Rationalizing ‘Vivir Bien’
The Modern State and the formal limits to transformative rationalism in Bolivia
Keywords:rationality, modernity, state, alternatives to development, Latin America
Drawing on the 2011 march against a highway project through the Isiboro Sécure National Park and Indigenous
Territory (TIPNIS) in Bolivia, this paper reviews Max Weber’s conceptions on rationality, situating the TIPNIS protest
in the interface between the modern formal-instrumental rationality of Bolivian State with the Substantive rationality
proposed as ‘Vivir Bien’; an umbrella term for a conglomeration of Latin American indigenous proposals for a
sustainable human and nature relationship beyond neoliberalism, colonialism, and their cultural and environmental
consequences. As any modern institution, the Bolivian State seeks to impose modern means-ends calculations,
discourses and practices, thus subduing the original transformational potential of ‘Vivir Bien’ as a different rationality,
with its means-ends framework, knowledge and patterns of action.
In this regard, from a Weberian critique of Modernity, two questions will be raised. First, to recognize the modern
state as the institutional embodiment of modern formal-instrumental rationality, bounded to the means-ends framework
settled by Modernity. Secondly, to evaluate the conditions for the possibility of incorporating other rationalities into the
modern state, allowing another means-ends calculation for state policy-making as well as other patterns of action and
From these considerations, this paper realizes modern rationalism in front of other rationalisms, other human
worldviews and practices in a critical search of alternative approaches and proposals to attend to local and global
problems that threaten sustainable human existence, from environmental devaluation to social inequality.
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