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Volume 59 / Social Sciences

ANTHROPOLOGY: ETHNOLOGY


South America: Highlands

LINDA J. SELIGMANN, Professor of Anthropology, George Mason University


THE ARTICLES AND BOOKS published in Andean highland ethnology during this biennium span a considerable range of topics, yet cluster around particular theoretical orientations and themes. Most refreshing is the attention that scholars are paying to material culture as sites of identity assertion, constitution, perpetuation, and contestation. Woven textiles, knitted clothing, and even commodities provide rich resources for complex and distinctive kinds of cultural and economic praxis that rupture linear trajectories characteristic of modernity's impress. Exemplary are Radcliffe's piece on how processes of hybridity are revealed in the use of indigenous clothing in Ecuador (item #bi 98008199#); Orlove's edited volume on how economy and culture shaped postindependence consumption patterns in Latin American nations (item #bi 99001339#) and his discussion of how adobe bricks, clay pots, and shoes become the substance for building racialized identities and interactions (item #bi 99001339#); Page-Reeves' analysis of the knitted sweater industry in Bolivia (item #bi 98015819#); and Rowe's edited volume on costume in Ecuador (item #bi 99005638#).

The focus on identity extends into other domains as well. Language in dialogical contexts (items #bi2001003828#, #bi 98003313#, and #bi2001004307#), ritual productions (items #bi 98015855#, #bi 97017399#, and #bi 98015742#), music and costumed dances (item #bi2001004310#), oral traditions (items #bi 98015744# and #bi 99005643#) and theatrical performances (items #bi 98015748#) become media for indigenous renewal (including bodily healing), inventiveness, and social commentary and distinctiveness.

It is not coincidental that transnational flows of information, commodities, and economic and social relationships also encourage a reconsideration of the meanings of culture, race, and ethnicity. The late Eric Wolf, always a visionary, in his final book, sought to uncover how power shapes and organizes cognitive models that become shared out of divergent and often contradictory interests, discourses, and perspectives in three very different societies—the Kwakiutl, the Aztecs, and National Socialist Germany (item #bi2002006297#). These societies nevertheless shared one thing in common—their ideologies overwhelmingly drove their social behavior. He argues that those who govern everyday social relationships and labor are able to elevate the ideas that help to organize those relationships and convert them into reigning cosmologies and absolute power, particularly at moments of crisis. Recent work in Andean highland ethnology also demonstrates a significant concern with how power and ideas intertwine through the medium of what could be called culture, taking us a good distance away from simplistic and functionalist accounts of the interaction between ritual and power or ideologies and labor relationships.

In a special journal issue edited by Mark Rogers, contributors discuss how performances (in religious fiestas, secular folkloric spectacles, costumed dances, and beauty pageants) allow for shared templates of cultural understanding, drawing on familiar symbols and common history, but also have an intangible dimension that perpetuates ambiguous and power-laden signifiers of nation-building (item #bi2001004309#). A second special journal issue addresses the popular classes in Bolivia and their experience and view of national identity. (See reviews of individual articles: items #bi 98010316#, #bi 98010318#, and #bi 98010321#.)

Contributors to yet a third special journal issue, edited by anthropologist Mary Weismantel and art historian Steven Eisenman, challenge us to distinguish between race and ethnicity and to heed their interactions and specific histories in understanding Andean social topographies (items #bi 99001336#, #bi 99001337#, #bi 99001338#, and #bi 99001339#). In these and other articles, theoretical frameworks do not overwhelm but rather complement and structure substantial ethnographic research.

The all too common dichotomous models of Andean rural-urban migration also benefit from more sophisticated theorizing in Altamirano et al.'s edited volume (see HLAS 57:689). Paaregaard builds a case that movement/migration are normative conditions that should cause us to rethink identity among Quechua highlanders who migrate as necessarily conflicted (item #bi 98015749#). Skar Lund's insightful article looks at migration, examining how gendered concepts of center-periphery are operationalized through exchanges of money, goods, and words (item #bi 98002414#). The glimmerings of a revitalization of urban anthropology are apparent in these approaches to city living among Quechua highlanders who traverse great distances and multiple generations.

The movement away from fixed, and toward more fluid, identities has led to fewer political economic kinds of studies. Nevertheless, some works stand out. Nugent analyzes the uneasy alliances emerging out of the interests of regional ethnicities and nation-state building in early 20th century Peru (item #bi 97016490#). Contributors to Stern's edited volume desensationalize Peru's civil war, giving it needed historical depth and regional nuances (item #bi 98013610#), while Kirk's firsthand journalistic account boldly and humanely describes her process of coming to understanding Peru's complex terrain of violence (item #bi 99002014#; also see historian's review in HLAS 58:2666). Starn's eloquent ethnography on peasant rondas and grassroots justice over two decades will be invaluable for students of Peru (item #bi2001004014#). Isbell has also written a provocative piece on how Peru's postwar highland dwellers apprehend the history of violence they suffered and witnessed in the light of spatial models and esthetic productions (item #bi2001003827#). The translation of Skar's Warm Valley People with an update on Peru's agrarian reform will benefit Latin American researchers (item #bi 99000745#).

Surprisingly few scholars dwell on the impact of neoliberalism on Andean peoples. Gill's discussion of the influx of miners to La Paz (item #bi 98015821#) and the revised edition of Babb's classic study of market women trace the cultural and economic dimensions of policies that reach into the heart of households, shape political organizing, and restructure ethnic relations (item #bi2001003823#).

A few works continue on the path of ascertaining how Andean peoples formulate and structure history in light of land tenure patterns, legal codes, and organizational structures. Leadership remains a critical component of indigenous struggles and several authors address how individual attributes and life histories combine with political strategies, themselves informed by creative cognitive models, in pan-Indian movements (items #bi 99000749#, #bi 99000750#, and #bi 98007903#).

A relatively new trend is apparent in works that focus on life stages, intergenerational knowledge, gender relations, and notions of personhood without resorting to functionalist and psychological anthropological frameworks of culture and personality studies. Among these are Morgan's fascinating discussion of birth, abortion, and fetal personhood (item #bi 98010353#); Spedding's detailed exegesis of death rites (item #bi 97017401#); and Muratorio's discussion of knowledge transmission between Quichua grandmothers and their granddaughters (item #bi2001004014#). More squarely in the tradition of life histories is Buechler's well-written and thoughtful life history of a Bolivian market woman (item #bi 99005631#). Salomon's highly original article on the underpinnings of Quechua ontology points us toward an unexplored field of linguistic, philosophical, and ethnohistorical analysis (item #bi 99005759#).

Gender relations occupy an important place in many of these works, having moved from periphery to center. Contributors to Paulson and Crespo's edited volume struggle to make explicit the tensions between ideal theorizing about equitable gender and ethnic relations, and the implementation of development policies and their outcomes (item #bi2001003818#). Rivera's edited volume holistically reflects on the situation of women in postcolonial Bolivia in the 1990s (item #bi2001002213#), and Miles and Buechler's edited volume usefully assesses Andean women's experiences of migration (item #bi 98014999#).

Development projects and the intervention of nongovernmental organizations receive sophisticated treatment from anthropologists well aware of the intervening variables of power, cultural heterogeneity, the assumptions behind apparently neutral discourses in policy implementation, and the need for concern with sustainability and collaboration (items #bi 98015854# and #bi 97013122#). Gómez and Ariel Ruiz's complex analysis of territoriality and changes in its cosmological representations among the Páez of Tierradentro, Colombia after the massive 1994 earthquake, tracing the relationships among local communities, the state, and NGOs, is also a model for development studies (item #bi2001003370#).

This biennium's work remains heavily concentrated in the Bolivian and Peruvian Andes, although Ecuador has a growing presence. The new constitution in Colombia and the pan-Indian movement in Ecuador have encouraged an interest in legal codes and intercultural education as they are confronted and interpreted by native peoples and leaders (items #bi2001003817#, #bi 97012473#, #bi 99000754#, and #bi 99005646#).

What are the challenges for the next biennium? One is for ethnologists to work toward bringing together political economy and cognition with theoretical clarity in a nonfunctionalist manner, a task Abercrombie undertakes in his experimental and substantial work (item #bi2001002513#). Crisscrossing pathways of history and memory among the Aymara of K'ulta, Bolivia, he moves between archival sources, inhabitants' accounts, contemporary practices, and his own lifeline in order to discern the political and poetic frames that shape their lives.

Andean ethnological studies are thriving. Some of the most innovative scholarship is found in special journal issues dedicated to single themes. That history, political economy, linguistics, and critical theory are becoming integral to anthropological work bodes well for the field. This author suggests that highland ethnology will be strengthened in the years to come as researchers reflect more thoughtfully on the theoretical constructs and concepts they are apt to take as given, in particular, "race," "ethnicity," "identity," "agency" and "resistance."

Much of the scholarship produced in Latin America is hampered by descriptive empiricism, but the contributions of indigenous authors and perspectives counterbalance this tendency (items #bi 99005647# and #bi 98015743#). The pendulum has swung toward an appreciation of how symbols, ritual practices, and the valorization of meaning are implicated in the constitution and perpetuation of social units and relationships among Andean peoples. With this fruitful knowledge, scholars are approaching a fuller understanding of what it takes and means for native peoples to be, produce, exchange, and consume. Our world is an interconnected one, characterized by increasing, though remarkably uneven, contractions of space and time, and of flows of commodities, information, and values. Given these conditions, a fuller exploration of the ways that Andean highlanders struggle (and sometimes manage) to sustain and expand control over economic resources, political organizations, and their social universe should be central to future ethnological studies.


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