The problem of delimitation’: parataxis, bureaucracy, and Ecuador’s popular and solidarity economy

“‘The problem of delimitation’: parataxis, bureaucracy, and Ecuador’s popular and solidarity economy”, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Volume 21, Issue 1, pages 106–126, March 2015. Taylor Nelms.


What happens when an alternative economy becomes subject to a state bureaucratic apparatus? The question is posed in the context of a state project in Ecuador to institutionalize a so-called ‘economía popular y solidaria’ (or EPS). This ‘popular and solidarity economy’, part of a project of ‘post-neoliberal’ state transformation, invites questions about how to delimit its boundaries. This article offers an ethnographically informed account of the expert knowledge forms and bureaucratic techniques of Ecuadorian state actors charged with institutionalizing the EPS. I argue that in descriptions of the EPS, officials deploy an open-ended aesthetic (which I term ‘parataxis’); in response to everyday bureaucratic demands to identify existing EPS practitioners, however, officials rely on techniques of provisional delimitation. The case promises insight into alternative economic imaginaries and the post-neoliberal turn in Latin America and it raises questions central to the anthropology of the state about the intersection of expert knowledge and bureaucratic practice.

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