Bret Gustafson

     I’m a political anthropologist whose interests range from Indigenous languages to the politics of energy.  Most of my work focuses on Bolivia.  Right now I’m working on a history of the Guarani language in Bolivia and other projects that have emerged along the way.

Energy Politics

My most recent research in Bolivia focused on the impacts of natural gas development in Guarani territory and the country as a whole. This work is reflected in Bolivia in the Age of Gas (Duke 2020), which traces territorial and political struggles over natural gas in Bolivia during the fourteen year government of Evo Morales. This work brought me into dialogue with colleagues working on extractivism, fossil capital, and the anthropology of energy, the climate, and fossil fuels.

I was honored that the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) awarded Bolivia in the Age of Gas the 2022 Bryce Wood Book Award for the Outstanding Book on Latin America.  My thanks to the selection committee. 

Reviews of Bolivia in the Age of Gas have appeared in Public Books (Kim Fortun and James Adams); Harvard Review of Latin America (María Elena García); and NACLA (Nicole Fabricant).  Or, if you prefer podcasts, check out the conversation with Alize Arican on New Books Network or the conversation with Ratik Asokan and Thea Riofrancos for The Baffler.

Graduate Research

Graduate students I work with are exploring issues of extractivism, social movements, climate and energy politics, and human-other-than-human relations in the Andes and the Amazon of Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil.  These are topics that articulate with other strengths of our department, including food and agriculture studies; STS; and political, legal, and medical anthropology.

Guarani Language and Territorial Rights in the Bolivian Chaco

My prior work in Bolivia, since around 1992, focused on Indigenous movements and questions of language, territory, education, and the state. My book New Languages of the State: Indigenous Resurgence and the Politics of Knowledge in Bolivia (Duke, 2009) explored intersections between the Indigenous movement, bilingual education, and neoliberal reform.

I continue to work with Guarani colleagues and write on Guarani language, history, and contemporary politics. This line of work involves dialogues across areas of linguistic anthropology and the anthropology of education and the state.  My next project in this area will be a prequel to my first book, tracing the history of Bolivia through the lens of the Guarani language from the 1500s to the present.

Histories and Anthropologies of the U.S. 

In addition to my ongoing collaborations with Guarani colleagues in Bolivia, I also teach, write on, and engage with related topics in the U.S.  With undergraduate students I dabble in and agitate around the politics of energy and the environment in the St. Louis region.  And in a slightly different direction, I am in the initial phases of a historical project on the afterlives of turn of the (20th) century anthropology and anthropologists. Stay tuned.


Phone: 314-935-8630
Office: McMillan Hall 334
Office hours: Tuesday 2:00 – 4:00 pm

Washington University
CB 1114
One Brookings Drive
St.Louis, MO 63130-4899