15 March 2024

The Daily Praxis of Good Living among the Kayambi in Northern Ecuador

A keen interest in alternatives to capitalism prompted Larissa Da Silva Araujo to carry out a doctoral ethnography on sumak kawsay (good living), a life alternative proposed by the indigenous peoples in Ecuador. Working specifically with Kayambi women, she analysed how they take care of their home gardens, their family and their communities while doing agroecology. As Dr Da Silva Araujo points out in this interview, suma kawsay, as a holistic life alternative built around agroecology, advocates the centrality of agroecology as a practice, science and social movement that can transform food systems and strengthen food sovereignty.

Why did you choose to study the sumak kawsay of the Kayambi people?

I chose this research topic because I noticed that the scholarship about alternatives to the capitalist system was discussing a new alternative, the idea of sumak kawsay, but without much empirical evidence of how such an alternative exists in real life. The focus on women’s transitions to agroecology was developed with the indigenous organisation on the ground, the Kayambi People Confederation.

Can you describe your research question and methodology?

My research question is, “How do Indigenous peoples enact a sumak kawsay praxis in their daily lives?”, and I decided to undertake an ethnography based on collaborations to investigate such a question. Ethnographic research is a methodology that privileges daily interactions, where one can learn in practice what are the conceptual and theoretical contributions of people on the ground. Additionally, enabling research collaborations – that in the Social Sciences, in general, take the form of participatory action research and in Anthropology has been named “engaged anthropology” – allowed me to construct together with research participants some knowledge about concrete ways of doing sumak kawsay that is useful for their life projects. Moreover, it prevents knowledge extractivism and enables knowledge sharing among all people participating in the research.

What are your major findings?

In Anthropology we tend not to discuss “findings”, but to describe the processes and knowledge sharing we have during the research pathway. In this view, the thesis describes sumak kawsay as a life alternative, that can take shape as an economic, social, political and environmental alternative. Hence, it is not only an alternative to capitalism or developmentalism (an economic alternative), to patriarchy (social), and so on, but an idea that proposes a holistic approach and tackles challenges and opportunities in all life spheres.

The thesis describes in four chapters the concrete ways in which sumak kawsay emerges in daily praxis: in the home gardens (chakras), in the family and the community. Taking care of the chakras, the family and the communities enables indigenous (Kayambi) women to heal the body, the land and the territory via the production of healthy food, create public policies against gendered violence and participate in national struggles against international neoliberal policies.

What could be the social and political implications of your thesis?

My thesis draws attention to Indigenous people – normally seen as “in need” of “development” and “beneficiaries of public policies” – as knowledge holders and creators of life alternatives. In this sense, it contributes to social change and political agendas that take seriously the innovations that people are producing on the ground, based on their contexts and according to conceptual and theoretical developments that originate from their daily struggles. Concretely, the thesis contributes to the discussions of agroecology as an innovation for sustainable and just futures, as a practice, a science and a social movement that proposes to transform food systems and enhance food sovereignty.

What are you doing now?

I am currently working as a postdoctoral scholar in the SWIFT project at the Graduate Institute’s Gender Centre. “Supporting Women-Led Innovations in Farming and Rural Territories” (SWIFT) is a four-year project funded by Horizon Europe (and by SERI in Switzerland) bringing together researchers, non-governmental organisations and social movements to advance the position of women and LGBTQI+ persons in farming and to investigate how agroecological processes can promote gender equality in Europe. You can see more information about it here.

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Larissa Da Silva Araujo defended her PhD thesis in Anthropology and Sociology of Development on 7 December 2023. Associate Professor Amalia Ribi Forclaz presided over the committee, which included Honorary Professor Isabelle Schulte-Tenckhoff, Thesis Director, and Professor Rudi Colloredo-Mansfeld, Department of Anthropology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA.

Citation of the PhD thesis:
Da Silva Araujo, Larissa. “Life Alternatives: Daily Praxis among the Kayambi in Northern Ecuador.” PhD thesis, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva, 2024.

An abstract of the PhD thesis is available on this page of the Geneva Graduate Institute’s repository. As the thesis itself is embargoed until January 2027, interested readers can contact Dr Da Silva Araujo at for access.

Interview by Nathalie Tanner, Research Office.
Banner image: Chakana built during the Kayambi Youth Assembly. Cayambe, November 2019. Photograph by Larissa Da Silva Araujo.