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  • Uncertain Citizenship: Everyday Practices of Bolivian Migrants in Chile by Megan Ryburn
  • Chris Strunk
Megan Ryburn
Uncertain Citizenship: Everyday Practices of Bolivian Migrants in Chile.
Oakland: University of California Press, 2018. xiii + 206 pp. Maps, tables, notes, bibliography, index. $35.95 paper (ISBN 978-0-520-29877-4); $85.00 cloth (ISBN 978-0-520-29876-7); $34.95 electronic (ISBN 978-0-520-97079-3)

In october 2019, millions of chileans took to the streets to demand that Sebastián Piñera’s government end a proposed metro fare hike. Behind the concerns over increasing transit costs, the dramatic protests were fueled by widespread anger at the failures of neoliberalism in the country, including inadequate and expensive social services, high levels of debt, and the exclusionary nature of Chilean society. While formal politics and social movements are often seen as the primary avenues for individuals and groups to make claims on the nation-state, in recent years scholars have increasingly turned their attention to the everyday as a site of belonging and citizenship. In Uncertain Citizenship, Megan Ryburn makes an important contribution to the field of migration and citizenship studies in a richly detailed ethnography about the lives of Bolivian migrants in Chile. [End Page 291]

Uncertain Citizenship is based on a multi-sited ethnography with Bolivian migrants in the Chilean cities of Santiago and Arica, and in migrant communities of origin in Bolivia. The strength of the book lies in its rich descriptions of the lived experiences of Bolivian migrants and their struggles to exercise substantive rights in a society that routinely discriminates against and marginalizes them. Accessing spaces inhabited by low-wage migrants, many of whom have irregular legal status, presents obvious logistical and ethical challenges for researchers, and Ryburn’s introduction offers a thoughtful discussion of the strengths and challenges of her research design. Long-term volunteer work with a migrant rights association in Chile gives Ryburn a sense of the shifting and interconnected exclusions (and inclusions) of migrants from substantive citizenship rights, as well as knowledge of specific policy changes proposed by advocates. Fieldwork in multiple places in Chile and Bolivia further contributes to the development of a theory of South-South migration shaped by conditions in transnational spaces.

Ryburn’s research is an important corrective to the dominant focus in migration research on the global North as a destination for international migrants. Bolivians in particular have a long history of migration to northern Argentina and Buenos Aires, explored in great depth by Bolivian and Argentine scholars such as Alfonso Hinojosa Gordonava, Alejandro Grimson, and Susana Sassone. In recent years, Bolivian migration patterns have shifted away from the European Union and United States – largely a result of economic recessions and restrictive immigration policies – to neighboring Brazil and Chile. Ryburn describes recent migration to Chile as part of a livelihood and economic citizenship strategy in post-neo-liberal Bolivia, which has challenged some of the major tenets of neoliberalism while maintaining a system that has failed to meaningfully address marginalization and vulnerability. But while mobility is part of a search for a more certain citizenship that guarantees economic and social rights (el sueño chileno), Bolivian migrants often encounter more uncertainty in Chile, where citizenship has been shaped by the country’s long history of neoliberal social and economic policies.

Ryburn illustrates the ambiguous position of migrants through six brief but poignant descriptions of different places of uncertain citizenship, taking the reader from overcrowded and dangerous migrant cités (dwellings) in Santiago to domestic workers isolated in the homes of wealthy Chileans on the edges of the capital city. Her analysis of Bolivian truck drivers at a remote border crossing in Lago Chungará exemplifies the importance of a spatial perspective on citizenship that she develops throughout the book. Here, she describes how a long history of geopolitical tensions between Chile and Bolivia, as well as an intentional policy of Chileanization that violently displaced and discriminated against Indigenous people in the region, shape the arbitrary applications of the law against poor and Indigenous Bolivians crossing international boundaries in the twenty-first century.

While Uncertain Citizenship has a strong empirical focus, it also develops important...