Vessels of Modernity: Race and Bureaucracy in the Making of the Bolivian Foreign Ministry

Marcelo Bohrt, American University

Building on the scholarship on race and state, this paper interrogates how racial thinking underpinned the making of international-affairs bureaucracies, conceptually and materially, in the 19th century. Specifically, this paper looks at the first two decades of the Bolivian Ministry of Foreign Relations and Colonization, created in the 1880s. Drawing on archival documents and secondary sources, I show the centrality of three racist themes in the state modernization drive out of which the ministry formed: the incompatibility between ethnoracial heterogeneity and modernity, the purported threat of indigenous and racially ambiguous populations, and the white-men/statesmen metonymies. I argue that elite racial thought and desires for access to global commodity and knowledge markets justified significant investments in international-affairs bureaucracy-building, in the targeted expansion of diplomatic relations, and in the colonization of the territory and racial others. The emergent Creole professional diplomatic class positioned itself as a vessel of modernity that would bring the country into the modern world and in which modern state knowledge and practices could travel.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 178. International Dimensions of Race and State Formation