Buen Vivir as Policy: Challenging Neoliberalism or Consolidating State Power in Ecuador

Beth Williford


Core countries, including the United States, and global financial institutions have exerted an unmatched power to define and implement neoliberal policies, globally. These policies conceive of development as strictly economic in nature and call for a reduction in the size of the state and increasing privatization to guarantee growth. In this paper I examine Ecuador’s adoption of ‘Buen Vivir’ to understand how the state can challenge the neoliberal agenda and how its power is redefined in the process. Buen Vivir is an indigenous Andean philosophy that emphasizes community well-being, reciprocity, solidarity, and harmony with Pachamama (Mother Earth). I analyze public government documents to investigate how policies based upon buen vivir have served to solidify an antisystemic position in a direct challenge to traditional neoliberal notions of economic prosperity, growth, and material accumulation. Through a review of how the state has sought to reposition itself as well as some of the contradictions in the implementation of Buen Vivir, I contend that the state exercises both dominating and transformative power. The case of Ecuador provides insight into the distinguishing role the state can play in resisting neoliberal development and in effect decentering global capitalism.


Buen Vivir; antisystemic; neoliberal; transformative power; Ecuador

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5195/jwsr.2018.629


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