Date of Award


Publication Type

Doctoral Thesis

Degree Name



Sociology and Anthropology

First Advisor

Lynne Phillips

Second Advisor

Tanya Basok


Social sciences, Bolivia, Collaboration, Ecological agriculture, Gender, Knowledge exchange, Participatory development



Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.


A Bolivian development NGO's effort to increase the scope and value of ecological agriculture, agrobiodiversity and food sovereignty in its work with marginalized farming communities in Norte de Potosí, shares these concerns with the Bolivian State. Yet tensions run high between applying neoliberal frameworks to 'empower' farmers and resisting neoliberal approaches to strengthen Bolivia's sovereignty vis-à-vis the global North. Despite a significant backlash, neoliberalism continues to complicate sustainable development, participatory ideals and local/scientific knowledges, by both facilitating and challenging efforts toward collaboration. This becomes most clear when examined through the lens of gender. To analyze this process, the conceptual framework casts a wide theoretical net, drawing on critical development theory literature. The farmers participating in the NGO's projects also participate in a dynamic where they are positioned as lacking knowledge. Ironically, the agronomists -- in relative position of power -- who credit scientific and local knowledge with what they themselves know, play the role of holders of both types of knowledge, while the farmers often find themselves playing a role as holders of neither. A closer examination of the participation of women farmers with the NGO and governmental organization urges questions of what counts as 'participation,' and what purpose it serves. Yet power imbalances infringe on the possibilities for candid discussions among the farmers and the organizations, as well as between these Bolivian organizations and international funders. Further tension exists in the discrepancy between the Western ideal of gender 'equality' and the Andean cosmovision, with its ideal of gender 'complementarity.' The perceived need to showcase success in increasing gender equality in the NGO's work interferes with transparency between them and their Canadian partner, highlighting persistent power inequalities. These types of inequalities - and importantly, those between agronomists and farmers -- are masked through development buzzwords, (e.g. 'participation,' 'partnership', 'empowerment,' etc.). Two additional concepts come to light in this dissertation: 'leadership,' and 'exchange' (i.e. 'farmer experience exchange'), which gloss over tensions, legitimate development work, and impinge upon the degree to which collaborations of knowledge might transcend (gendered) power imbalances, even as they are used with sincerity and the best of intentions.