Begging as a Path to Progress
Indigenous Women and Children and the Struggle for Ecuador's Urban Spaces

Kate Swanson

Challenging prejudices about the women and children who beg in Ecuadorian cities


"This is an extremely engaging book which challenges many assumptions that are taken for granted around begging, gender and childhoods in Ecuador. . . .Begging as a Path to Progress will not disappoint, for it pushes the reader to consider multiple perspectives and aspects of begging which unravel myths and reveal racist and sexist attitudes towards indigenous girls and young women in Ecuador."
—Samantha Punch, Journal of Latin American Studies

"Begging as a Path to Progress is an excellent book that comes to some arresting conclusions. Pleasingly and accessibly written, it is a major contribution to the fields of youth geographies, development studies, and interdisciplinary research on childhood."
—Craig Jeffrey, coauthor of Degrees Without Freedom?: Education, Masculinities, and Unemployment in North India

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In 1992, Calhuasí, an isolated Andean town, got its first road. Newly connected to Ecuador’s large cities, Calhuasí experienced rapid social-spatial change, which Kate Swanson richly describes in Begging as a Path to Progress.

Based on nineteen months of fieldwork, Swanson’s study pays particular attention to the ideas and practices surrounding youth. While begging seems to be inconsistent with—or even an affront to—ideas about childhood in the developed world, Swanson demonstrates that the majority of income earned from begging goes toward funding Ecuadorian children’s educations in hopes of securing more prosperous futures.

Examining beggars’ organized migration networks, as well as the degree to which children can express agency and fulfill personal ambitions through begging, Swanson argues that Calhuasí’s beggars are capable of canny engagement with the forces of change. She also shows how frequent movement between rural and urban Ecuador has altered both, masculinizing the countryside and complicating the Ecuadorian conflation of whiteness and cities. Finally, her study unpacks ongoing conflicts over programs to “clean up” Quito and other major cities, noting that revanchist efforts have had multiple effects—spurring more dangerous transnational migration, for example, while also providing some women and children with tourist-friendly local spaces in which to sell a notion of Andean authenticity.

Geographies of Justice and Social Transformation

Page count: 160 pp.
15 b&w photos; 2 maps
Trim size: 6 x 9


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Kate Swanson is assistant professor of geography at San Diego State University.