Buen Vivir

An Alternative to Modernity
Quechua cosmovision informing a community-centric, ecologically-balanced, and culturally-sensitive lifestyle, an alternative model to development and growth rooted in situational awareness with the potential to evolve into a political project, possibly a constitution addressing all life-forms

Context

During the last few decades, notions of development have gone through different interpretations, such as sustainable development, participatory development, or alternative development. As the Colombian anthropologist Arturo Escobar notes, however, “all these approaches stay within the conventional understanding of development: they don’t constitute a radical departure from the prevailing paradigm”.1Arturo Escobar, “Farewell to Development,” interview by Allen White, Great Transition Initiative (February 2018) <http://greattransition.org/publication/farewell-to-development> [accessed 7 November 2023]. So, what might a radical departure look like?

Practice

One answer is found in the concept of buen vivir (Spanish for “living well”), which is based on the Indigenous Amazonian concept of sumac kawsay or “living in completeness” in the Kichwa language. Buen vivir emerged in several regions of South America around the year 2000 as a coalition of Indigenous peoples, people of African descent, ecologists, feminists, and activists. These groups worked from long-standing processes of resistance to fight austerity measures imposed by neoliberal political regimes and industrial damage to habitats and indigenous territories. In regions such as Ecuador and Bolivia, Indigenous organisers promoted pluri-nationalism, intercultural identity, and the rights of nature as foundational concepts for buen vivir.2Jay Drydyk, and Lori Keleher. Routledge Handbook of Development Ethics (London: Routledge, 2018) <https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315626796> See also: Martha Chaves, Thomas Macintyre, Gerard Verschoor, and Arjen E.J. Wals, “Radical Ruralities in Practice: Negotiating Buen Vivir in a Colombian Network of Sustainability,” Journal of Rural Studies 59 (April 2018), pp. 153-62 <https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrurstud.2017.02.007 Though buen vivir avoids prescribing a formalised set of rules or practices, it is characterised by itsmulti-species definition of rights, and its non-linear understanding of life as being a permanent process of regeneration and evolution.3Alberto Acosta, and Mateo Martínez Abarca, “Buen Vivir” in The Climate Crisis: South African and Global Democratic Eco-Socialist Alternatives, ed. byVishwas Satgar (Johannesburg: Wits University Press, 2018), pp. 131-147 <https://doi.org/10.18772/22018020541> Buen vivir’s non-linear temporality is also a direct rebuttal of colonial and neocolonial projects for industrial development that damage ecologies and societies across the Andes and the Amazon basin. Rejecting colonial notions of land property, meanwhile, buen vivir understands territory as a living system of multi-species relations, which must be supported by ecologically respectful worldviews, principles, and customs.4Thomas Fatheuer, “Buen Vivir, A Brief Introduction to Latin America’s New Concepts for the Good Life and the Rights of Nature”, translated by John Hayduska, ed. by Heinrich Böll Stiftung, Series on Ecology, vol. 17 (2011) <https://www.boell.de/en/ecology/publications-buen-vivir-12636.html> [accessed 13 November 2023]. Driven not by instrumental systems aimed at economic growth but by relations of human and non-human value, buen vivir redefines growth as a flourishing of communities and ecosystems in tandem.

Through education, such as that offered by the Colombian Inga community’s University of the Territory and media collective, Ñambi Rimai, and through writings by both Indigenous leaders and theorists including Escobar, concepts of buen vivir have spread far and wide. For example, its advocacy for the rights of nature has been incorporated into law through the Ecuadorian (2008) and Bolivian (2009) constitutions, and its suggestions to disrupt modernity’s anthropocentric and imperialist projects of economic growth through alternative community-focused projects for education as social renewal can be traced in Chile’s proposed constitution of 2022.

Notes

  • 1
    Arturo Escobar, “Farewell to Development,” interview by Allen White, Great Transition Initiative (February 2018) <http://greattransition.org/publication/farewell-to-development> [accessed 7 November 2023].
  • 2
    Jay Drydyk, and Lori Keleher. Routledge Handbook of Development Ethics (London: Routledge, 2018) <https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315626796> See also: Martha Chaves, Thomas Macintyre, Gerard Verschoor, and Arjen E.J. Wals, “Radical Ruralities in Practice: Negotiating Buen Vivir in a Colombian Network of Sustainability,” Journal of Rural Studies 59 (April 2018), pp. 153-62 <https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrurstud.2017.02.007
  • 3
    Alberto Acosta, and Mateo Martínez Abarca, “Buen Vivir” in The Climate Crisis: South African and Global Democratic Eco-Socialist Alternatives, ed. byVishwas Satgar (Johannesburg: Wits University Press, 2018), pp. 131-147 <https://doi.org/10.18772/22018020541>
  • 4
    Thomas Fatheuer, “Buen Vivir, A Brief Introduction to Latin America’s New Concepts for the Good Life and the Rights of Nature”, translated by John Hayduska, ed. by Heinrich Böll Stiftung, Series on Ecology, vol. 17 (2011) <https://www.boell.de/en/ecology/publications-buen-vivir-12636.html> [accessed 13 November 2023].

External links

Ubuntu – an African concept emphasizing interconnectedness, compassion, and a sense of shared humanity, promoting the idea that one’s well-being is intrinsically linked to the well-being of others