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Volume 63 / Social Sciences

ANTHROPOLOGY: ETHNOLOGY: South America: Highlands


ANDREW ORTA, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

THE SELECTED PUBLICATIONS INCLUDED in this section of HLAS 63 reflect a consolidation of themes in ethnographic scholarship focused on the Andean region. Not surprisingly, these works examine recent social and political developments in the region and their implications for Andean peoples. These developments, increasingly labeled under the umbrella term of "neoliberalism," comprise a blending of liberal, free-market economic reforms, political decentralization, and, with the withdrawal of the state from a range of social welfare commitments, the intensified involvement of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in many local-level activities. As a set, the works included here reveal important commonalities across the Andean region as well as significant differences at the national level.

A new environment for indigenous and popular movements has emerged across the region. As a number of works detail, these social movements have been galvanized in their reactions to the deleterious impact of economic reforms and the rolling back of state services. At the same time, the movements have been challenged and empowered in new ways due to administrative decentralization and the increasing routinization of international conceptions of multicultural pluralism at the level of state policy and in the programs and strategies of NGOs. In addition to comparative regional discussions (items #bi2005000373#, #bi2005004613#, and #bi2006000606#), a number of works focus on the dramatic situations of Bolivia (items #bi2007002880# and #bi2007002885#) and Ecuador (items #bi2006000164#, #bi2005000641#, #bi2004000359#, and #bi2007002887#), where indigenous and popular movements have directly shaped recent political administrations. Similar themes are addressed in the cases of Peru and Colombia, where decades of civil war have created national political climates in which indigenous social movements have been eclipsed or at least largely overlooked by most scholars (items #bi2006000554#, #bi2006000617#, #bi2006000170#, #bi2006000965#, #bi2007002886#, and #bi2006000625#). Finally, research from Chile and Argentina document mobilizations for indigenous rights that often require countering prevailing national identities that have largely erased indigenous peoples from the national imaginary (items #bi2006000190#, #bi2006000604#, #bi2006000151#, #bi2006000160#, and #bi2004000787#). Also of note among these discussions of ethnic politics in the Andes are works focused on the particular conditions of afro-descended populations (items #bi2006000627# and #bi2006000608#).

Many works place these contemporary developments in historical perspective to highlight distinguishing features of the current moment (items #bi2007002879#, #bi2007002881#, #bi2006000196#, #bi2007002888#, #bi2006000151#, #bi2005000641#, #bi2007002697#, and #bi2006000625#). Among these features is the rise of concepts such as inter- or multi- or pluri- culturalism; some of these studies focus ethnographically on the production and circulation of the concepts of ethnic pluralism and inclusion (items #bi2006000554#, #bi2006000567#, and #bi2006000965#). Other selections document the work of NGOs in the region, including project reports that often stress the importance of integrating local sociocultural features within development planning (items #bi2006000612#, #bi2006000618#, and #bi2006000635#). Still others involve more critical assessments of the impact of NGOs (item #bi2004000359#). These works demonstrate a focus on new or emerging sociocultural and political formations as the subjects of Highlands ethnology. Other notable themes include the implications of administrative decentralization and changing modes of local leadership (items #bi2006000158#, #bi2006000164#, #bi2006000606#, #bi2006000198#, and #bi2003005697#) as well as the phenomena of urban migration and new modes of community and citizenship (items #bi2004000787#, #bi2007002879#, #bi2006000627#, #bi2007002696#, #bi2007002883#, #bi2007002882#, #bi2007002884#, and #bi2005001846#). Studies focused on tourism as a site of globalization and interculturalism are also represented (items #bi2005004616# and #bi2004003567#).

A significant number of works reviewed here reflect innovative and exciting forms of ethnographic scholarship. These include exemplary efforts at collaborative research (items #bi2006000160#, #bi2006000965#, and #bi2007002697#), as well as numerous previously cited publications that are directly in the service of local and national communities, constituting a public and engaged anthropology par excellence. A related theme in this set of works includes some very instructive reflections on the history of ethnographic scholarship in various national traditions (items #bi2003006981#, #bi2006000166#, #bi2005004614#, #bi2002004975#, #bi2006000609#, #bi2006000625#, and #bi2005004613#). Largely prepared by national—and sometimes indigenous—scholars, these historical discussions are often of a piece with other critical turns in anthropology surveying the limitations of earlier generations of scholarship. However, a number of authors are in agreement in their intent to avoid the introspective excesses they associate with some schools of North American and European anthropology as they search for a model of engaged and committed scholarship adequate to the contemporary issues facing the region.

While critiques of classical Andeanist ethnography along with current events in the region have shifted a good deal of recent ethnographic work toward urban Andean contexts (see Goldstein, item #bi2007002696#, and Seligmann, item #bi2007000591#, for notable book length examples), research in more classical settings, though not always pursuing classical themes, continues (items #bi2006000188#, #bi2006000554#, #bi2006000567#, and #bi2004003567#). Of particular note is Frank Salomon's remarkable study of khipus (item #bi2004003411#). Although Salomon's ethnography is largely in the service of a subtle approximation of what we may learn from khipus about distinctly Andean experiences and representations of the past, the variety of studies listed here reveal the importance of future research from a range of ethnographic settings to our understandings of contemporary and continuously emergent social and cultural formations in the Andes.


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