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SAN4 Latin America

Not offered in the academic year 2016-2017.

This paper introduces students to the ethnographic and theoretical issues in the history and contemporary life of societies in Latin America. Topics covered by the paper include: ethnicity; kinship and sociality; perspectivism; the environment and resources; neoliberalism; citizenship and multiculturalism; social movements, especially indigenous movements; gender; terror and violence; religion; the state and cities.

The first part of the paper covers ethnographic material from Amazonia and the Andes. In seminars based on student-led presentations we begin with questions that have been at the heart of Amazonian anthropology: How do Amazonians conceive of their environment? How are scientific models and Western assumptions challenged by ethnographic concepts such as “Amerindian Perspectivism”?

Throughout the course we shall build an understanding of these difficult renderings of Amerindian philosophy into the terms of Western metaphysics, seeing how theory arose from ethnographic encounters with shamanism, cannibalism, and mythologies based on human kinship with animals. We shall also look at Amerindian responses to resource extraction, and ethnographic controversies about anthropologists’ claims to truth, their scientific practice and forms of representation. Making the comparison with the Andes more explicit we will examine questions of indigenous rights, indigeneity itself, race and ethnicity and the relationship more generally between indigenous peoples and the state; all particularly important questions for contemporary identity politics in the region.

One of the most distinctive features of Latin America as a region is its highly politicized nature, so in the second term, the paper situates itself very firmly within political anthropology, covering ethnographic material from across the region. Again, in student-led seminars we continue some of the themes of the first term by examining politics viewed ‘from below’, namely from the perspective of indigenous people and peoples, women, peasants, the working classes and the poor. We ask how and on what basis people organise to contest dominant political narratives and deal with themes such as the nature of democracy and citizenship; the role of violence and terror in the political imaginary and people’s lives; urbanism and the city under neoliberalism; religion and gender.

Throughout the course, students will be encouraged to view and discuss a series of contemporary films from the region, and relate that to their reading of the ethnographic material.

Paper Resources


For lecture reading lists, additional teaching materials, past exam questions and exam reports for all ethnographic areas please see the SAN4 Moodle Course.

Please note teaching staff and students enrolled on SAN4 will automatically be enrolled on the SAN4 Moodle course and you will find a link to the course in the ‘My Home’ section of Moodle.

If you are a member of the University of Cambridge and you wish to view the reading lists, past exam questions and exam reports then you can access the SAN4 Moodle Course as a guest. For more information on how to access Moodle Courses as a guest please see Moodle Help.