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Ethnicity, essentialism, and folk sociology among the Wichí of Northern Argentina


This work explores the cognitive bases of ethnic adscriptions in the cultural context of a Native American group of Northern Argentina, namely: the Wichí. In the first part, previous hypotheses that attempted to explain the evolved mechanisms involved in ethnic induction and categorization are discussed. In this regard, the explanatory power of folk biology vs. folk sociology is intensively discussed when confronted with the results obtained in the field. The results of the first study suggest that the Wichí do not use biological information, and do not make ontological commitments based on it when ascribing ethnic identity. The second part is devoted to presenting psychological essentialism as a series of heuristics that can be instantiated independently for different cognitive domains. In this sense, the proposal advocates for a disaggregation of the heuristics associated with psychological essentialism, and for the implementation of an approach that explores each heuristic separately as a consequence of the cultural, ecological, and perhaps historical context of instantiation. The results of study two suggest that a minimal trace of essentialism is underlying Wichí ethnic conceptual structure. However, this trace is not related to heuristics that receive biological information as an input; on the contrary, it seems that the ascription of ethnic identity relates to the process of socialization.

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