Institute for Social Justice


Dr Lia Haro

Dr Lia Haro

A cultural anthropologist and social theorist, Haro will be joining the Institute for Social Justice in January of 2016. Her work focuses on utopian social imagination and practices of constructing possible futures in present communities and contexts of social transformation. She contends that the tendency to interpret “utopia” as synonymous with naiveté and unrealistic dreams obscures how collective dreams of radically better futures, both from above (state and international institutions) and from below (grassroots social movements and communities), shape everyday lives, social relationships, present actions and cultural formations.

Haro’s Ph.D. research at Duke University combined global-scale cultural analysis with three years of engaged ethnographic fieldwork in Western Kenya. She explored how contemporary international development discourses and practices organized by the United Nations Millennium Development Goals mobilized a utopian horizon by promising an imminent “end of poverty” that carried with it a distinct neoliberal vision of the ideal society that developers would seek to actualize on the ground by transforming existing communities and individuals. Haro conducted her fieldwork in a model Millennium Village, which was designed to showcase the coming “end of poverty.” There, she encountered a busy frictional interface where different actors struggled over the coordinates of hope and collective possibility in their efforts to fulfill the global prescriptions, a process that involved significant social upheaval and negative social effects.

Having focused on the dangerous, limiting potentials of utopian imagination in the context of international development institutions, Haro’s current ethnographic research project explores a significant counter movement in the Andes in which Indigenous Quechua and Aymara intellectuals and activists have sought to redefine development according to their own cosmovision and definition of the “good life” or Buen Vivir, understood as collective well-being that encompasses human and nonhuman members of the community in reciprocally nourishing relationships that prioritize social and ecological good as well as human dignity and social justice over economic objectives and unfettered economic accumulation. The objective of the current research is to examine how this alternative utopian horizon functions to mobilize generative relationships between intellectuals, social movements and communities through which new modes of being and thinking arise in the process of creating a better future in their own terms.

In addition to her work in these areas, Haro also has two theoretical projects underway. In the first, she discusses the construction of sub-Saharan Africa as a site for the projection of Western utopian visions while also illuminating alternative utopian conceptions and relationships that emerge in modern African literature. In the second, with Romand Coles, she plumbs the creative depths of poetry, music and utopian fiction to consider potentially rich directions for radical democratic engagement.

  • Books

    Haro, Lia. The End(s) of the End of Poverty. (Forthcoming)

  • Book Chapters

    Haro, Lia and Romand Coles. “Journeys to Farther Shores: Intersecting Movements of Poetics, Politics and Theory Beyond Utopia” in The Aesthetic Turn in Political Thought, ed. Nikolas Kompridis (New York: Bloomsbury, 2014).

    Haro, Lia. ”The Affective Politics of Insurgent Hope” in Hope: Probing the Boundaries, ed. Janet Horrigan (Oxford: Inter-Disciplinary Press, 2007).