Bret Gustafson, Associate Professor of Anthropology

PhD, Social Anthropology (Harvard, 2002); BA, Anthropology & Latin American Studies (Tulane, 1991) 

Political anthropologist. Mostly Bolivia and Latin America.  Indigenous languages, racial inequality, and education politics & policy.  Of late, fossil fuel regimes and the politics of energy transition.  

Guarani Language and Territorial Rights in the Bolivian Chaco 

My work in Bolivia, since around 1992, has focused on Indigenous movements and questions of language, territory, and rights.  I have pursued this interest through collaboration with Indigenous organizations and allied social movements, most intimately with the Guarani People of Bolivia. The book New Languages of the State: Indigenous Resurgence and the Politics of Knowledge in Bolivia (Duke, 2009) explored the intersections between the Indigenous movement, bilingual education, and neoliberal reform. I continue to research and write on Guarani language issues, history, and contemporary politics. I also continue to collaborate with Guarani organizations on education, language, and related issues. My next project in this area will be a social and political history of the Guarani language.

Fossil Fuels & Energy Politics

My current research in Bolivia is on the impact of natural gas on regional and national politics, with a particular focus on the gas-producing region of the Bolivian Chaco.  This led me into the political anthropology of energy.  My current book project,  tentatively titled Energy and Empire, traces the recent dynamics of territorial and political struggle in Bolivia through the lens of natural gas and the Chaco region.  This ethnographic work looks outward from within a deeper historical framing of the hemispheric politics of energy, the role of Brazil, and the U.S.'s (faltering) efforts to maintain energy hegemony.

Anthropology in St. Louis 

The study of natural gas in Bolivia immersed me in the wider field of fossil fuel research and activism.  Since St. Louis is (unfortunately) an epicenter of fossil fuel infrastructure and power in the US, I have come to be a student of the problem of dirty coal energy in the St. Louis region.  With some wonderful students working to get the university back on an honest track, we do research and take action to demand climate accountability, stop greenwashing for dirty coal, clean up our dirty air, defend public health, and demand a real (and faster) transition to clean energy.  I follow these questions at @energy_politics and teach a course on Energy Politics.

And as I continue to follow the politics of education reform and racial inequality in Bolivia, I have also seen similar dynamics unfolding here in St. Louis. I encourage critical student involvement and follow questions of education and racial inequality in St Louis through exchanges with local activists and a collaborative ethnographic fieldwork course. 

I am also on the editorial board of NACLA

CV (will download as .doc file).

Department of Anthropology
Washington University in St. Louis
1 Brookings Drive
St. Louis, MO