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All this dies with us : the decline and revision of a Mestizo Gentry (Chumbivilcas, Cuzco, Peru)


Peru has experienced unprecedented social, political, and economic changes over the past fifty years that have left little of the traditional rural social order intact. The consolidation, expansion, and tentative decentralization of the Peruvian state have had particularly profound effects on labor relations, land tenure, electoral politics, administration, and social practice and ideology. New forms of identification and mobilization have helped to undermine traditional distinctions of status and ethnicity. This dissertation focuses on the historical and contemporary experience of the vecinos of Chumbivilcas, a mestizo gentry that once stood at the apex of the old provincial social order. Ethnographic research was spread over twenty months between 2004 and 2008, with all of 2006 spent in the highland province of Chumbivilcas, located in the far south of the Cuzco department of Peru. Data was collected predominantly through formal and informal interviews and participant observation.The dissertation describes the emergence of local indigenist parties, made possible by the expansion of the franchise and motivated in part by increasing fiscal transfers from the central government to municipalities. The accession to power of these parties has, in turn, led to the formation of new indigenous elites. These new parties and leaders have decisively marginalized the old vecino establishment, forcing vecinos, particularly males, to struggle to reframe their values and identities. Most vecinos privately retain diverse elements of traditional racial and ethnic ideologies. Likewise, vecinos and indigenous peasants (or comuneros) continue to discriminate between one another and to informally self-segregate along ethnic lines. With the massive influx of peasants into towns and the rapid disappearance of definitive markers of ethnicity, vecinos must rely increasingly on their detailed genealogical knowledge of the province. As the concrete differences between the two communities decline, vecinos have narrowed the emphasis of their self-identification toward cultural proficiencies and affinities. The result is a vestigial community held loosely together by shared family histories and cultural interests, rather than by formal ethnic institutions and prerogatives. For the vecino community, the future most likely holds increasing emigration to Peru's urban centers and further weakening of local ethnic distinctions

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