Katherine Elizabeth Swanson
Doctor of Philosophy 2005
Graduate Department of Geography, University of Toronto
In the mid-1990s, rural indigenous women and children from an isolated Andean community began migrating to beg on the streets of Ecuador's largest cities. Although initially a survival strategy, their involvement in begging has since evolved to intersect with conspicuous consumption, status, educational fulfilment and the drive to be included in consumer culture. For this community, begging has become a way to actively contest poverty and to engage with the processes of modernization. Ironically, begging has become a way to get ahead.
This dissertation aims to unravel myths surrounding the lives of young indigenous beggars. It is organized around four main themes: indigenous childhoods, migrant youth identities, the symbolic place of the beggar, and urban exclusion. To begin, this dissertation reveals how the "modern" construction of childhood is reconfiguring notions of gender, sexuality, work, play, and learning within this small Andean community. It then explores how indigenous youth's gendered, racialized and ethnic identities shift between the rural and urban spheres as they become informed by Western norms and consumer culture. It suggests that indigenous girls, in particular, are challenging what it means to be an indigenous woman in the Andes. It then examines how indigenous beggars are both represented and imagined within capitalist society. It reveals how begging governance relies on the dual discourses of "child saving" and "bad motherhood" to justify indigenous women and children's removal from the streets. It further demonstrates how their exclusion intersects with urban restructuring and the push for global tourism. In doing so, it provides an example of how revanchism takes shape in the South. It suggests that Ecuador's particular twist on revanchism may be through its more transparent engagement with the project of blanqueamiento or "whitening."
This research brings attention to the differentiated ways in which modernization and globalization take shape in a marginalized region of the periphery. It further demonstrates how children become central sites of struggle in debates over the 'proper' use of public space. Finally, this research is a call to planners, policy makers, and social workers to consider the complex and varied factors that push marginalized people into begging.
Download thesis (PDF, 7MB)
Download thesis (Spanish) (PDF, 7MB)