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An Anthropological Perspective: The Cultural, the Political, and the Ontological in Kichwa Studies


In this thesis, I argue that the anthropological study of Kichwa-speaking peoples in the Ecuadorian Amazon is characterized by two categories of analysis: one with a focus on structuralist topics of interest and the other with a decidedly political economy overtone. Through a selective literature review of each theoretical shift, I offer a critical analysis of both of these trends, examining their origins, strengths, productions, and erasures, as well as their relative successes in reflecting Kichwa self-interpretations. I also describe how these trends build off of each other, forming, in part, out of reactions to the other’s shortcomings while still falling short of either the political or religio-cultural aspects of Kichwa life. In sum, structuralism lacks emphasis on power and politics, while political anthropology tends to undermine the importance of ethnography and unique indigenous cosmologies.

Because of these limitations, I propose that the best way to bridge the gap between the structural and the political is through political ontological literature, which brings to light indigenous cosmology and radical difference while also highlighting how indigenous uniqueness is played out in the political arena. Although not without its own failings, political ontology attempts to bring together the benefits of both of these theoretical shifts without falling into their traditional traps. Political ontological analyses have been applied to indigenous peoples elsewhere in Latin America, but it has yet to be applied to lowland Kichwa. Furthermore, such an analysis is vital in order to understand anthropologists’ intellectual approaches to difference, including indigeneity as difference.

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