In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Indigenous Politics and Representation in Latin America

  • Introduction
  • Anthologies
  • Mexico
  • Brazil
  • The Caribbean

Political Science Indigenous Politics and Representation in Latin America
Miguel Centellas
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 November 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0253


There is surprisingly limited political science scholarship on indigenous political participation and representation in Latin America, per se. While research on Latin America’s indigenous peoples has experienced a boom in recent years—and has long been a staple among anthropologists and sociologists—most of that work takes a decidedly cultural, rather than institutional, approach. That is, there are relatively few works on “ethnic parties” (their electoral performance, their role in legislatures, etc.) of the kind familiar to those who study ethnic politics in India or Europe. Moreover, the existing literature is heavily concentrated in a handful of country cases. This presents a tremendous opportunity for future scholarship, as well as a challenge. The challenges derive primarily from the lack of data on many basic indicators of indigenous participation and representation beyond the aggregate level or from ethnographic studies. Another challenge comes from the thorny issue of how to address mestizaje (the centuries-old blending of European and indigenous cultures) which complicates racial and ethnic categories that drive most theories about “ethnic” politics. The fact that most Latin American countries have overwhelmingly mestizo majorities—and few have sizeable geographically concentrated indigenous communities—also complicate things. A key way in which political scientists have tended to study “ethnic” political participation and representation has been through the study of “ethnic” parties, which are rare in Latin America. Additionally, much of the scholarship on ethnic political mobilization has tended to focus on “successful” cases like Bolivia and Ecuador or cases with vibrant indigenous movements like Mexico or Guatemala, with few studies of ethnic or indigenous politics in other countries, especially countries with very small indigenous populations, such as Brazil or Argentina.

General Overviews

There has been growing attention to the role of indigenous people in Latin American politics. Although much of the scholarship tends to focus on a handful of standout cases, scholarship that takes a comparative perspective has been strong. Two excellent general overviews of the increasing presence of indigenous peoples in politics are Van Cott 2010 and Rice 2015. Kicza 1999 provides a good anthology that provides context for understanding indigeneity in Latin America.

  • Kicza, John E., ed. The Indian in Latin American History: Resistance, Resilience, and Acculturation. Wilmington, DE: SR Books, 1999.

    Anthology providing a broad, interdisciplinary introduction to the historical and cultural context of indigeneity in Latin America since the colonial period.

  • Rice, Roberta. “Indigenous Mobilization and Democracy in Latin America.” In Latin American Democracy: Emerging Reality or Endangered Species? Edited by Richard L. Millet, Jennifer S. Holmes, and Orlando J. Pérez. New York: Routledge, 2015.

    Chapter-length general overview of indigenous political mobilization in Latin America, focusing on how indigenous peoples interact with the political party system in various countries. Rice concludes that indigenous political mobilization is a positive contribution to democracy in the region.

  • Van Cott, Donna Lee. “Indigenous Peoples’ Politics in Latin America.” Annual Review of Political Science 13 (2010): 385–405.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.polisci.032708.133003

    Excellent article-length summary of the state of research on indigenous peoples in Latin America by the pre-eminent scholar on the subject of her generation. Van Cott ends with recommendation to increase the discipline’s scope beyond the “successful” cases to studies of cases with smaller, more marginal indigenous peoples, as well as to better integrate the studies of indigenous, Afro-Latin, and gender politics.

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