Director of Undergraduate Education and Chair of the Undergraduate Education Committee for the Division of Social Anthropology
Website and Open Access Coordinator for Division of Social Anthropology
Fellow, Clare College
Sian Lazar is accepting applications for PhD students.
Subject groups/Research projects
Latin America (specifically Argentina and Bolivia); ethnography of the state, democracy and citizenship; social movements; gender; the city; and the anthropology of politics and development.
The focus of my research is collective politics in two quite different contexts: Buenos Aires, Argentina, and El Alto, an indigenous and mixed-ethnicity city in the Bolivian Andes.
My most recent research has been an exploration of labour movement activism, with a focus on Argentina. I take an ethnographic approach to show how labour politics is embedded in daily life and personal experience. That has resulted in a book, called The Social Life of Politics: Ethics, Kinship and Union Activism in Argentina, to be published in June 2017 by Stanford University Press. The book is an exploration of the themes of subjectivity, kinship, class, morality and economy. I examine the lives of unionists in two public sector trade unions, focusing on the ways that they become activists, how that activism becomes a part of their personality and values, and how it is transmitted across generations. The second part of the book outlines the collective ways that the union delegations come into being, care for their members, enact their political projects, solve problems, and negotiate or mobilise for better working conditions. All this social, ethical and political action takes place within a particular contemporary political-economic context and a history of labour mobilisation, informed by Peronism and anarchosyndicalism.
The emphasis on labour politics has been important for my consideration of social movements and citizenship action more broadly. I have edited a book which explores the role of workers in moments of mass social upheaval in the Arab Spring of the Middle East and North Africa, in European anti-austerity movements, and in the ‘turn to the left’ in Latin America. The book is called Where are the Unions? Workers and Social Movements in Latin America, the Middle East, and Europe, published by Zed Books. This collection resulted from a conference I co-organised in 2014, called Bread, Freedom and Social Justice: Workers and Mass Mobilization in the Middle East, Latin America and Europe. Participants included anthropologists, sociologists, activists, literary scholars, journalists, historians, and the edited collection maintains this interdisciplinary focus.
Another workshop on Labour Politics in an Age of Precarity, in April 2017, will explore labour politics from a different perspective. Contributors will discuss case studies of how labour is organised in different contexts across Africa, Latin America, North America, Asia and Europe, and what effects such organization has on labour relations in conditions of economic precarity. We will examine precarity as a condition of life and one of the bases for a collective politics of labour, but without prejudging how that politics might look. The workshop speaks to debates about the continuing relevance of labour-based mobilisation for economic justice, rights and well-being in a contemporary political context that often overlooks its very real impact across the globe.
In the early 2000s, El Alto became one of the most important centres of political radicalism in Bolivia. In 2003-5, street protests concentrated in El Alto forced two of Bolivia’s presidents to resign, and in December 2005 Bolivians elected their first indigenous president, Evo Morales. I researched the processes and conflicts that lie behind this political power at the local level, considering in particular everyday practices and experiences of citizenship that structure the relationships between residents of El Alto and the Bolivian state. This resulted in a book: El Alto, Rebel City: Self and Citizenship in Andean Bolivia, published by Duke University Press ; an ethnography of citizenship that combines anthropological methods and theories with political philosophy.
Politics and Economic Life
SAN6: Political Economy and Social Transformations: Contemporary Capitalism
SAN11: Anthropology of Media and Visual Culture: Case Studies
2017: 'Where Are The Unions? Workers and Social Movements in Latin America, the Middle East and Europe'
2013: ‘El Alto, Ciudad Rebelde’. La Paz: Plural (spanish translation of El Alto, Rebel City).
2013: The Anthropology of Citizenship. A Reader , Sian Lazar (ed),
Boston and Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
2008: El Alto, Rebel City: Self and Citizenship in Andean Bolivia, Durham, Duke University Press.
2003: with Maxine Molyneux Doing the Rights Thing: Latin American NGOs and Rights-based Development, ITDG Publishing.
Journal Special Issues
2013: Citizenship, the Self and Political Agency. Special Issue of Critique of Anthropology 33.1, edited with Monique Nuijten; introduction and article: ‘Citizenship, Political agency and technologies of the Self in Argentinean Trade Unions’.
2006: The Millions Return? Democracy in Bolivia at the Start of the 21st Century, Special Issue of Bulletin of Latin American Research Vol. 25 – April 2006, edited with John McNeish; Introduction and article: ‘El Alto, Ciudad Rebelde: Organisational Bases for Revolt’.
Articles and Book Chapters
2015: "Of autocracy and democracy, or discipline and anarchy: when organizational structure meets political ideology in Argentine public sector trade unions". Political and Legal Anthropology Review (PoLAR) 38.2: 279-299.
2015: ‘This is not a parade, it’s a protest march’. Intertextuality, citation, and political action on the streets of Bolivia and Argentina. American Anthropologist 117.2: 242-256.
2014: ‘Historical narrative, mundane political time and revolutionary moments: coexisting temporalities in Argentine and Bolivian social movements.’ In Special Issue of JRAI: ‘Doubt, Conflict, Mediation: The Anthropology of Modern Time’, edited by Laura Bear.
2014: ‘Citizenship’, in A Companion to Urban Anthropology, edited by Don Nonini, Boston and Oxford: Wiley-Blackwel.
2012: ‘Citizenship Quality: a new agenda for development?’. Journal of Civil Society, 8(4): 333-350.
2012: ‘Group belonging in trade unions: idioms of sociality in Bolivia and Argentina’, in eds. N Long and H Moore, Sociality. New Directions, Berghahn Press.
2012: ‘A desire to formalize work? Comparing trade union strategies in Bolivia and Argentina’ Anthropology of Work Review 33.1
2012: ‘Disjunctive comparison: Citizenship and Trade Unionism in Bolivia and Argentina’ Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 18.2.
2010: ‘Schooling and Critical Citizenship: Pedagogies of Political Agency in El Alto, Bolivia’, Anthropology and Education Quarterly
2009: ‘Citizenship’ and ‘Latin American Anthropology’ in A. Barnard and J. Spencer Encyclopedic Dictionary of Social and Cultural Anthropology, London, Routledge.
2008: ‘Eso es luchar sindicalmente. Ciudadanía, el estado y los sindicatos en El Alto, Bolivia’ number 27 of Cuadernos de Antropología Social, Journal of the Social Anthropology Section of the Instituto de Ciencias Antropológicas, Universidad de Buenos Aires.
2007: ‘In-betweenness at the Margins: Collective Organisation, Ethnicity and Political Agency among Bolivian Street Traders’, in James Staples (ed), Livelihoods at the Margins: Surviving the City, Left Coast Press.
2006: Co-editor (with John McNeish), ‘Special Issue: The Millions Return? Democracy in Bolivia at the Start of the 21st Century‘ , Bulletin of Latin American Research, Vol. 25, April 2006; Introduction and article: ‘El Alto, Ciudad Rebelde: Organisational Bases for Revolt’
2006: ‘Movilización Social en El Alto’, in ed. Pilar Domingo: Democracia, Gobernabilidad y Participacion en Bolivia: 1993-2003, Universidad de Salamanca
2005: ‘Citizens despite the state: everyday corruption and local politics in El Alto, Bolivia’, in D. Haller and C. Shore eds., Corruption: Anthropological Perspectives, London: Pluto Press, pp. 212-228
2004: ‘Education for Credit. Development as Citizenship Project in Bolivia’, Critique of Anthropology 24 (3)
2004: ‘Personalist Politics, Clientelism and Citizenship: Local Elections in El Alto, Bolivia‘, Bulletin of Latin American Research, Vol. 23 Issue 2 pp.228-243
2003: (Maxine Molyneux and Sian Lazar) Doing the Rights Thing: Latin American NGOs and Rights-based Development, ITDG Publishing
2002: ‘, Goldsmiths, GARP 6 ’ in La Paz and El Alto, Bolivia‘