The demand for social movement and criticism of the western development model by political leaders and scholars in Latin America has opened an arena for alternative development models. The resultant approach disputes the assumption that all countries should follow a similar path to become developed. The alternative concerning global powers, capitalism, and development is examined with respect to the state’s role in an approach identified as Buen Vivir. The following is a review of Alberto Acosta’s article, ‘The Buen Vivir: An opportunity to imagine another world.’
Acosta introduces a unique concept of challenging development by arguing that many underdeveloped countries have been pursuing development agendas in the past decades, but a few have succeeded (n.d). They followed the development path in aspects like social, local rural, and sustainable development, and the issue of development has never been questioned but simply redefined. The approaches used did not effectively evaluate the concept of conventional development that was understood as linear progress and represented in the realm of economic growth. The author referrers to Buer Vivir as a pluralist concept of living together as a community in a holistic vision of life, where nature and humanity merge. This concept is hailed as an alternative to development embedded in traditionally marginalized groups and a collective design for forming a new life. Acosta views Buen Vivir as an approach that is constantly under reproduction and construction rather than static or backward (n.d). The approach is a central philosophy in most indigenous communities and some Latin American economies, where concepts of wealth and poverty are not based on material goods accumulation (Chassagne, 2019). A unique strength in this approach is that it dismantles the worldview of development from the western world’s view, where the community is replaced with capitalism. The approach also breaks the anthropocentric view of capitalism as a dominant path to civilization.
Acosta hails Buen Vivir for originating from marginalized people and encourages the breakage of various concepts that are not emphasized and not necessary to address. His approach supports ethics by living better, even if it implies making limited progress that facilitates permanent competitions. The modern model to a better life is not favorable because it has resulted in millions of people being forced to live badly. The indigenous knowledge is rejected because sometimes it does not conform to development. However, there is no concept of a linear world between underdevelopment and development as a dichotomy where people go through a specific path to attain well-being common to the western world. In Buen Vivir, the concepts of poverty and wealth as determined by wealth accumulation do not hold. For example, the Ecuadorian constitution has significant fundamental rights that recognize and appreciate nature and people’s fundamental right to water (Williford, 2018). Consequently, individuals cannot privatize essential natural resources like water and oil. The constitution is heavily embedded in Buen Vivir and is designed to build new forms of public coexistence with diversity and harmony with nature. This is a unique approach to development because it ultimately results in attaining a good way of living-the sumac kawsay. The characters that define diversity and human actions in this development approach include knowledge, codes of ethics, spiritual conduct, and coexistence with the environment.
The indigenous Buen Vivir has lost some significant attributes due to external influences, majorly colonization, and publicity of western modernity. Capitalism caused massive environmental and social devastation, and Acosta holds that knowledge and is related to the approach should not be forgotten (n.d). He proposes rebuilding the Buen Vivir through decolonization and depatriarchalization, of course. This proposal aligns with the modern trend in Latin America as the crisis of power imbalance rooted in neoliberalism and colonialism gains momentum. As a result, there is a growing concern over organizations of indigenous people and other grassroots movements in Latin America, especially in Ecuador, advocating for harmonious coexistence with nature and environmentally conscious alternatives in political projects, social and economic practices Williford, 2018). This is a manifestation that Buen Vivir integrates modernity and ancestral knowledge in a constructive conversation to advance the developmental agendas. These approaches are typical to Buen Vivir and can be significant ignitions for social transformation and development.
Nature and Human Relations
Acosta advocates for a holistic approach to humans and nature as inseparable entities by promoting the reunion of the two that were destroyed by the power of conception of life that turned out to be intolerable (n.d). Nature should be redefined as a subject rather than an object under humans’ dominion. Therefore, its rights should be extrapolated. In this advocacy, Acosta supports the sumac kawsay, a Buen Vivir practice unique to Ecuador that entails fullness of life in the community and togetherness of people and nature. Instead of nature being treated as a human resource, it is considered a distinct entity with its rights.
A Solidarity Economy & Global Debate
In a Buen Vivir approach, the fundamental principle associated with the economy is solidarity. The approach strives to create a unique economy without competition that allows unfair labor practices (Acosta, n.d). Such an economy facilitates relations of exchange, production, and collaboration that promote quality and sufficiency. The interplay of the state, markets, and society is integral in redefining human beings’ needs in collective approaches. The economy offers platforms for integrating indigenous production and exchange, where labor results in dignifying people, since productive rights in the work environment, equality, and unfair labor standards are regulated to banish any form of job insecurity. Acosta’s opinion aligns with the Ranti-ranti system in Buen Vivir, where there are endless series of transfers of value, labor, and products. The approach is built on the ‘giving and taking’ principle that is not limited to time, space, and actions but is associated with historical and cultural values.
Acosta advocates for a compelling development model as an alternative to the western development approach. The depatriarchalization and decolonization ideas can facilitate the development of unique ideas for enhancing Buen Vivir‘s goals based on people’s unique needs and strengths.
Buen Vivir aligns with indigenous people’s values like in Latin America and can have grassroots support towards its implementation (Chassagne. 2019). The values of development shift from accumulation of wealth (capitalism) to leading better and harmonious lives with other people and nature. Buen Vivir can be an instrumental foundation in customizing economic development to the people’s unique needs by offering a holistic approach to a better life, where all supplications are provided by nature.
An evident weakness in the Buen Vivir approach, as Acosta demonstrates, is that the existing lifestyle may not readily allow the model to prevail. Therefore, it presented as a naïve approach to the way forward. For example, some municipal projects designed for road improvement are presented as formats of Buen Vivir in established cities with motor vehicles in mind rather than human beings. Besides, the politicization of the issue makes it infeasible due to the contradictory nature of politics and the constitution.
Although Acosta gives a detailed illustration of a utopic world through the approach of Buen Vivir, the author does not clearly outline how it can be implemented successfully at the national or global levels. Economies that have tried to implement the model, such as Bolivia and Ecuador, are not perfect case studies due to a combination of factors such as already developed societies that cannot accommodate Buen Vivir.
Acosta, A., n.d. The Buen Vivir: An Opportunity to Imagine Another World.
Chassagne. N., 2019. Buen Vivir as an alternative to sustainable development: The case of Cotacachi, Ecuador. Accessed from https://researchbank.swinburne.edu.au/file/9ef1ef0e-76c1-4b5a-9015-1017070be1da/1/natasha_chassagne_thesis.pdf
Williford, B., 2018. ‘Buen Vivir as Policy: Challenging Neoliberalism or Consolidating State Power in Ecuador.’ Journal of World Systems Research, 24(1): 97-122. Retrieved from https://jwsr.pitt.edu/ojs/jwsr/article/view/629/1017