Foreign aid programmes have long targeted Bolivia for ‘capacity building’ at the level
of institutional democratic channels and the state legal system. By contrast, this article
examines a shift in donor priorities from reforming public institutions to workshops
targeting interpersonal and social communication through capacitación or skill-set
building aimed at changing individual behaviour and values. I argue that the conversatorio
– or model dialogue – is the quintessential space of capacitación towards those ends. Yet,
as I show, conversatorios also become a space of contestation as participants challenge
not only the framing of political issues, but also the very techniques of negotiation,
deliberation and political subject formation proposed in these ‘capacity building’ spaces.
Conversatorios unmask competing political stakes and expectations of state–citizen
relations as sceptical participants revalorize demonized capacities.