Document Type

Honors Project


Often framed as polar political opposites, Bolivia and the United States now share a historical milestone: the victory of a presidential hopeful from a marginalized racial community. The elections of Barack Obama and Evo Morales serve as important victories in the political incorporation of African Americans in the United Sates and highland indigenous communities in Bolivia. Using Atlanta, Georgia and El Alto/La Paz as case studies, this paper addresses how descriptive representation in elected public office fits within a larger framework of political agency and long-term incorporation for marginalized demographics. I argue that African Americans in Atlanta have historically prioritized descriptive representation in public office over articulating an alternative citizenship and state project, while highland indigenous groups seek electoral representation as part of a larger strategy to transform the colonial state and citizenship project in Bolivia. Due to these distinct approaches to political empowerment, these groups relate to the Obama and Morales presidencies in distinct ways. Ultimately, the importance of descriptive representation depends upon the relationship of marginalized communities to the local political opportunity structures, and whether groups seek to be included within the structure or to radically transform it.



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