March 1, 2002












'Global Governmentality and Graduated Sovereignty: national belonging among poor migrants in Ecuador'[1]



Victoria A. Lawson

University of Washington




DRAFT: Please do not cite without permission.




Questions about the transformation of governance and national identitity are being re-examined in the context of contemporary economic globalization. Scholars are debating the ways in which globalization is reworking national identities through the shifting of economic governance away from "... the territorially defined boundaries of the nation-state ...[and into] 'unbundled' space for which there is not yet a name (Gupta, 1998: 321). Much of the work that has examined these questions of national identity and belonging under globalization have emphasized questions of mobility, memory and identity in diasporic communities. In this paper, by contrast, I work with economic migrants within Ecuador to emphasize how contemporary globalization processes reach inside national territories and work to reconstitute and reinvigorate pre-existing social hierarchies and spatial identities. I develop these arguments in the context of Ecuador's economic crisis of the last two decades, drawing on in-depth interviews with migrants to Quito.


Questions about the transformation of governance and national identity are being re-examined in the context of contemporary economic globalization (Castells, 2000; Ohmae, 1990; Herod, 1998; Sparke and Lawson, 2002; Sassen, 1998; Ong, 1999).  Scholars are debating the ways in which globalization is reworking national identities through a shifting of economic governance away from “… the territorially defined boundaries of the nation-state …[and into] ‘unbundled’ space for which there is not yet a name (Gupta, 1998: 321).  Sassen (1999) argues that the rise of global governance without government has strengthened the claims of powerful actors (global corporations, global financial institutions, global treaties etc), opening vulnerable economies and pushing large numbers into casualized work.  These processes raise unanswered questions about how the globalization of production and finance are reworking state sovereignty and political identities, as argued by Peterson (1996) “…identities conventionally ‘grounded’ in state territoriality are losing ground to a politics of new, or even non space(s)”. 

Much work examining questions of national identity and belonging under globalization has emphasized questions of mobility, memory and identity in diasporic communities (Eschle, 2001; Rouse, 1995; Cheah, 1998; Clifford, 1988).  By contrast, I work with domestic economic migrants within Ecuador to emphasize how economic dimensions of contemporary globalization processes reach inside national territories and work to reconstitute and reinvigorate preexisting social hierarchies and spatial identities (Alexander and Mohanty, 1997).  I start from the standpoints of people who are impoverished under globalization to argue that spatial identities are reshaped through profoundly material processes of migration and work.  By looking at migrants’ sense of belonging, alienation, nostalgia, and discrimination in the globalized Ecuadorian economy, we can reveal processes of marginalization, ambivalence and dissent that may be exacerbated by globalization, but that play out within national territories to exacerbate inequality and reformulate spatial identities.

Recent work emerging on the rescaling or resiting of identities under globalization has looked to the transnational sphere (Radcliffe, 2001; Sen, 1997; Moghadam, 1998).  This work has focused on various forms of transnational engagement (with NGOs) or activism (environment, debt-relief, etc) to argue that reworked spatial identities can be strategic and political in relation to globalization.  In this project, I explore the implications of economic globalization for migrants who are not globally networked, even as they are deeply affected by global flows.  The migrants I spoke with were surprisingly disconnected from various forms of ‘people-level globalization’ (Mittelman, 2000) or from transnational networks of engagement (Bebbington, 2001; Bebbington and Batterbury, 2001) or resistance (Radcliffe, 2001).  In this paper, I pose questions about the roles that migrancy and economic vulnerability play in the constitution of their spatial identities and in their isolation from organized responses to globalization. 

I begin from the ways in which global regulatory structures ‘reach’ inside Ecuador and examine the spatial affiliations of domestic economic migrants to build an understanding of their emergent spatial identities in the context of global governmentality.  I argue that there has been a shift of economic governance away from a territorially defined Ecuadorian state and into the unbundled spaces and institutions of globalization (such as International Monetary Fund: IMF, World Bank: WB, Inter-American Development Bank: IDB, Corporacion Andina de Fomento: CAF; and the Paris Club).  I trace how diminished national control over the economy, but not outright erasure of the state, has reworked the relations between elite Ecuadorian state actors, supra-national institutions and regimes of governance, and poorer sectors within Ecuador. 

Next, I argue that cross-border movements of capital have prompted large-scale movements of workers inside ‘adjusting’ countries like Ecuador.  While many of the poorest migrants do not have access to the globalized circuits of capital and culture they are nonetheless deeply affected by economic globalization (Cheah, 1998).  As Ong (1999) argues, globalization is not really about deregulation of economy and society, but rather about re-regulation in favor of certain groups.  Under neo-liberal restructuring, weaker social groups – such as poor economic migrants  -- are essentially given over to deregulation by supranational entities which relegate many to unregulated work with little security and few rights (Ong, 1999; Mittelman, 2000).  In Ecuador, state managers are reworking the discourses of national development that historically sought to incorporate popular classes.  I draw on excerpts from speeches and interviews to illustrate how this shift of governance has expanded flexible workforces, which deeply affects economic in-migrants to Quito.

Third, I look at how global governance is refracted through the economy and social policy in ways that reformulate the daily lives of migrants.  I draw on migrants’ experiences and interpretations of their lives in the city to pose questions about how globalization and insertion into supranational economic and political systems has reworked migrants’ framing of their national (or regional, urban/rural) identities, and how these reworkings intersect with pre-existing social hierarchies of difference.  The broad question framing this study is: how does insertion into globalized governance and economic migration influence the scales at which people negotiate their primary identities?


Methodological Context


In making these points, I draw on interviews with economic migrants themselves to open an analytical space for critical interpretations/analyses of globalization which emanate from those people who are experiencing these dislocations first hand.[2]  Interpretations from migrants themselves are often neglected in research and yet they can counter and complicate Western, advanced economy analyses of economic globalization.  Weiss’s (1997) work on Ecuador clearly demonstrates that poorer sectors are sophisticated in their analyses of the causes of their poverty.  Weiss found that people linked their poverty to the role of international organizations and the capitulation of successive governments to the global regime.  Similarly, the migrants I spoke with analyzed neo-liberal modernization as an unstable system, in which discrimination, uneven access to resources and erasure of indigenous identities persists despite discourses of individual freedom (elaborated in Lawson, 1999, 2000).

This insistence on bringing attention to the too-often neglected subjects, scales, and places of globalization in the “periphery” rather than the “center” resonates with Escobar’s (2001) call for a reconceptualization of globalization paying close attention to the role of place and local knowledges.  Escobar argues that other stories can be told, stories from marginalized places that emphasize differences rather than similarities, diversity rather than homogeneity. As Escobar notes,

The erasure of place is a reflection of the asymmetry that exist[s]  between the global and the local in much contemporary literature on globalization, in which the global is associated with space, capital, history, and agency while the local, conversely, is linked to place, labor, and tradition – as well as with women, minorities, the poor, and one might add, local cultures  (2001: 155-156).


This challenge to reconceptualize the places of globalization and to work against the erasure of other readings from women, minorities, from the South, is central to a feminist analysis of globalization (Nagar, Lawson, McDowell and Hanson, 2001).  It is crucial to challenge the claims of the center, of capital-centrism and Eurocentrism that are the privileged, authoritative terrain of global-speak, as well as to insert into analyses of globalization a focus on the connections between migration, employment, reproduction, bodies, households, and communities.


Global Governance:


There is much debate over shifts in nation-state power in the context of globalization (Slater, 1992; Ong, 1999; Sassen, 1998; Gupta, 1999).  This has led to questions about


“…the significance of the national as a site of collective identity and the state as a force that can function to serve the collective interests of those who reside within the nation” (Bergeron, 2001: 3).


Some argue that the power of global corporations and supranational institutions of economic regulation has ‘hollowed out’ the state (Jessop, 1995; Scholte, 1996; Korten, 2001).  This hollowing refers to a decline of national sovereignty in terms of managing the national economy and the abandonment of commitments to vulnerable sectors of the population.  Other theorists argue that economic globalization has shifted the role of the state rather than erased it.  They advocate analysis of the integrated nature of supra-national and national governance in the context of globalization (Ong, 1999; Glassman, 1999; Bergeron, 2001).  Of course, these broad questions can only be answered in the analysis of specific places.  My analysis traces the reworking of economic governance and the rise of both global governmentality (Gupta, 1998; Herod Tuathail and Roberts, 1998) and ‘graduated sovereignty’ (Ong, 1999: 217) in Ecuador.  Here I argue that global governmentality which “…refers to that ensemble of institutions, procedures and tactics that allow the exercise of a certain kind of power” (Gupta, 1998: 320; Foucault, 1991; Brown and Boyle, 2000) has emerged in the unbundled spaces of globalization.[3]   This has given rise to new forms of governance in vulnerable states like Ecuador which rework economic sovereignty as well as the relations between elites and poor people.  In the following section, I elaborate on the idea of graduated sovereignty by tracing the ways in which state actors embrace neo-liberal agendas and deregulate the workforce to illustrate how different sectors of the Ecuadorian population are differentially protected and valued in the context of globalization.

The Ecuadorian state has been steadily internationalized since at least the Alliance for Progress (Kofas, 2001).  However, this process has intensified over the last 20 years in concert with a deepening crisis of indebtedness and a growing influence of the IMF and WB in economic policy and fiscal matters.  State sovereignty over economic and social policy has been steadily eroded and Ecuador is in a vulnerable position within global networks of corporate and financial power.  Today, Ecuador carries one of the highest burdens of public external debt in Latin America (total debt approximately $17 Billion).  This has dramatically reduced fiscal budgets for the state leaving a tiny proportion for social sectors – in 1995, social security and welfare 1.9%; health 11.2% and housing 0.6%.  In 1999, the crisis deepened with several weeks of severe currency devaluation and a national banking crisis, followed by a steep rise in inflation and drastic erosions of real wages.  The combination of massive debt service payments and capital flight from the devastated economy means that the country must have new loans to stay afloat such that the cycle of debt and inescapable ties to the supra-national sphere continue. 

And yet, the role of the state in neo-liberal adjustment is complex.  The state’s role is not erased, but it is transformed into a regulator of networks and flows in the global economy.  Harvey (2000: 65) observes that “[T]o make the contemporary wave of neo-liberalism work, the state has to penetrate even more deeply into certain segments of political-economic life and become in some ways even more interventionist than before”.  While Ecuador is clearly vulnerable and impoverished in the global context, the state is self-disciplining and governing itself within the material and discursive frame of neo-liberalism.  To understand these contradictions, I draw on the concept of governmentality to argue that Ecuador is enmeshed in a neo-liberal regime of global governmentality which operates through transnational institutions and networks of power including free trade treaties such as GATT and NAFTA and institutions like WTO, the WB and the IMF.  These treaties and institutions combine their considerable ideological and material force to rework the relations between states and the global economy.  Vulnerable states, such as Ecuador become enmeshed in supranational, networks of power with which they actively engage, even as they lose sovereignty through that engagement.  As Webber (1998) argued for Australia, this is not simply a case of structural determinism, because state managers themselves internalize the transnational ideologies of neo-liberalism and globalize their own economies (Herod, et. al., 1998). 

During the eighties and nineties Ecuadorian state actors have increasingly governed the country in the mentality of neo-liberal institutions through their engagements with the IMF, the WB, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Corporacion Andina de Fomento (CAF).  These institutions have constructed analyses of the causes of economic crisis across Southern nations and so have defined both the ‘problem’ and the ‘solution’ (Escobar, 1995).  Ecuadorian state managers self-discipline the state, and so the country, in the context of this analysis.  Specifically, in order to compete in global financial markets for the loans necessary to keep the economy afloat, Ecuadorian state actors themselves take the lead in reforming the national economy, in ways clearly prescribed by these institutions.  Prior to receiving emergency loans, state managers commit to, and are often already implementing, a suite of reforms that bring the economy into line with the needs of global capital (reforms include opening their markets, privatizing state functions, reducing fiscal expenditures (even more), devaluing currency, etc).

Processes of global governmentality help explain why, despite a succession of governments (six presidents in the last 10 years) with different party and ideological positions, the process of internationalization has proceeded steadily.  However, a full understanding of this inexorable reorientation towards global capitalist interests must also consider the class position of elite state actors.  Specifically within Ecuador, the architects of neo-liberalization are Western educated elites -- bankers, merchants and industrialists -- whose interests align with global circuits of investment and finance rather than with poorer sectors (Conaghan, 1988; Corkill and Cubitt, 1988; Kofas, 2001; Glassman, 1999).  Key state actors have espoused neo-liberal discourse and enacted austerity policies in order to access resources from the international financial and development communities which are firmly committed to neo-liberal restructuring.  State actors have aligned themselves with global elites and have acted strategically to gain resources and to maintain legitimacy.  As Dirlik (1998: 11) argues, globalization and developmentalism go forwards with

“…the complicity of Third World states, corporations, intellectuals and experts who are allowed increasingly to participate in the discourse and processes of development.  The condition of their participation …is the internalization of the knowledge and norms of the system” (emphasis mine). 


The actions of Presidents Febres-Cordero (1984-1988) and Duran-Ballen (1992-1996) illustrate this complex mix of governmentality and elite agency.  Among the series of presidents noted above, they were among the most aggressive architects of neo-liberalization.[4]

The election of Leon Febres-Cordero in 1984 brought the onset of “Andean Reaganomics”, and exemplifies the gulf between the executive branch and the majority of Ecuadorians.  As Conaghan (1988: 120) argues “[F]from the perspective of the bourgoisie, Febres-Cordero was truly one of their own”.  A millionaire industrialist, Febres-Cordero came from a powerful family.  His presidency was a key moment for industrialists to reestablish control over the state after the military reformist period of the seventies.  At that time, Ecuador was heavily dependent upon oil exports, which were 63% of merchandise exports; and over 60% of central government budget revenue (Business America, Nov 1986 v9).  Febres-Cordero ran on a platform of populism that was coupled with ‘market-friendly’ reforms in response to declining export revenues, increasing economic instability and international pressures.

‘Mr. Cordero… raised hopes with slogans that included “bread, roofs and jobs”.  However, the collapse of world oil prices in 1986 seriously hurt the country’s finances, prompting the government to drastically reduce its budget, freeze wages and eliminate price controls on many basic goods.  The government says its policies have brought inflation down to 20% from 40% two years ago... Mr. Cordero’s political foes accused the government of putting the people at the mercy of the marketplace’ (Latin American Index. September 15, 1986: 67, emphasis mine).


As oil prices steadily declined the government took on additional debt to keep the economy moving.  Febres-Cordero free-floated the sucre, rolled back tariffs for domestic industries, and complied with U.S. government demands for liberalized investment rules (Corkill and Cubitt, 1988).  A key element of these adjustments was sucretization of privately held debt.  The state had originally assumed these loans as public debt.  As Acosta (1990: 306) noted, this was the gift of the century for private industrialists.  The result of this ‘gift’ to private elites has been a fiscal crisis for the state with widespread, punishing ramifications for popular classes as social subsidies, health care and education spending were drastically reduced.  This move of private debt into the public sphere was one of the most explicit moments of an ongoing process of reorienting the Ecuadorian state away from developmentalism and towards domestic and international capitalist interests.  By the end of Febres-Cordero’s presidency, Ecuador had embraced liberalization, coupled with extensive new loans.  The country’s total external debt had risen to $8.6 billion and debt service was 31% of export revenues. 

By 1992 Ecuador was deeply embroiled in the internationalization of finance capital through loans and debt service payments.  The newly elected Sixto Duran-Ballen was a key right wing player in the Conservative and the Social Christian parties since the seventies and key architect of a united electoral front for the right (Frente de Reconstruccion Nacional) which was a strategic response to the defeat of rightist candidates in 1979.  Duran-Ballen, working closely with the IMF, moved rapidly to implement drastic structural reforms to the Ecuadorian economy (Lind, 2000).  This shock package was designed to ‘cool’ the economy and to further liberalize trade and finance to bring in new revenues.  It resulted in a series of policies that favored elite financial and commercial interests and had dramatic and immediate effects on daily life for poor sectors.[5]  This aggressive structural adjustment program (SAP) led to over 50% reduction in real wages and purchasing power, a dramatic decline in standards of living for many, and increased domestic burdens as women and families took on various tasks of social reproduction (such as community organizing, schooling and medical care) previously provided by the state.  At the end of the Duran-Ballen period, Notimex released its Report on Ecuador, noting that the social impacts of neo-liberalism were severe.

‘More than 50% of workers in the informal sector receive less than the minimum wage which amounts to 160 dollars a year….Other critical indicators …reveal that high levels of malnutrition exist among the school-aged population and that a housing deficit of 200 million homes is growing by 50 million more homes needed each year…. this deterioration in the social conditions of the country responds to the implementation of an economic model, which opens financial markets, privatizes state-run industries and deregulates tariffs.  The continuation of this neoliberal model has widened the gap between the rich and the poor....’  (Notimex, 1997: PAGES, emphasis added)


The internationalization of the Ecuadorian state under the influence of global governance focuses elite state actors towards global capital.  This process of neoliberalization embeds poor communities in global regimes which emphasize deregulation of labor markets and a radically reduced state role in social policy.


Graduated Sovereignty and flexible work


 “…the poor are excluded, they are not citizens” (Shorris in Real Change, Seattle 2001)


These two intertwined processes of i) deregulation of the work force to compete for foreign investment and ii) social disinvestment due to severe fiscal crisis of the state impact poor migrants in particular ways.  In this section, I look at the ways in which domestic economic migrants are embedded in global regimes of governance through the restructuring of labor regulations and economic crisis.  As Ong (1999) argues,

“…globalization has induced a situation of graduated sovereignty, whereby even as the state maintains control over its territory, it …let[s] corporate entities set the terms for constituting and regulating some domains…. weaker and less desirable groups are given over to the regulation of supranational entities” (Ong, 1999:217, emphasis mine).


I focus on migrants, because they are economically vulnerable under neo-liberalization.  I examine the terms of their insertion into the globalized economy as reflected in their labor force participation.

I start from migrants’ experiences in work, because this not only reveals the ways in which poor migrants are directly incorporated into supranational regimes of regulation, but through discussions of work and life in Quito, can reveal the spatial register with which migrants themselves identify.  This is important, because we know very little about whether those subjects working in globalized and yet devalorized sectors connect the global regimes of regulation which define their conditions of work with the scales at which they frame their identities.  I draw this approach from Sassen (1998) and Hartsock (2001) who argue that understanding the situation of immigrant women is a strategic move in understanding the dynamics of global capitalism.  Sassen argues that highly specialized finance and trading activities of the internationalized sector of the economy impose new pricing criteria (on rents, business services, on certain workers) such that low value-added sectors of economic activity cannot compete with the extremely high profit-making capacities of globalized firms.  This results in a crisis of profitability for domestic manufacturing and service activities, resulting in diverse cost-cutting strategies.  One such strategy is to shift to part-time, unregulated jobs carried out by undervalued populations such as immigrant women.  What is important here is that this casualized work is not excluded from global circuits, but rather underwrites and constitutes globalization. 

Poor domestic migrants within Ecuador are a similarly vulnerable sector, whose mobility is both an outcome of neo-liberal restructuring and which produces a crucial urban labor pool (Mittelman, 2000).  The deregulation of the labor market in Quito is both a direct outgrowth of explicit state policies and of broader processes that devalorize domestic manufacturing and service activities in the context of globalization.  Through flexible work, the Ecuadorian state cheapens labor costs for business and reduces costly bureaucracies involved in regulating and protecting workers.  I argue here that deregulation of the labor market by state actors explicitly links poor migrants to globalized circuits.  I make the case here that elite state actors have devalorized many sectors and jobs in which migrants work, and then in the next section, I trace out how migrants experiences in the job market shape their sense of belonging, alienation and discrimination.

From the fifties to the early eighties, a series of nationalist, developmentalist governments enacted protectionist economics and socially redistributive policies to incorporate both elites and popular sectors into a national modernization program (Lawson, 1995; Corkill and Cubitt , 1987; Schodt, 1987; Conaghan, 1988).  With the rise of global governmentality, we see state managers break with nationalist development agendas.  State managers themselves have internalized the discourses of neo-liberalism that lead to reduced social spending and that marginalized workers.  I saw this shift in the early nineties in a series of interview with ministers in the Duran-Ballen government (1992-1996).  As noted in the previous section, Duran-Ballen implemented an economic shock package, involving drastic structural reforms to the Ecuadorian economy.  It was in this context that the Minister of Industry told me:

“I am convinced that foreign capital helps national industrial development.  The nationalistic mentality doesn’t make sense… [nor does] the idea that we have to take a great deal of care with foreign capital, that they do us harm, these foreign companies….We have to give them guarantees so that their investments here are profitable.  They are bringing employment…We have to open the country up more to foreign capital.  We have to be more competitive with other countries in order to attract foreign capital” (1992: personal interview, emphasis added).


This official explicitly discredits a nationalist development strategy and argues for a global perspective.  A central element of attracting foreign investment and competing against other countries in global markets is deregulation of the workforce.  This is underscored during my interview with the Minister of Labor. 

“All of the actions we have taken lately … are specifically directed at lowering the temperature [conflict between employers, unions and workers] to liberate us from the fossilized traditional arrangements and open ourselves to new perspectives in accordance with the current world situation” (1992; personal interview, emphasis added).


Similarly, the Vice-President of the Chamber of Industry explained


“Our priorities, which we are discussing with the government are first flexibilization of labor laws…another closely related issue is the treatment of foreign capital.  We have to facilitate the entry of foreign capital to a much greater extent” (1992; personal interview, emphasis added).


Flexible work translates into rolling back union power, reducing the cost of labor by holding down real wages, eliminating benefits and opening the market to foreign competition, destroying domestic production -- which cannot compete (Lawson, 1995; 1999).  This withdrawal of the internationalized state from regulating the labor market essentially “…results i[n] a system of variegated citizenship in which populations subjected to different regimes of value enjoy different kinds of rights, discipline, caring and security.” (Ong, 1999: 217).  As the state withdraws from protecting family wage jobs, international corporations and investors, and state managers, set the terms and conditions of work by demanding low wage, non-union workers. 

This struggle for global financial solvency and competitiveness through deregulation of the Ecuadorian economy simultaneously dislocated thousands of economic migrants.  During the 1980s, 1,120,000 persons migrated in Ecuador and 59% of these migrants went to the two largest cities, Guayaquil and Quito (INSTRAW, 1994).  These are primarily economic migrations, in the context of severe poverty rates, exacerbated by the faltering economy and withdrawal of the state from social programs.  In 1994, 35% of the population (4 million people), lived in poverty (measured as the inability to purchase a minimum basket of food and non-food goods), with 60% of the total poor living in rural areas (World Bank, 1996).  Poverty has continued to increase dramatically throughout the 1990s.  At the end of the nineties, 69% of the rural population was living in poverty (compare 60% in 1995).  The number of people living in extreme poverty – meaning they cannot afford their basic food needs –jumped from 17% of the population in 1995 to over 34% of the population in 1999 (World Bank, 2000).  These dynamics ensure a continuing flow of poor migrants into the cities in search of paid work.

Our 1996 survey of in-migrants to Quito found that they remain on the margins of the urban economy (see footnote #1).  Seventy eight percent of migrants work without a written contract and 89% without union representation.  All the migrants we spoke with work in devalorized, domestic economic activities, with the majority of migrants working in construction, vending and domestic service (24% of our sample work in commerce and 44% work in services).  They embody this flexible, devalorized global workforce enacted by the state in the context of global governance and in line with the interests of financial institutions, investors and corporations.  Economic instability is also a constant problem for our respondents.  They reported that the 1980s was a period of relative job security, whereas job loss/change increased dramatically in the nineties, corresponding with the period of intense structural adjustment under the Duran-Ballen government.  During the early nineties, their job losses increased from close to zero in the 1980s to 19% of migrants reporting job loss in 1992 and 25% reporting job loss in 1995 (See appendices A and B).  These trends, combined with continuing in-migration, intensify competition for jobs as the ranks of the underemployed swell and real incomes decline sharply.


Migration, Belonging and Exclusion:


In this concluding section, I begin from the standpoints of those marginalized and de-regulated by global governance and the internationalized Ecuadorian state.  I draw on interviews with recent migrants to Quito to explore: the scales at which they locate the causes of economic crisis; the scale and spatial reach of their own networks; and the places with which they most identify.  By starting from the insights of those excluded from much globalization research, I work against the silencing and erasure of poorer subjects.  Their interpretations capture the hybridity and complexity of their discourses of accommodation and resistance, of ambivalence and dissent.  While in some senses, these migrants engage the discourses and promises of modernity and have embraced the national project of economic modernization, at the same time, some express a strong sense of vulnerability and exclusion from the national project.  Their words bring visibility to neglected subjects of economic globalization and reveal the often obscured social costs of neo-liberal modernization (Nagar, Lawson, McDowell and Hanson, 2001).

In 1997, one year after the initial survey, I returned to Quito and identified a sub-sample (n = 50) of migrants from our 1996 survey with whom we attempted to renew contact.  A great many of these migrants no longer lived in the same place, suggesting that migrants move a great deal within the city after their arrival.  I did locate and interview 20 individuals who had completed the original survey (described in footnote #1).[6]  These migrants are working class and poor migrants of mestizo and indigenous ethnicities.  The following quotes are drawn from 5 of those interviews.  I draw on these interviews, not as a basis for generalization, but rather to suggest some of the ways that economic migrants frame a sense of belonging in the context of crisis.

Spaces and scales of economic crisis


Overwhelmingly, migrants thought that Ecuador should continue on its path of economic modernization.  Several people said that modernization would bring more well-paid jobs, especially industrial jobs.  Migrants located their economic difficulties at the national scale, they repeatedly identified the problem of corrupt politicians who never do anything for the people, but always help themselves, always put resources in their own pockets.  Very few people linked their increasing poverty to the global scale, issues such as debt, austerity policies or foreign influence in the economy were rarely mentioned.  Indeed, Luis argued that more privatization would solve the problem of corruption, which he argues is holding the country back. 

Luis is a 25 year-old who migrated to Quito with his wife and young daughter.  He works long hours as a security guard in a wealthy neighborhood, two hours commute away from his cinder block, two room home.  We asked Luis whether he would like to see Ecuador continue to modernize and he replied,

“The government must create more jobs to help the migrants, in this sense they must not abandon us.  There are many in-migrants, but the government doesn’t help them, and because of this there is a great deal of poverty in Quito.”


“Privatization is good for the country, because at the moment it is the same rich people who are making themselves even richer….By contrast, if we had privatization of companies, then there would be more jobs for more people.  Then we could share the wealth with the rest”.


He argues that the poor are excluded and that elites are enriching themselves.  His focus is on the national dimensions of economic crisis, with no sense of the global context.

Manuel is thirty five years old, married with six children.  He came to Quito from a small, rural village in the highlands.  Manuel’s first language is Quechua and he is of indigenous descent.  When the family first came to Quito, Manuel had a good job in construction, but his job was eliminated and he is now selling vegetables in a market for a very low income.  I asked what he thought about the process of economic modernization.  He responded

“…there is no way to go even a single day without a job.  When you have no work, when you go a week without work, then you have nothing to give your kids, nothing, and there is no help for you, nothing.  Simply put, between the two of us, we struggle every day, you can’t be without work here.”


He eloquently describes the family’s economic vulnerability, being unable to feed his family and the lack of any support for the poor.  As we continued, I asked Manuel “Should the country continue to modernize?”,  and he said,

“In Quito, everybody thinks only about themselves, including the politicians….everything is getting more expensive, the politicians are working for themselves, and they don’t even want to know about the poor people…”


The problems are with the national government and with corrupt politicians -- corrupt government is holding back economic development for everyone.

“For those who need a job, it should be like this.  Come on in, here is a job.  But when a poor person presents an application or asks about a job, then the authorities should say come on in.  They don’t say this, the politicians never say this”.


Economic crisis has left many people without work, and so the competition for jobs is intense in the city.  In this context, crisis intensifies employment discrimination.  Manuel, a dark-complected indigenous man, has been rejected for a series of jobs and he feels unprotected and abandoned by the state.  He refers to his experiences of discrimination:

“[The government] should help us here, and that would improve our situation….the government should help us, should think about us, should make an effort to help, then, it would be great if the people here [in Quito] would treat us with understanding and kindness, it would be wonderful if they would help their citizens!”


Manuel consistently speaks to a sense of exclusion and a sense that the poor are being abandoned.  Despite their poverty, many of the migrants I spoke with continue to embrace the imaginary of national economic modernization, while simultaneously locating their problems in the failures of the state to incorporate them.  Nonetheless, they express a desire to belong to the national modernization project.  It is notable, if unsurprising, that few people connect the national crisis of governance and economic decline to global or external processes.

However, there are exceptions.  Some migrants were aware of the global dimensions to the crisis and in that context, they expressed a strong sense of national identity.  Gloria is a young mestizo woman with two children, she and her husband came to Quito in search of steady work.  Her husband has a family-wage factory job in Quito and this was the reason they migrated, they only had irregular work where they were before.  We discussed the lack of education and health care and she commented,

“It isn’t the fault of the country, it is our [the people’s] fault.  We all want to earn more money and have more services, but the country has foreign debts.  The people keep demanding more and more from the country,  People keep demanding more from the country, more from the country, but I say that we should all try to help the country so that things can improve more and more”.


Jose also holds an industrial job.  Gloria and Jose represented the only households, among those we interviewed in 1997, where a member still held a formal job with a written contract and a family wage.  Jose also located the economic crisis in the context of capital flight and a lack of investment in Ecuador. 

“[w]e could modernize the country if we had the credit and investments to do so.  Then there would be better employment opportunities.  What I hear is that there is capital, but that it leaves the country [literally: flies away], I don’t know what happens, why the investors don’t have confidence, but they could, they could invest here because there are possibilities, there are opportunities.  This is why we keep getting further behind, we should believe in ourselves, invest and work and then we would get ahead”.


These quotes suggest that incorporation into the urban economy, and experiences of poverty, may be key components of how spatial identities are reworked under globalization.  Those who identified strongly with national modernization and locate the crisis in the global scale -- as problems of debt and capital flight -- are migrants who have stable, relatively well-paid work.  In contrast, those who are very poor, barely surviving in unregulated work, and who face discrimination in Quito, express a sense of exclusion and abandonment.  These migrants focused primarily on failings of the government and their sense of exclusion from the national modernization project.  It is ironic that those who have faced the brunt of deregulation and who are especially vulnerable with the rise of flexible work, focus their critique on the national scale, while the global dimensions of the crisis remain obscured.  For those whose unregulated labor underwrites and constitutes economic globalization, structural adjustment programs and the Ecuadorian state’s ability to withdraw from support of poorer sectors, they simultaneously recognize the problem, and situate it only at the national level.  If those most vulnerable feel excluded from the nation as citizens, and do not articulate a sense of the global forces shaping the crisis, then what is the spatial register with which they identify?

Spaces/Places of Refuge and Identification


“…there are no unmediated national identities – any identifications with the national are mediated profoundly by local/regional affiliations (anything from neighborhood, village, district to region, although less at the supranational level)” (Radcliffe and Westwood, 1996: 132; emphasis mine).


A persistent theme in the interviews was a desire/nostalgia for origin places, which were frequently rural villages.  This nostalgia appears to spring from a combination of economic hardship, discrimination, and for women, a sense of constrained movement, isolation and lack of social supports.  The hardships intensified by globalization, such as poverty and the search for work, seem to have intensified regional differences and identifications.  The larger context of economic crisis has simultaneously intensified poverty, rural-to-urban migration and a scarcity of paid work, and it appears that these forces have intensified discrimination in the city.  Feelings of exclusion and difference expressed by the migrants appear to translate into strong regional and ethnic identifications and this may work against any sense of national belonging or a coherent critique of structural adjustment.  Migrants focused on their struggles and conflicts in Quito over regional, ethnic and gender identities.

Maria lives in Quito with her husband and young child.  She came from small rural community on the coast, and she is a dark-complected mestiza woman.  Maria’s husband is in the military, and they live in a one-room rental in a boarding house.  I asked Maria how her life in Quito had turned out and about the place where she would prefer to live.  She said that it hasn’t worked out so well and that at times she feels very lonely.  She explained their poverty,

“The economy is very difficult, and here [in Quito] you have to buy everything.  Absolutely everything.  Back on the coast, if you wanted an orange, you could just go and get one from a tree.  By contrast here, if you don’t work, you don’t have anything”.


“Here, as much as my husband works, it isn’t the same [as back home], I mean, both of us would have to work for us to live better, as much as he is working, we would both have to work”.


Maria has a young child and so it would be very difficult for her to work, but she has been looking for something.  Her husband’s salary is very low, and they are barely surviving in Quito.  Economic liberalization, overseen by the IMF and WB has rolled back social subsidies (on cooking gas, food, transportation etc.) and these have increased the cost of urban living dramatically.  Without access to work and a living wage, the poor cannot participate in neo-liberal modernization.  I asked Maria where she would prefer to live and she replied,

“Well, I prefer the countryside, you see, when I was single I used to go an help my Uncle harvest rice and beans and he would give me food in return.  You see, I prefer the countryside, but my husband works here.  So we can’t live back there, but I prefer the countryside”.


Maria links this preference for the countryside with their economic difficulties first.  But she also talks about her lack of social networks that helped with domestic work, and also painful experiences of discrimination as a dark women of coastal origins.

“I was together with my sisters and if one of us didn’t do the chores, another did it….We also used to go out to dances.  Here that just stopped.  I can’t go out alone at night.  You would have to organize a special group to go out, you would have to have a car, because you can’t walk [in Quito]”.


“Here in Quito, in order to get a job you must be Quitena…you have to be from here….Yes, there are people who call us ‘monkeys’, that’s what they call people from the coast, yes, that’s what they call us, they call us ‘monkeys’, it is an insult… When I go for a job they say, we have already found a ‘girl’, someone from Quito.  This is ugly and it hurts…”


Maria expressed painful loneliness, isolation and discrimination in Quito and she longs to return to her coastal community.  She reveals the ways in which a ‘flexible’ work force, enacted by the state to compete for global capital, plays out on the bodies of migrants, reinscribing pre-existing social hierarchies of difference.  Gender, ethnic difference and poverty mark who is excluded under ‘neo-liberalization’.

Manuel also remains very identified with his origin community.  He came from a small village in the highlands of the Sierra, where his family has a small farm.  He has worked in a number of cities since the age of twelve, but he still goes home every month to see his Mother and to spend time in his home community.  He made it clear to us that he has not abandoned his home, and even though he expects his children to live in Quito, he is teaching them about indigenous culture and to speak Quechua.  In the previous section, Manuel expressed dismay at the economic crisis and his sense of exclusion from jobs, lack of government support or services.  Manuel was very explicit about his dual identities and dual lives.  I asked where he would prefer to live and he responded, “[W]ell, well, at the moment I am young and I can work here [in Quito], but, well, my life is really much more back there [Riobamba]”.  He explained that he is in Quito to build a life for his children and that,

‘…my children are baptized and their godparents are here [in Quito] as well as everything else, but for myself, I can’t say that I am going to live back there or that I will live here, rather I will live in both places”.


“I am here because my children are here, until they are grown up.  But for me, I am losing my spiritual identity here in Quito, so for me it is back there….When I die, my family cannot leave me here, my body belongs back there on my land.  This is how it is.  I would simply lose myself here”.


Holding onto the possibility of return, and insistence on a rural/regional identity in face of discrimination and poverty in Quito, was quite common among the migrants I interviewed.  This resonates with Mills’ (1999) work in Bangkok where migrants responded with ambivalence to the city.  Mills found that migrants frequently asserted

“…the moral and emotional superiority of rural life [and] an attachment to the home village as a positive source of identity and sense of self-worth as well as a sense of dislocation and moral incoherence in the city….Migrants’ desires for greater participation in the modern nation…clash with their lived experiences of urban wage labor….The bonds of compassion, trust and mutual help that (ideally) link fellow villagers stand in opposition to the alienating quality of many women’s (and men’s) experiences as low status laborers in Bangkok” (Mills, 1999: 136-7).


In both cases, one coping strategy for dealing with the hardships of the city was the maintanence of strong regional identities and connections to rural kin and communities.  This strategy has several dimensions.  First, rural regional and ethnic identities that are ridiculed or even erased in the city are nonetheless a source of affirmation and strength in the context of urban poverty, exclusion and outright discrimination.  Related to this, rural nostalgia and the possibility of return may suppress migrant’s critique of their situation, making the city more bearable, such that they remain in the city despite hardships.  One of the most striking findings of this project, was the stunningly low level of organizing, or incorporation of migrants into community organizations, urban civil movements, NGO networks etc.  As I noted in the introduction, these migrants were surprisingly disconnected from various forms of ‘people-level globalization’ (Mittelman, 2000) or from transnational networks of engagement (Bebbington, 2001; Bebbington and Batterbury, 2001) or resistance (Radcliffe, 2001).  The relative recency of their migration, coupled with experiences of discrimination in Quito and strong identifications with places of origin may also help us understand why migrants are not more networked in Quito. In this paper, I have suggested that migrancy, gender and ethnic discrimination, and economic vulnerability play key roles in the constitution of their spatial identities and in their isolation from organized responses to globalization.




I conducted the research reported here in 1997.  In January, 2000 the contradictions of Ecuador’s development trajectory exploded into a popular uprising and the ouster of President Mahuad in the wake of his decision to dollarize the Ecuadorian economy.  Thousands of indigenous people, students, workers and women’s groups were supported by elements of the military as they brought the concerns of the newly formed National People’s Parliament onto the international scene.  Despite the success of this uprising in ousting President Mahuad, the very next day, Vice-President Noboa, of the same government was installed as President.  Noboa is continuing the program of structural adjustment and dollarization which had been the rallying call for protest – because it symbolizes the loss of national control over the economy.  Since January 2000, we have intensification of neo-liberal policies, a popular uprising and yet continuation of the same government that is deeply enmeshed in global regimes of capital accumulation.

At the same time, popular protests have intensified in the last 2 years, suggesting that marginalization is being resisted.  The vast majority of organized resistance emanates from indigenous communities in rural areas.  Indigenous leaders who lead the uprising, under the umbrella organization Confederation of Indigenous groups in Ecuador (CONAIE) have exerted continuing pressure on the government.  For the first time in 500 years, indigenous people in Ecuador are represented by their own political party and they have also won a historic (albeit still small) level of representation in congress (currently 5 representatives).  In the fall of 2000, members of CONAIE were involved in Ecuadorian negotiations with the Paris Club and in February of 2001, another march of thousands on Quito renewed the call for a permanent national dialogue on reforms.  These developments suggest that marginalized, rural, regional identities may yet be a progressive force.

References Cited


Acosta, A.  1990.  La Deuda Eterna.  Quito: Ediduende Cia. Ltda.


Alexander, M. J., and Mohanty, C.T. 1997. Introduction: Genealogies, Legacies, Movements. In Feminist Genealogies, Colonial Legacies, Democratic Futures, ed. M. J. Alexander and C. T. Mohanty, xiii-xlii. New York: Routledge.


Bebbington, A.  2001.  ‘Globalized Andes?  Livelihoods, Landscapes and Development’ Ecumene 8(4): 414-436.


Bebbington, A. and S. Batterbury.  2001.  ‘Transnational Livelihoods and Landscapes: Political Ecologies of Globalization’ Ecumene 8(4): 369-380.


Bergeron, S.  2001.  ‘Political economy discourses of globalization and feminist politics’ Signs 26(4): 983-1006.


Brown, M. and P. Boyle, 2000.  ‘National Closets: Governmentality, sexuality and the census’ in M. Brown, Closet Space: geographies of metaphor from the body to the globe London: Routledge.


Business America, 1986.  ‘Ecuador Acts to Adjust its Economy in the Wake of Falling Oil Prices’  Nov. 10(9): 10-11.


Castells, M.  2000.  End of Millenium.  Oxford: Blackwell.


Cheah, P.  1998.  ‘Given culture: rethinking cosmopolitical freedom in transnationalism’ in Cheah, P. and Robbins, B.  eds., Cosmopolitics.  Thinking and feeling beyond the nation, Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 290-328.


Clifford, J.  1988.  The predicament of culture: twentieth century ethnography, literature and art.  Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.


Conaghan, C.  1988.  Restructuring Domination.  Industrialists and the state in Ecuador.  Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.


Corkill, D. and D. Cubitt.  1988.  Ecuador. Fragile Democracy.  London: Latin America Bureau.


Dirlik, A.  1998.  ‘Globalism and the Politics of Place’ Development 41 (2): 7-13.


Eschle, C. 2001.  Global Democracy, Social Movements and Feminism. Boulder: Westview.


Escobar, A.  1995.  Encountering Development.  Princeton: Princeton University Press.


Escobar, A.  2001.  Culture sits in places: reflections on globalism and subaltern            strategies of localization. Political Geography 20:139-174.


Foucault, M.  1991.  ‘Governmentality’ in G. Burchell, C. Gordon, and P. Miller (eds) The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality.  Chicago: Chicago University Press.


Glassman, J.  1999.  ‘State power beyond the ‘territorial trap’: the internationalization of the state’ Political Geography 18(6): 669-696.


Gupta, A.  1998.  Postcolonial Developments.  Agriculture in the making of modern           India. Durham: Duke University Press.


Hartsock, N.  2001. ‘Domination, Globalization: Towards a Feminist Analytic’ Paper presented at the Berlin Institute for Critical Theory, Berlin, May 2001.


Harvey, D.  2000.  Space of Hope.  Berkeley: University of California Press.


Herod, A., Tuathail, G. and Roberts, S. 1998. Unruly World.  Globalization, governance and geography.  London: Routledge.


Jessop, R.  1995.  ‘Towards a Schumpeterian Workfare Regime in Britain? Reflections on Regulation, Governance and the Welfare State’ Environment and Planning 27: 1613-1626.


Katz, C. 2001.  On the grounds of globalization: A topography for feminist political        engagement. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 26:4:1213-1234.


Kofas, J.  2001.  ‘The IMF, the World Bank, and U.S. Foreign Policy in Ecaudor, 1956-1966’ Latin American Perspectives 28(5): 50-83.


Korten, D.  2001.  When Corporations Rule the World.  2nd Editon.  San Francisco: Kumarian Press.


Latin American Index, 1986.  September 15th.


Lawson, V.  1995.  ‘Beyond the Firm: restructuring gender divisions of labor in Quito’s garment industry under austerity’ Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 13:415-444.


Lawson, V.  1999.  ‘Questions of Migration and Belonging: Understandings of Migration under Neo-liberalism in Ecuador’ International Journal of Population Geography 5: 1-16.


Lawson, V.  2000.  ‘Arguments within geographies of movement: the theoretical potential of migrants’ stories’ Progress in Human Geography 24(2): 173-189.


Lind, A.  2000.  ‘Negotiating boundaries: women’s organizations and the politics of restructuring in Ecuador’ in M. Marchand and A. Runyan, eds., Gender and Global Restructuring, Sightings, sites and resistances.  London: Routledge.


Mills, M.B. 1999.  Thai Women in the Global Labor Force.  Consuming Desires, Contested Selves.  New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press.


Mittelman, J.  2000.  The Globalization Syndrome.  Princeton: Princeton University     Press.


Moghadam, V.  1998.  ‘Gender and the Global Economy’ in Revisioning Gender, ed. M. Feree, J. Lorber and B. Hess, pp. 128-160.  London: Sage.


Nagar, R., V. Lawson, L. McDowell and S. Hanson.  2001.  ‘Locating Globalization: Feminist (re)readings of the subjects and spaces of globalization’ submitted to Economic Geography.


NOTIMEX, 1997.  Report on Ecuador: An Increase in the Figures for Unemployment’ #24, September.  Quito, Ecuador.


Ohmae, K.  1990.  The Borderless World: Power and Strategy in the Interlinked     Economy.  New York: Harper and Row.


Ong, A.  1999.  Flexible Citizenship.  Durham: Duke University Press.


Peterson, V.S.  1996.  ‘Shifting Ground(s): Epistemological and Territorial Remapping in the Context of Globalization(s)’ in Globalization.  Theory and Practice, ed. E. Koffman and G. Youngs. London: Pinter.


Radcliffe, S.  2001.  Development, the state, and transnational political connections:       state and subject formation in Latin America. Global Networks 1(1): 19-36.


Rouse, R.  1995.  ‘Thinking though transnationalism: notes on the cultural politics of class relations in the contemporary United States’ Public Culture 7: 353-402.


Sassen, S.  1998. Globalization and its Discontents.  New York: The New Press.


Schodt, D.  1987.  Ecuador: An Andean Enigma.  Boulder: Westview Press.


Scholte, J. A.  1996.  Beyond the Buzzword: Towards a Critical Theory of        Globalization.    In Globalization.  Theory and Practice, ed. E. Koffman, and G. Youngs. London:           Pinter


Sen, G.  1997.  ‘Globalization, Justice and Equity: A Gender Perspective’ Development 40(2): 21-26.


Shorris, E.  2001.  ‘The Light of Power’ an interview with Adam Holdorf.  Real Change September 20-October 3: 5.


Slater, D. 1992. Theories of development and the politics of the Post-modern: Exploring a border zone. Development and Change 23(3):283-319.


Sparke, M. and V. Lawson.  2002.  ‘Geoeconomics’ in J. Agnew, G. Tuathail and K. Mitchell eds., The Cultural Geography Reader.  Publisher?


Webber, M.  1998.  ‘Producing Globalization: Apparel and the Australian State’ in Herod, A., Tuathail, G. and Roberts, S. eds., Unruly World.  Globalization, governance and geography.  London: Routledge.


Weiss, W.  1997.  ‘Debt and Devaluation: The Burden on Ecuador’s Popular Class’ Latin American Perspectives 24(4): 9-33.


World Bank, 1996.  Ecuador Poverty Report.  A World Bank Country Study.  Washington DC.


World Bank, 2000.  Ecuador Country Brief.

[1] This fieldwork for this paper was conducted under grant SBR-9511129 from the National Science Foundation.  That support is greatly appreciated.  This research was also carried out in collaboration with Centro de Investigaciones CIUDAD in Quito with invaluable research support from Ana Maria Albuja, Lastenia Rumbo and Kim Van Eyck.  Without these collaborations, this research would not have been possible. 

[2] I draw on a larger project (collaborative with Kim Van Eyck; Ana Maria Albuja and Lastenia Rumbo) in which we compare migrants' and long term residents' experiences of Quito’s labor markets to understand how migrant status, gender and severe economic shocks in the last two decades impact daily life and work in Quito. In 1996 and 1997, I was part of a team of researchers who developed a survey of in-migrants to Quito (632 hhs and 1406 individuals), of non-migrants from key sending areas (n sizes?).  We then followed up a year later with 50 of the respondents to the in-migrant survey and completed 20 in-depth interviews in Quito.  Our sample was limited, primarily mestizo, few indigenous, no Afro-Ecuadorians.  Focused on households and so missed the very poor who don’t have a place of residence.  All names reported are pseudonyms, conducted in Spanish, my translation.  Collaborated with CEPAR and Ecuadorian researchers.

[3] Governmentality has most commonly been theorized and studied at the national scale.  Following Brown and Boyle (2000: 89), “Governmentality calls attention to the simple point that the state’s administrative apparatuses play a key role in the way nationals come to know themselves as a coherent nation….specifically, a state’s own knowledge of its population powerfully frames the conditions and terms through which its citizens can see themselves as a nation.  In this way, they come to ‘govern’ themselves through the state’s ‘mentality’”.  Gupta (1998) has argued for the consideration of global governmentality in this contemporary era and I explore this idea in this paper.


[4] Since the democratic transition in 1980 there have been nine presidents, beginning with the transition government of Roldos (1980-1981).  Then followed by Hurtado (1981-84), Febres-Cordero (1984-1988), Borja (1988-92), Duran-Ballen (1992-96), Bucaram (1996-97), Alarcon (1997-1998), Mahuad (1998-2000), Noboa (2000-present).

[5] These included: 100% increase in gasoline and cooking fuel; a 40% increase in utilities, transportation, government services; a 35% devaluation of the sucre and liberalization of interest rates.

[6]  These interviews were transcribed and analyzed through close readings of the transcripts and listening to the tapes.  The interviews involved a series of open-ended questions probing their experiences in Quito as compared with other places they had lived.  Interviews were conducted in people’s homes where both the author and Ecuadorian colleagues were involved in the conversation.  Each interview was recorded in one visit and they lasted approximately one hour.  There was little opportunity for the respondents to develop a substantial level of familiarity with us and our project, and so the interviews were quite formal and circumscribed by these conditions.  All of the quotes employed here were drawn from these interviews and they have been translated from Spanish by the author.  I use pseudonyms for respondents.