Carwil Bjork-James – ethnographer, photographer, writer, and participant in creative mass movements
Carwil Bjork-James conducts immersive and historical research on disruptive protest, grassroots autonomy, state violence, and indigenous collective rights in Bolivia. The scene of large indigenous-led grassroots uprisings in the early twenty-first century, Bolivia offers an unusual opportunity to document the practices and political influence of grassroots movements during a period of massive participation in political life, reorientation of national politics, and restructuring of the state.
Carwil previously worked as an environmental rights advocate supporting indigenous communities affected by oil drilling in Colombia, Nigeria, and Alaska. His work on protest and social movement dynamics builds on years of experience as a participant in mass movements for peace and justice, trainer in nonviolent direct action, and international solidarity campaigner. He works as an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Vanderbilt University.
Ethnographer of Social Movements and Revolution
My research focuses on strategies of grassroots autonomy and disruptive protest used by social movements in the highly mobilized, and largely indigenous, country of Bolivia. In the wake of indigenous-led grassroots uprisings in the early twenty-first century, Bolivia offers an unusual opportunity to document the practices and political influence of grassroots movements during a period of massive participation in political life, reorientation of national politics, and restructuring of the state.
My work on Bolivian social movements is grounded in part in extended interviews and life history accounts of participants in mass movements and disruptive protest. A sampling of these interviews is collected in Voces y Visiones de la Calle Soberana.
Researcher on Protest Tactics and Repression
My work examines protesters’ differing approaches to tactics, including movements that are explicitly nonviolent, violent, or neither; the causes, meaning, and consequences of death in political conflict; and the results of conflicts between unarmed protesters and armed members of state security forces. My database, Ultimate Consequences, documents over five hundred deaths related to social movements, providing a comprehensive record of political conflict in Bolivia since 1982. I served as an expert witness for the plaintiffs in Mamani v. Sánchez de Lozada, the first US Federal Court case to hold a foreign head of state accountable for deadly human rights abuses.
Indigenous and Environmental Rights Researcher and Advocate
My research documents how indigenous peoples have developed and elaborated standards of collective rights as part of their efforts to manage threats to their cultures and territories. My research looks at the political, ethical, and legal tensions that surround resource extraction projects pursued by “post-neoliberal” governments in South America. This work builds on my prior work as an advocate for the rights of indigenous communities affected by oil extraction at Greenpeace and Project Underground.
Work & Education
Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Vanderbilt University
My teaching focuses on providing students with anthropological knowledge on globally relevant issues: indigeneity, environmental rights, the state, race, public space, cultural diversity, social inequality, and political change.
PhD in Anthropology from the CUNY Graduate Center
2006 – 2013
M.P.P. in Environmental and Human Rights Policy from the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago
1996 – 1998