An ethnographic study of the relationship between the Renta Dignidad and wellbeing in the Bolivian Altiplano

Godfrey Wood, Rachel (2016) An ethnographic study of the relationship between the Renta Dignidad and wellbeing in the Bolivian Altiplano. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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The objective of this thesis is to study the impacts of Bolivia’s non-contributory pension, the Renta Dignidad, on the wellbeing of older peasants and their families. Literature on social protection has had a tendency to propose social protection policies as contributing to a broad range of objectives, and non-contributory pensions are no exception. Studies have found them to contribute not only to ‘obvious’ needs such as increased consumption and income security but also to investments in productivity, social relationships, health, increased access to credit and savings, while it has become common to claim that they contribute to intangible goals such as dignity and citizenship. Moreover, because they do not impose conditionalities on recipients and are often relatively broader in their coverage than other social protection policies, social pensions have generally avoided critiques that have been aimed at conditional cash transfers and public works programmes. The danger of this literature is that it assumes that wellbeing is heavily responsive to monetary wealth, rather than other areas. To study this, an ethnographic methodology, based on participant observation and semi-structured interviews was employed in two rural communities located in the La Paz department in the highland Altiplano region of Bolivia close to Lake Titicaca. My analysis shows that older persons’ wellbeing depends heavily on a combination of elements, going beyond material wellbeing into areas such as their relationships with their spouses, children, grandchildren, and the other people in the rural communities in which they live, their ability to contribute their labour and maintain their daily (agricultural) work, to participate in collective social political and religious activities, and to maintain good health. For example, older people work hard for as late in life as possible largely because it is meaningful for them to work the land and produce food. This means that health problems, which are often exacerbated by hard work, are particularly damaging to wellbeing because they inhibit older persons’ ability to do this. Meanwhile, ideas and values about how older people should live are continually being negotiated and contested between older people and with their younger family members, often leading to disputes. These are not driven solely by material interests, but concern the ways in which people should live and seek cultural, social and spiritual fulfilment. This is not due to a particular conception of wellbeing held by these people because they are indigenous, as might be inferred through the romantic lens of the vivir bien concept, but because human wellbeing more generally needs to be understood in relational terms, rather than exclusively in terms of peoples’ capacity to satisfy their basic needs. While the Renta Dignidad increases older persons’ ability to consume, maintain livelihood security, and in some case to participate in exchanges of food and gifts with other family members, it does not respond significantly to these other areas of wellbeing, contributing little to healthcare for example. The policy implications of this are that a more integral approach needs to be adopted to older persons’ wellbeing, going beyond cash transfers to greater efforts to bring healthcare services to older people in remote rural areas.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: Institute of Development Studies
Subjects: F History United States, Canada, Latin America > F2201 South America > F3301 Bolivia
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology > GN301 Ethnology. Social and cultural anthropology
H Social Sciences > HG Finance > HG0179 Personal finance
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 27 Oct 2016 10:23
Last Modified: 27 Oct 2016 10:23

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