buen vivir

All flourishing is mutual.

– Robin Wall Kimmerer (2013: 15)


A paradigm for a way foward that stands as an alternative to the dominant models of development in the industrialized West, the concept of buen vivir (sumak kawsay in Quechua, or good living in English) is a way of considering human progress as being founded in a harmony among individuals and communities, and among humans and the nonhuman world. Eduardo Gudynas, writer and senior researcher at Uruguay’s Latin American Center of Social Ecology, notes that buen vivir has been the “target of heated criticism” from those hanging on to economic growth and development as the only way to envision progress: “Critics see Buen Vivir as a mystical return to an Indigenous past, lacking any practical strategy. This is not the case … Buen Vivir presents precise proposals and strategies. These include reforms in legal forms, introduction of environmental accounting, tax reforms, dematerialization of economies and alternative regional integration within South America.” (Gudynas 2011: 446) Based in the cosmology of the Indigenous Quechua communities of the Andes in South America, the notion of buen vivir had great influence on the 2008 rewriting of Ecuador’s constitution, which explicitly recognizes “(t)he right of the population to live in a healthy and ecologically balanced environment that guarantees sustainability and the good way of living (sumak kawsay),” and states that “environmental conservation, the protection of ecosystems, biodiversity and the integrity of the country’s genetic assets, the prevention of environmental damage, and the recovery of degraded natural spaces are declared matters of public interest.” (Republic of Ecuador Constitution of 2008, Title II, Chapter Two, Article 14) Joining Ecuador in 2009 was Bolivia, whose revised constitution integrated the Indigenous Aymara concept of suma qamaña (“living well together”) and paved the way for its 2010 Law of the Rights of Mother Earth (Law 071). Bolivia’s constitution now declares, “It is the responsibility of the State and the population to conserve, protect, and make sustainable use of natural resources and biodiversity, so as to maintain balance in the environment.” The Bolivian Constitution also grants extensive rights to Indigenous communities, including the rights of self-governance and self-determination, and declares the country as a whole to be “founded in diversity and political, economic, judicial, cultural, and linguistic pluralism.” (Republic of Bolivia Constitution of 2009, Title II, Chapter One, Article 342) “The Buen Vivir perspective is, in this sense, not only post-capitalist, but also post-socialist,” writes Gudynas. “As a platform to explore and build alternatives beyond European modernity, it is moving away from Eurocentric political thought. … Buen Vivir does not imply a complete rupture with those traditions, but a selective adoption of some critical positions rather than others. Thus, there is a bridge to the Buen Vivir expressed social justice positions, which is not possible with the conservative or neoliberal positions. To put it simply, we will not be able to move beyond modern thought from the right, because the exit towards alternatives to development is on the left.” (Gudynas 2018) (KS)

See also: Forest Law, rights of nature

Related interviews: Denis Schneuwly, Standing Rock in Geneva

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