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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 was 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 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 Latin America
  • Indigenous resistance and rebellions
  • Colonial mestizaje and body politics

Required texts

Discussion: Indigenous Agency through Material Culture

The objects below, belonging to the collections of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (MAA), are related to indigenous peoples in Latin America. PICK ONE and familiarise yourself with it:

1924.282;  Z 1294;  1947.460;  1992.116;  1939.224 B;  2022.23;  1953.473;  Z 433141949.336;  1988.324;  1934.617
If you have any trouble with the link for each object, alternatively you can access the museum's online database here and enter the accession number manually)

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? What do these objects tell us about the image that has been built about indigenous populations in Latin America?

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.

Note: This session will take place at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (MAA). It will include a handling session and discussion around objects.

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 cultural dispossession faced by Indigenous people in the 19th century and early 20th century? This seminar will examine these questions by drawing on case studies from the independence period till today. The last 45 minutes of the seminar will serve as a two-group discussion on two modes of indigenous dispossession: cultural heritage, and biopiracy.

Key issues

  • Race, mestizaje, and indigeneity
  • Latin America’s 19th-century nation-building/indigenista project
  • Legacies of 19th-century cultural indigenous dispossession

Required texts

Discussion: Modes of indigenous dispossession

Please choose either A or B and watch the video(s). Please be prepared to give a brief presentation about the video (5 min max) so that we can compare and contrast different analysis on modes of cultural dispossession and their importance for studying indigeneity in Latin America.

A: Cultural heritage

In what ways does dispossession affect the intangible cultural heritage of indigenous peoples in Latin America, and how do these communities work to protect their cultural expressions and rituals from exploitation and misappropriation? How the commodification of indigenous art, artifacts, and cultural practices in Latin America is challenging the preservation and ownership of cultural heritage among indigenous communities in the region?


B: Biopiracy

How has biopiracy impacted the political and economic dispossessions experienced by indigenous communities in Latin America? What role do national governments and international institutions play in addressing the politics of dispossession for indigenous people in Latin America? How do indigenous activists and organizations in Latin America engage in political mobilization and advocacy to combat biopiracy and the associated dispossession of their traditional knowledge and resources?


Mülchi, H. (2010). Calafate, Zoológicos Humanos

Seminar 3: Reclaiming the City: Urban Indigeneities in Latin America (Natalia Buitron)

In popular imaginaries and the majority of studies on indigenous peoples, authentic Indigeneity is confined to remote forested and rural areas. This seminar instead explores long-standing forms of Indigenous urbanism, the dynamic co-creation of forest and city, and the growing political relevance and vibrant experiences of urban Indigenous peoples and spaces.

Key issues

  • Pre-historic and contemporary urbanism: the case of ancient Amazonian cities
  • Indigenous mobilities and urbanisation in the 20th century
  • Hybrid spaces and performances: markets/housing, protest and performance

Required texts: pick and read at least two readings from the below list of required texts

AND pick one of the texts from ONE of the sub-themes below:

Subtheme 1: Ancient and Contemporary Images of Amazonian Urbanism

Subtheme 2: Cholo Markets and the Struggle for Housing

Subtheme 3: Urban Mapuche/ Reclaiming Santiago de Chile

Seminar 4: Indigenous Sovereignties and Resurgence: Contemporary Struggles for Life, Knowledge, and Autonomy (Natalia Buitron)

Indigeneity has historically been imagined as a pre-political stage prior to the civil state.  By contrast, this seminar shows how Indigenous projects of governance delimit state power. Some Latin American indigenous collectives fight for inclusivity and constitutional collective rights but others go beyond in seeking territorial autonomy and self-determination. In both cases Indigenous collectives, and especially women activists, are engaged in a battle over the very meaning of life.

Key issues

  • The mutual construction of sovereign state and Indigeneity
  • Identity Politics and the struggle for collective rights
  • Buen Vivir, the struggle for territory, and the politics of autonomy
  • The Rise of Indigenous women activism

Required texts: pick and read at least two readings from the below list of required texts

AND pick one of the texts from ONE of the sub-themes below:

Subtheme 1: Does Buen Vivir go beyond Identity Politics? / What are the meanings and challenges of Indigenous autonomy?

Subtheme 2: Is Indigenous women activism a vehicle or challenge to Indigenous autonomy? And how does it reframe state sovereignty?

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 Indigenous people 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 colonial period to the rubber boom, up to the global expansion of Ayahuasca shamanism, the emergence of women shamans in the Amazon region. Mapuche shamans in Chile exemplify the complex gendered identities of shamans throughout Latin America.

Key Issues:

  • The transition of curanderos and brujos to shamans and neo-shamans with the emergence of indigeneity
  • Indigeneity as performed through shamanic practice
  • Relational politics and the historical remodelling of counter-hegemony

Required texts:

  • Taussig, M. (1987). Shamanism, Colonialism and the Wild Man: A Study in Terror and HealingChicago 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)


1. How can we explain that what we call shamanism, in its many different forms, continues to re-invent itself in time throughout Latin America as a live counter-hegemonic cultural heritage, in contra-opposition to state and religious authorities?

Focused readings:

  • Langdon, Esther Jean. 2016. The Revitalization of Yajé Shamanism among the Siona: Strategies of Survival in Historical Context. Anthropology of Consciousness Volume27, Issue2 Special Issue: Ayahuasca, Plant‐Based Spirituality, and the Future of Amazonia, Pages 180-203.
  • Bacigapulo, A.M. (2016). Thunder Shaman: Making History with Mapuche Spirits in Chile and Patagonia. University of Texas Press. (CLAS library)

Select and present the life and work of a shaman of your choice as portrayed in the anthropology literature or in the media.

2. What does shamanism tell us about indigeneity as relational politics in which people labelled or self-ascribing as Indigenous are both socially and economically disadvantaged and yet are attributed powers sought by non-indigenous people on local and international scales?

Focused readings:

Watch the documentary The Last Shaman, by Raz Degan, 2017 (Netflix)


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 as a social category during childhood through institutionalised health and education from birth, while at the grassroots, Amerindian tropes of sociality and personhood endure.  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 socially accepted expressions of indigeneity reconciled in practice? Are there shared features of indigenous childhood in Latin American countries? How relevant are the politics of place and/or territory to the affirmation of indigeneity for children in the fluid social ‘mestizaje’ in peri-urban neighbourhoods and areas of colonisation?

Key issues:

  • Intercultural education and health
  • Nurture as shared ethos of indigenous upbringing
  • From indigenismo to indigeneity
  • Strategies for the integration of Indigenous ontologies in education and health care (with special reference to maternity care).

Required texts:


1. Is intercultural education and health care possible?  If schools and health posts are valued in indigenous communities, both rural and urban, across Latin America, how can indigenous ontologies and practices receive greater consideration in national and international policies?

Focused reading:

2. To what extent multicultural governance can make space for Indigenous cosmopolitics? Based on examples, how are issues perceived by non-Indigenous and Indigenous authors/film makers?  is dialogue possible?

Focused reading:

  • Cortina, Regina and Amanda Earl. 2020. Embracing interculturality and Indigenous knowledge in Latin American higher education. Compare 51(60):1-18. (ResearchGate)
  • Carpena-Mendez, Fina and K. Pirjo Virtanen. 2022. Indigenous Pedagogies in a Global World and Sustainable Futures. Anthropology & Education Quarterly 53(4):308-320
  • Llamas A, Mayhew S. 2018."Five hundred years of medicine gone to waste"? Negotiating the implementation of an intercultural health policy in the Ecuadorian Andes. BMC Public Health. 2018 Vol.18(1):686
  • Film 2: Los Herederosby Eugenio Polgovsky (2008) featuring child labour in Mexico from the perspective of Indigenous children.