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Ecuador's experiment in living well: Sumak kawsay, Spinoza and the inadequacy of ideas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2241-2260
Number of pages20
JournalEnvironment and Planning A
Issue number10
Early online date7 Jul 2017
DateAccepted/In press - 1 Jul 2017
DateE-pub ahead of print - 7 Jul 2017
DatePublished (current) - 1 Oct 2017


In April 2017, Ecuador halted the continental drift to the conservative right in Latin America by electing leftist Lenín Moreno to the Presidency. Attention has turned, therefore, to the legacy of outgoing President Rafael Correa’s decade in power. To that end, this paper examines one of Correa’s signature programmes, ‘Buen Vivir’ (Living Well), a strategic plan for development underscored by the indigenous Kichwa cosmology of ‘sumak kawsay’. Sumak kawsay is a notion that has been co-opted into policy mechanisms in an attempt to both challenge neoliberal modes of governance, and to disrupt the ontological bifurcation of nature and society. Given the emphasis placed on ecological sensibility in sumak kawsay and Buen Vivir, critics have been quick to highlight the contradictory relations between Ecuador’s mode of environmental governance and its extractivist agenda. Such critiques are as staid as they are well rehearsed. Acknowledging the precarious composition of sumak kawsay, the paper questions the extent to which the ethos of experimentalism in politics can be sustained, eliding stymied technocratic forms of the political. It turns, therefore, to Baruch Spinoza’s treatise on adequate and inadequate ideas. In so doing, the paper examines how one can critique an idea without perpetuating a moral economy in judgment. Consequently, the paper considers the way in which Spinoza’s thought can be charged to recuperate imperilled political ideas.

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