Ep # 70 Familial Ties and Family Debts: Susan Ellison on Alternative Dispute Resolution in Bolivia

This week we bring you an interview with Dr Susan Ellison from Wellesley College. In this interview, Familiar Stranger Alex asks about her experiences working in the city of El Alto and the neighbouring town of La Paz. Alex and Susan discuss Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and how it exists as a second space for conflict resolution for Bolivians and their families. They also discuss how foreign aid adds a layer of complexities to the frameworks already present in Bolivia and potential recommendations for moving forward. 

Links and Citations 

Check out Susan Ellison’s profile here:


Read Susan’s Book on her work in Bolivia here: 

Read Susan’s work on legal paper she mentioned here: 


Read more about the graffiti that would be spray painted on people’s family homes here:


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This anthropology podcast is supported by the Australian Anthropological Society, the ANU’s College of Asia and the Pacific and College of Arts and Social Sciences, and the Australian Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, and is produced in collaboration with the American Anthropological Association.

Music by Pete Dabro: dabro1.bandcamp.com
Shownotes by Matthew Phung
Podcast edited by Alex D’Aloia and Matthew Phung


“Immediately in the aftermath of that uprising, there was a sudden surge in foreign aid coming from European and especially American, US Donors that were targeting the city of El Alto”  

“The kind of analysis that these programs did was that Bolivians were too involved in politics and in the wrong ways” 

“They are misdirecting their energy, towards street protest, they need to redirect their energy to more formal channels of democratic participation” 

“Bolivia was incarcerating mass numbers of people who they then could not actually get court dates for” 

“People often complain quite openly about the corruption that they experience in the courts, ranging from having to pay bribes to having to do other kinds of things in order to move their cases along” 

“I could not escape the number of cases that people were bringing to these dispute resolutions  that dealt with debt,  with interpersonal loans and with loans related to microfinance” 

‘I discovered that about third, to half the caseload they had was dealing with debt and that became a huge component to my work’ 

“Many women would come to the centres dealing with violence, but not wanting to pursue that as their primary or driving concern” 

“I’m also interested in ideas of sovereignty and the sort of critique of the role of these aid programs in interfering and meddling in domestic politics in Boliva as well”  

“And it was I think a classic moment of fieldwork when you’re doing fieldwork where you think “what the heck is going on? I don’t get it”” 

“Is this about creating a space very much apart from the state legal system or is it about having the backing of the state?” 

Feature Image: “11.1 La Paz-18” by Esmée Winnubst (2017)

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