Bret Gustafson

Bret Gustafson

Professor of Sociocultural Anthropology
PhD, Harvard University

contact info:

office hours:

  • Tuesday 2:00 - 4:00 pm​
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mailing address:

  • Washington University
    CB 1114
    One Brookings Drive
    St. Louis, MO 63130-4899

Bret Gustafson is a political anthropologist with an interest in climate politics, fossil fuels, and the energy transition.  His work focuses primarily on Latin America and the United States.

Gustafson has worked for many years with the Assembly of Guarani People in Bolivia. His early research explored Guarani language revitalization and education, questions he pursued through work with Guarani linguists, educators, and leaders, culminating in several collaborative projects and the book New Languages of the State: Indigenous Resurgence and the Politics of Knowledge in Bolivia (Duke 2009). He continues to research and write on the Guarani language and on Indigenous language and education across Latin America. 

Given the impact of natural gas development across Guarani territory, he opened another line of research on the politics of energy, climate change, and extractivism, as seen through the lens of Bolivia's natural gas boom. Some of this work is reflected in the book Bolivia in the Age of Gas (Duke 2020). His interest in fossil fuels has also led to teaching and research on the problem of fossil fuels and the energy transition in the U.S.  For more information, please visit his website: https://sites.wustl.edu/bgustafson/.

Selected Publications

On the cultural politics of nature, resources, and territory:

2018 Extractivism: A Review Essay. Latin American Perspectives. 45(3).

2016 (with Natalia Guzmán Solano).  Mining Movements and Political Horizons in the Andes: Articulation, Democratization, and Worlds Otherwise. In Mining in Latin America: Critical Approaches to the “New Extraction”.  Kalowatie Deonandan and Michael Dougherty, eds.  New York: Routledge. Pp. 141-159.

2012 “Fossil Knowledge Networks: Industry Strategy, Public Culture, and the Challenge for Critical Research.  In Flammable Societies: Studies on the Socio-Economics of Oil and Gas. Edited by J.A. McNeish and O. Logan. London: Pluto.

2011 "Flashpoints of Sovereignty: Natural Gas and Spatial Politics in Eastern Bolivia." In Crude Domination: An Anthropology of Oil. Edited by A. Behrends, S. Reyna, G. Schlee. London: Berghahn.

2011 Remapping Bolivia: Resources, Territory and Indigeneity in a Plurinational State. Santa Fe: SAR Press (co-edited with Nicole Fabricant).

2010  Autonomia e articulação: o gas natural e as transformações das regiões e do poder na Bolívia e Brasil.  In Região e poder: representações en fluxo. Dilamar Candida Martins, Izabel Missagia de Mattos, and Mauro Victoria Soares, eds. Goiania: Editora PUC Goias. Pp. 37-58.

2010 When States Act Like Movements: Dismantling Local Power and ‘Seating’ Sovereignty in Bolivia. Latin American Perspectives 37(4):48-66.

2009 Manipulating Cartographies: Plurinationalism, Autonomy, and Indigenous Resurgence in Bolivia. Anthropological Quarterly 82(4):985-1016.

2006 Spectacles of Autonomy and Crisis: Or, What Bulls and Beauty Queens Have to Do With Regionalism in Eastern Bolivia. Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology 11(2):351-379.

On the politics of knowledge, language, and indigeneity:

2017 Diversity and Democracy in Bolivia: Sources of Inclusion in an Indigenous Majority Society. Ottawa: Global Centre for Pluralism. Accounting for Change in Diverse Societies Series.

2017 Oppressed No More? Indigenous Language Regimentation in Plurinational Bolivia. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 246:31-57.

2016 (with Felix Julca and Ajbee Jiménez). The Politics and Policy of Language Revitalization in Latin America and the Caribbean. Language Revitalization in Latin America and the Caribbean.  Teresa McCarty and Serafin Coronel-Molina, eds. New York: Routledge. Pp.  35-54.

2014 Guarani. The Languages of Bolivia. Tomo III: Oriente.  Mily Crevels and Pieter Muysken, eds. La Paz: Plural Editores. Pp. 307-369.

2014 Intercultural Bilingual Education in the Andes: Political Change, New Challenges, Future Directions. In Cortina, Regina, ed. Educating Indigenous Citizens in Latin America. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters. Pp. 74-97.

In progress  (w. F. Jullqa and A. Jiménez) “The Politics and Policy of Language Revitalization in Latin America and the Caribbean.” 

In press “Intercultural Bilingual Education in the Andes: Political Change, New Challenges, and Future Directions.”

2010 Rethinking Intellectuals in Latin America. Frankfurt and Madrid: Vervuert  (co-edited with Mabel Moraña).

2009 New Languages of the State: Indigenous Resurgence and the Politics of Knowledge in Bolivia. Durham: Duke University Press.

From our podcast:

Hold That Thought Podcast

Natural Gas in the New Bolivia

Revisit this episode with anthropologist Bret Gustafson, who discusses the complicated relationship between energy, politics, the environment, and indigenous rights. Gustafson's book "Bolivia in the Age of Gas" is now available through Duke University Press.

Bolivia in the Age of Gas

Bolivia in the Age of Gas

Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first Indigenous president, won reelection three times on a leftist platform championing Indigenous rights, anti-imperialism, and Bolivian control over the country’s natural gas reserves. In Bolivia in the Age of Gas, Bret Gustafson explores how the struggle over natural gas has reshaped Bolivia, along with the rise, and ultimate fall, of the country’s first Indigenous-led government. Rethinking current events against the backdrop of a longer history of oil and gas politics and military intervention, Gustafson shows how natural gas wealth brought a measure of economic independence and redistribution, yet also reproduced political and economic relationships that contradicted popular and Indigenous aspirations for radical change. Though grounded in the unique complexities of Bolivia, the volume argues that fossil-fuel political economies worldwide are central to the reproduction of militarism and racial capitalism and suggests that progressive change demands moving beyond fossil-fuel dependence and the social and ecological ills that come with it.