Portrait of Boana Visser

Boana Visser

PhD student
Social Anthropology


PhD project: Indigenous urbanisation in Bocas del Toro, Panama: notions, perceptions and experiences of poverty

Indigenous peoples worldwide are considered to be the poorest of the poor. In Latin America, indigenous peoples are more likely to be ‘poor’ than any other group in a given country. However, these accounts are based on definitions and indicators of poverty that are grounded in principles of neoliberal development and do not necessarily take into account the views of those to whom it refers. A question that is too often omitted from such poverty assessments is whether indigenous peoples consider themselves to be poor. This question is especially interesting in an urban area, where indigenous values and ‘Western’, neoliberal ideals both influence the creation of ‘new’ urban identities. 

In recent years, rising numbers of Latin America’s indigenous lowland peoples have been migrating to urban areas in search of better opportunities. Panama is no exception: a considerable number of Panamanian indigenous people now live in what are considered to be ‘impoverished’ urban areas. Boana’s research seeks to understand the link between indigenous urbanisation and poverty in Panama. It explores the construction, notions and experiences of poverty among an indigenous group, the Ngöbe, in the urban provincial capital of Bocas Town. Throughout this study, Boana will be exploring different meanings of living well in order to find out how notions of poverty are constructed within the context of an urban setting. She will theorise how increased contact with the urban space may influence shifting notions of living well and, consequently, of poverty. 

The research is driven by three main aims: 

  • To study how urban Ngöbe (re)construct their understanding of what it means to live well. 
  • To follow the ways and extent to which notions of poverty are altered in an urban setting and the factors that shape these notions. 
  • To understand the ways in which the Ngöbe set about constituting their social and economic relations in the urban environment and how these shape their experiences in the urban context.


Dr Daniela Peluso
Dr Dimitrios Theodossopoulos


University of Kent 50th Anniversary Research Scholarship
Society for Latin America Studies Travel Grant

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