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Begging as a Path to Progress

Indigenous Women and Children and the Struggle for Ecuador's Urban Spaces

Kate Swanson

Publication Year: 2010

In 1992, Calhuasí, an isolated Andean town, got its first road. Newly connected to Ecuador’s large cities, Calhuasí experienced rapid social-spatial change, which Kate Swanson richly describes in Begging as a Path to Progress.

Based on nineteen months of fieldwork, Swanson’s study pays particular attention to the ideas and practices surrounding youth. While begging seems to be inconsistent with—or even an affront to—ideas about childhood in the developed world, Swanson demonstrates that the majority of income earned from begging goes toward funding Ecuadorian children’s educations in hopes of securing more prosperous futures.

Examining beggars’ organized migration networks, as well as the degree to which children can express agency and fulfill personal ambitions through begging, Swanson argues that Calhuasí’s beggars are capable of canny engagement with the forces of change. She also shows how frequent movement between rural and urban Ecuador has altered both, masculinizing the countryside and complicating the Ecuadorian conflation of whiteness and cities. Finally, her study unpacks ongoing conflicts over programs to “clean up” Quito and other major cities, noting that revanchist efforts have had multiple effects—spurring more dangerous transnational migration, for example, while also providing some women and children with tourist-friendly local spaces in which to sell a notion of Andean authenticity.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Series: Geographies of Justice and Social Transformation


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pp. C-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xvi

A twelve-year-old indigenous girl inspired the research for this book. During my first visit to Ecuador in March 2002, I encountered her often while exploring Quito’s main tourist districts. This girl was clever, and she quickly deduced that my husband was an easy...

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Introduction: Unraveling Myths

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pp. 1-11

Since the mid-1990s rural indigenous women and children from the central Andes have been migrating to beg and sell gum on the streets of Ecuador’s largest cities. The majority of these women and children are from the small, high-altitude community of Calhuasí, in the province of...

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Chapter 1: Ecuador: Economic Crisis, Poverty, and Indigenous Identities

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pp. 12-28

In recent decades Ecuador has experienced vast change, along with an accelerated integration into the global economy. During this time the nation has been characterized by political instability, high income inequality, poverty, and massive debt. Between 1997 and 2007, seven...

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Chapter 2: Indigenous Childhoods: Gender, Work, Education, and Migration in the Andes

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pp. 29-49

Conditions are changing for indigenous children in Ecuador, particularly for young people in Calhuasí. These changes are being brought about for several reasons, but one of the more significant is the reconceptualization of local understandings of childhood. It is now...

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Chapter 3: Migrant Childhoods: Street Work and Youth Identities

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pp. 50-73

When young Calhuaseños migrate to the city, they do so because they have few other options. Begging and selling are a means to improve their circumstances in the hopes of attaining more prosperous futures. However, in the city, conditions are difficult, as youth must contend...

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Chapter 4: Antibegging Rhetoric: Gendered Beggars, Child Beggars, and “Disguised” Beggars

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pp. 74-91

Life in the city is challenging for women and children from Calhuasí. Their difficulties are compounded by media portrayals and popular misconceptions that unfairly misrepresent their life circumstances. In this chapter I explore how rhetoric pertaining to indigenous beggars informs policy and practice to exclude indigenous women...

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Chapter 5: Race, Space, and the City: Whitening the Streets of Quito and Guayaquil

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pp. 92-110

On top of the harassment indigenous women and children receive on the streets, their livelihoods are increasingly under threat from punitive urban policies designed to cleanse the streets of undesirables. Under the guise of revitalization or renewal, cities around the world are reshaping urban spaces to revive city centers and attract global...

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Conclusion: Begging as a Path to Progress

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pp. 111-118

Shortly before leaving Ecuador in 2003, I was sitting in my kitchen with a fourteen-year-old girl named Malena, when she posed a difficult and troubling question. We were looking at pictures and chatting about the community when she said to me, “We work like donkeys...


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pp. 119-122


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pp. 123-136


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pp. 137-146

E-ISBN-13: 9780820337036
E-ISBN-10: 082033703X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820331805
Print-ISBN-10: 0820331805

Page Count: 152
Illustrations: 15 b&w photos; 2 maps
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Geographies of Justice and Social Transformation
Series Editor Byline: Nik Heynen, Deborah Cowen, and Melissa W. Wright, Series Editors See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 676697516
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Begging as a Path to Progress

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Juvenile delinquents -- Texas -- History -- 20th century.
  • Discrimination in juvenile justice administration -- Texas -- History -- 20th century.
  • Juvenile justice, Administration of -- Texas -- History -- 20th century.
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