Grant TypePost PhD Research Grant
Institutional AffiliationWellesley College, MA
Grant numberGr. 9659
Approve DateApril 18, 2018
Project TitleEllison, Dr. Susan H., Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA - To aid research on 'Betrayed: Politics, Pyramid Schemes, and Bolivian Vernaculars of Fraud'
DR. SUSAN H. ELLISON, Wellesley College, Wellesley, Massachusetts, received funding in April 2018 to aid research on “Betrayed: Politics, Pyramid Schemes, and Bolivian Vernaculars of Fraud.” This research pivots around the moral economies and governance politics of estafa (fraud) in the conjoined cities of El Alto and La Paz, Bolivia. Questions of fraud sit at the intersection of donor-backed development projects and dubious pyramid schemes, transnational judicial reform efforts, and everyday livelihood strategies, as foreign donors and national governments alike promote entrepreneurship alongside the rule of law. Accusations of estafa have become ubiquitous in Bolivia. Such allegations concentrate around popular pyramid schemes and abundant—yet ambiguously legal—multilevel marketing companies, as residents pursue delinquent debtors and grapple with increasingly monetized kin relations. “Betrayed” examines the ways state agencies and ordinary citizens police proper versus transgressive sources of wealth and how people re-build trust in the wake of perceived duplicities through sustained ethnographic research with Ponzi scheme participants, debtors, and salespeople in Bolivia’s many multilevel marketing companies, as well as with state regulators and members of the criminal justice system. Through a close study of the intersecting moral, political, and legal valences of estafa, this project illuminates the shifting relationship between aspirations, virtuous citizenship, and the criminalization of insolvent subjects in Bolivia—with implications for understanding fraud’s significance well beyond the Bolivian context.