Sumak Kawsay: An Andean Perspective on the Good Life

Abstract

In this presentation, I will offer an introduction to and philosophical interpretation of the Andean concept of sumak kawsay. The Quechua term sumak kawsay has been translated into Spanish as buen vivir and into English as good living or the good life.1 Although sumak kawsay has been deeply influential in Andean life,2 it remains virtually unknown in Anglophone philosophy. Despite this relative obscurity, I argue that sumak kawsay nevertheless holds significant promise for thinking about the good life.

This presentation will have three parts. In the first part, I will introduce sumak kawsay in the context of Andean philosophy.3 Sumak kawsay, as I will show, presents us with a utopian ideal of the good life. It does so on the basis of concepts important in Andean philosophy, such as plentitude, harmony, and reciprocity. Sumak kawsay also, I argue, offers us a significant reconceptualization of what our relationship to nature and the earth (pachamama) should be. Although sumak kawsay can be understood as a utopian ideal, it nevertheless has important practical implications. For example, sumak kawsay serves as the grounds for a more quotidian view of the good life, alli kawsay, operative in Andean communities, as well as for a radical, decolonial politics.4 In the second part, I will compare and contrast sumak kawsay with more familiar conceptions of the good life, focusing on Aristotle’s eudaimonia. In this section, I will attempt to thread the needle between those who argue that sumak kawsay has nothing in common with Aristotelian eudaimonia and those who argue that it is just a repackaging of it. While there are important similarities between eudaimonia and sumak kawsay, there are also deep and important differences, such as the centrality of harmony with pachamama in sumak kawsay. In the final part, I will consider and respond to objections to my interpretation of sumak kawsay and its promise as a philosophical conception of the good life.

References

Cuestas-Caza, Javier. “Sumak Kawsay Is Not Buen Vivir. Alternautas,” March 2, 2018. http://www.alternautas.net/blog/2018/3/2/sumak-kawsay-is-not-buen-vivir.

Hidalgo-Capitán, Antonio Luis, and Ana Patricia Cubillo-Guevara. “Seis debates abiertos sobre el sumak kawsay.” Íconos: Revista de Ciencias Sociales, no. 48 (2014): 25–40. https://doi.org/10.17141/iconos.48.2014.1204.

Inuca Lechón, José Benjamı́n. “Genealogı́a de alli kawsay / sumak kawsay (vida buena / vida hermosa) de las organizaciones kichwas del Ecuador desde mediados del siglo XX.” Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies 12, no. 2 (May 2017): 155–76. https://doi.org/10.1080/17442222.2017.1325101.

Jo, Young Hyun. “La descolonialidad y el Sumak Kawsay en Ecuador.” Revista Iberoamericana 24, no. 1 (2013): 37–63.


  1. For a discussion of concerns with translating sumak kawsay as buen vivir, see Javier Cuestas-Caza, “Sumak Kawsay Is Not Buen Vivir. Alternautas,” March 2, 2018, http://www.alternautas.net/blog/2018/3/2/sumak-kawsay-is-not-buen-vivir. ↩︎

  2. For example, sumak kawsay was incorporated into Ecuador’s constitution in 2008. ↩︎

  3. The interpretation sumak kawsay is contested within the Andes. For example, see Antonio Luis Hidalgo-Capitán and Ana Patricia Cubillo-Guevara, “Seis debates abiertos sobre el sumak kawsay,” Íconos: Revista de Ciencias Sociales, no. 48 (2014): 25–40, https://doi.org/10.17141/iconos.48.2014.1204. This introduction will focus on the philosophical resources that the concept can offer us. ↩︎

  4. For the relationship and history of the two, see José Benjamı́n Inuca Lechón, “Genealogı́a de alli kawsay / sumak kawsay (vida buena / vida hermosa) de las organizaciones kichwas del Ecuador desde mediados del siglo XX,” Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies 12, no. 2 (May 2017): 155–76, https://doi.org/10.1080/17442222.2017.1325101. For an account of sumak kawsay and decoloniality, see Young Hyun Jo, “La descolonialidad y el Sumak Kawsay en Ecuador,” Revista Iberoamericana 24, no. 1 (2013): 37–63. ↩︎

Date
March 28, 2019 — March 29, 2019
Event
Thinking and Living the Good Life
Location
Fordham University

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