highlights the intrinsic value attached to non-human elements within Nature as well as the acknowledgment of humanity’s inclusion therein.

At the very least, these elements offer small beacons of hope and can contribute to the articulation of alternative paths. That said, we must heed cautionary notes about not falling into new forms of universalism, and instead want to recognize VB’s potential to open a space for dialogue. VB’s contribution—despite its multiple limitations—at providing a framework for discussion, a space for the symbolic encounter of alternative conceptions of the good life, should not be underestimated. Rather, nurturing its possibilities of engagement, with other alternative and sidelined cosmologies and ontological considerations, is where a synergic articulation of new ideas can offer the most promising opportunities for a GT.