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Subaltern Bureaucrats and Postcolonial Rule: Indigenous Professional Registers of Engagement with the Chilean State

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 January 2015

Sarah A. Radcliffe*
Geography, University of Cambridge
Andrew J. Webb*
Sociology, Universidad Católica in Santiago


What is the experience of a racial subaltern on becoming an employee of a postcolonial state? Latin America has undertaken widespread multicultural state reform, often in response to pressure from nation-wide social movements and transnational human rights activism. This provides us with a window into ways in which subaltern individuals negotiate their place in a historically exclusionary state with norms of whiteness, European codes, and literal and metaphoric distance from marginal populations. Previous research has emphasized the cooptation of subaltern actors by neoliberal postcolonial states, but we argue that a close reading of subaltern accounts yields important insights into their experiences of ambivalence, ambiguity, and agency. Neoliberal state restructuring entrained a parallel, and in many cases interconnected process that generated ambivalence among civil servants. We draw on interviews with state employees associated with multicultural educational reforms in Chile to document the registers through which indigenous subalterns position themselves regarding the politics of interculturalism and the costs of serving the state.

Research Article
Copyright © Society for the Comparative Study of Society and History 2014 

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