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Rivera mural (photo: Joanna Page)

Key Issues and Texts

Seminar 1: Being ‘Indio’ in Spanish and Portuguese America (Jimena Lobo Guerrero Arenas)

This session introduces ‘being indigenous’ in colonial Latin America. It will examine the specificities of how indigeneity has been imagined and shaped by Europeans and Indigenous communities alike throughout the colonial period. It will also explore colonial violence and indigenous resistance to colonialism and rebellion emphasising Indigenous sources, as well as the impact of Christianity, mestizaje and race on colonial body politics. The last 30 minutes of the seminar will delve into a discussion on the use of material culture to voice Indigenous communities in colonial Latin America.

Key issues

  • ‘Indios/as’ in colonial Spanish and Portuguese America
  • Indigenous resistance and rebellions
  • Colonial mestizaje, sexuality, and body politics

Required texts

  • Guaman Poma de Ayala, F. (1615). Primer Nueva Crónica y Buen Gobierno Chapter 30, pp. 865-870.
  • Rodríguez-Alegría, E. (2010). Incumbents and challengers: Indigenous politics and the adoption of Spanish material culture in colonial Xaltocan, Mexico. Historical Archaeology 44(2): 51–71.
  • Tortorici, Z. (ed.) (2016). Sexuality and the Unnatural in Colonial Latin America. Oakland, California: University of California Press. Chapter 7, pp. 141-161.

Discussion: Indigenous Agency through Material Culture

Please choose one indigenous colonial object from a museum collection and familiarise yourself with it.

What is it? Who made it? How was it made? Who used it? When was this type of object firstly produced? Is the object still in use today? What type of information can we get from analysing the object, e.g. resistance, creativity, hybridity? What does it tell us about Indigenous agency? Please, be ready to talk about it for a couple of minutes so we can compare and contrast different objects and their importance to study Indigeneity in Latin America.


Seminar 2: Race, nation-building, and the politics of dispossession (Jimena Lobo Guerrero Arenas)

The nineteenth century gave birth to the ‘scientific’ philosophy of race and the development of modern Anthropology, Ethnography and Archaeology, in which perceptions of morality, intelligence, and civilisation were deeply tied up with notions of race. This is precisely the period when Latin American political elites needed to build a modern nation-state after gaining the independence from Spain. While doing so, they were confronted with established social hierarchies in the region, legacy of the Spanish colonisation and slavery. How did notions of race entangle with post-independence nation-building? What were the consequences of that for Indigenous and Afro-Indigenous communities in Latin America? What are the different modes of dispossession faced by Indigenous people today? This seminar will examine these questions by drawing on case studies from the independence period till today in different regions of Latin America. The last 45 minutes of the seminar will serve as a three-group discussion on three modes of indigenous dispossession: land restitution, repatriation of cultural heritage, and biopiracy.

Key issues

  • Race, mestizaje, and modern science
  • Latin America’s 19th-century nation-building
  • Contemporary Indigenous dispossession

Required texts

Discussion: Modes of indigenous dispossession

(3 groups)

Group A: Territory


Group B: Cultural heritage


Group C: Biopiracy




Seminar 3: Through the lens of Culture: Indigeneity in Contemporary Latin America (Jimena Lobo Guerrero Arenas)

Different interpretations of “the Indian” can be seen in contemporary Latin America in different geographical spaces. This session considers some of the cultural, political, economic, and social reasons that have served as the basis for constructing such interpretations throughout the 20th century to the present. Examples from Latin American countries examine the strategies of visibility and expression used by indigenous peoples in forming an idea of ​​"what is Indian" today. We discuss the different strategies employed by indigenous peoples in their struggle to keep their presence alive, particularly in the city, paying attention to heritage and tourism, indigenous movements and cultural manifestations for indigenous resistance, as well as the role played by the state in this process. Finally, the session discusses the socio-political impact of these representations and manifestations and the multiple forms of urban intervention and appropriation of space.

Key issues

  • Performing Indigeneity and identity re-creation
  • Collective Action: Heritage and indigeneity
  • Indigenous cultural resistance

Required texts

  • Helland, J. (1990-1991). Aztec imagery in Frida Kahlo's paintings: Indigeneity and political commitment. Woman's Art Journal 11(2): 8-13.
  • Fine-Dare, K. (2019). Urban Mountain Beings: History, Indigeneity, and Geographies of Time in Quito, Ecuador. Lexington Books. Chapter 2: The “Urban Question”, pp. 47–78. (Moodle)
  • Marks, D. (2014) The Kuna Mola, Dress, 40:1, 17-30,
  • Baud, Michiel, and Annelou Ypeij. Cultural Tourism in Latin America. 1st ed. Vol. 96. Leiden: BRILL, 2009. CEDLA Latin America Studies. Web. Chapter 2.


Seminar 4: Indigenous knowledge and rights in Latin America: the rise of women activists (Francoise Barbira Freedman)

This session follows on Seminar 3 by examining the interaction between Indigenous Knowledge (IK), neoliberal political economy and the 21st century rise of indigenous women activists as a lens to discuss current trends in Indigeneity as a ‘discourse’ (Foucault) of rights and protest in Latin America. Since the Spanish conquest, processes of erasure, displacement and enforced landscape transformations have been, and still are, counterbalanced by a strong indigenous resistance, both passive and active. The first Rio Biodiversity Convention (1992) marked a turning point in making Indigenous rights to knowledge and life-sustaining resources such as land, water, and natural habitats a salient aspect of Indigeneity. How useful has this rallying concept been to Indigenous people in pursuing their claims between the illusory support of international frameworks and national constitutional reforms, and their resilience in fighting neo-liberal political/economic policies? How have women activists mobilised around the concept of IK in its articulation with topics of ‘Buen Vivir’, climate change, environmental conservation and biopiracy?

After addressing these questions with a historical analytical overview (45 minutes), two case-studies can serve to guide group discussion: the potato park (Andes); the Yasuni biodiversity reserve and women-led social movements against oil exploitation (Ecuador: 2018-21); For each case-study, the discussion will include opposed viewpoints between state and international representatives on one side, and Indigenous activists on the other, to explore possible resolutions.

Key issues

  • Indigenous Knowledge (IK) as a cornerstone of Indigeneity
  • International frameworks of Indigenous rights: Rio 1992, UN and ILO articles
  • the changing role of women
  • The changing role of women in indigenous social movements for rights and autonomy
  • Decolonisation, gender roles and Indigeneity

Required texts

Discussion: case-studies of resilience: Indigenous women and Indigenous Knowledge

1. To which extent are Indigenous Rights a feminine issue?

2. The articulation of nature and Buen Vivir in Indigenous resistance to neoextractivism

  • Lu, F., Valdivia, G., Silva, N.L. (2017). Neoextractivism and Its Contestation in Ecuador. In: Oil, Revolution, and Indigenous Citizenship in Ecuadorian Amazonia. Latin American Political Economy. Palgrave Macmillan, New York
  • Conklin, B.A., and L.R. Graham. 1995. The Shifting Middle Ground: Amazonian Indians and Eco-politics. American Anthropologist 97(4): 695–710.
  • Rivera Andía, J.J., Vindal Ødegaard, C. (2019). Introduction: Indigenous Peoples, Extractivism, and Turbulences in South America. In: Vindal Ødegaard, C., Rivera Andía, J. (eds) Indigenous Life Projects and Extractivism. Approaches to Social Inequality and Difference.* Read and discuss Chapters 5 & 6 (Identity politics and indigenous mobilisation; From a Politics of Identity to a Cosmopolitics of Nature).

Feature and photos

Seminar 5: Shamanism, mimesis and alterity: spaces of transformation and blurred identities in Latin American popular culture (Françoise Barbira-Freedman) 

Shamanism is perhaps the main generic social and cultural process that has created the contours of indigeneity in Latin America through time. In this seminar, it is presented as a set of practices that carry a distinctive indigenous label but at the same time have been defined through dialectical relations between Indians and the dominant society since colonial times.  Themes include the relationship between Christianity and Amerindian cosmologies, shamanic knowledge and its use in mediating racial conflicts, shamanism as popular medicine and popular culture in mixed rural and urban populations and the blurred identities of present-day shamans as they claim and/ or ‘perform indigeneity’. Materials range from the Colombian rubber boom to Peru’s expanding Ayahuasca shamanism, the emergence of women shamans in the Amazon region and the complex gendered identities of Mapuche shamans in Chile.

There are two guiding questions for the discussion:1) what does shamanism tell us about indigeneity as relational politics in which people ascribed as indigenous are both socially and economically disadvantaged and yet are attributed powers sought by non-indigenous people on local and international scales? And 2) How can we explain that what we call shamanism, in its many different forms, continues to re-invent itself as a live counter-hegemonic cultural heritage throughout Latin America?

Key Issues:

  • Shamanism and neo-shamanism
  • Indigeneity as performance
  • Relational politics and counter-hegemony

Required texts:

  • Taussig, M. (1987). Shamanism, Colonialism and the Wild Man: A Study in Terror and Healing. Chicago University Press. Chapters 6 to 12 and 23 to 25. (Moodle)
  • Gow, P. (1994). ‘River People: Shamanism and History in Western Amazonia’. In C. Humphrey and N. Thomas (eds), Shamanism, History and the State. University of Michigan Press. (Moodle)
  • Barbira Freedman, F. (2014). ‘Shamans’ Networks in Western Amazonia: the Iquitos-Nauta Road’. In B.C. Labate and N. Clavnar (eds.), Ayahuasca Shamanism in the Amazon and Beyond. Oxford University Press, pp. 130-158. (Moodle)
  • Bacigalupo, A.M. (2007). Shamans of the Foye Tree: Gender, Power and Healing among Chilean Mapuche. University of Texas Press. Introduction and Chapters 2, 3 and 9. (Moodle)
  • Bacigapulo, A.M. (2016). Thunder Shaman: Making History with Mapuche Spirits in Chile and Patagonia. University of Texas Press.
  • Conklin B. (2002). ‘Shamans versus Pirates in the Amazonian Treasure Chest’. American Anthropologist 104(4) 1050-1061.

Two options for discussion about the historical relational transformation of shamanism in Latin America and the emergence of Indigeneity:

  1.  Watch the documentary The Last Shaman, by Raz Degan, 2017.
  2.  Read Thunder Shaman.


Seminar 6: Growing up 'indigenous' in Amazonia and the Andes in the 21st century: policies of biculturalism, ontologies of difference (Françoise Barbira-Freedman)

In contrast with the culture of shamanism in which race relations are virtually inverted and redeemed in the Latin American popular imaginary, this second seminar addresses how children grow up ‘Indigenous’ in both rural and urban contexts.  The seminar explores the ways in which indigeneity is constituted during childhood from above with institutionalised health and education from birth, and at the grassroots with enduring Amerindian tropes of sociality and personhood.  Throughout Latin America, programmes of ‘interculturality’ that stem from postcolonial ‘indigenismo’ overtly support multiculturalism. Schools and health posts, however, are ambivalent spaces in which parents and children negotiate their indigenous identities in everyday life. In both health and education, ontologies of difference remain while Indigenous people struggle to overcome poverty.  How are tensions between embodied, oral, and implicit cultural norms of indigenous socialization and the expression of indigeneity reconciled in practice? Are there shared features of indigenous childhood in Latin American countries? What is the relevance of politics of place or territory to the affirmation of indigeneity for children in the fluid social ‘mestizaje’ of the poor at the grassroots?

Key issues:

  • Intercultural education and health
  • Nurture as ethos
  • From indigenismo to indigeneity
  • ontology

Required texts:

Options for discussion

  1. Is intercultural education possible? Is the affirmation of indigeneity compatible with social and economic success? If so, on which bases?
  2. To what extent multicultural governance can make space for Indigenous cosmopolitics? Based on examples, how is dialogue possible?

Film: Los Herederos, by Eugenio Polgovsky (2017) featuring child labour in Mexico from the perspective of Indigenous children.