Mediating indigeneity: public space and the making of political identity in Andean Peru

Hirsch, E.

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Hirsch, E. (2016). Mediating indigeneity: public space and the making of political identity in Andean Peru. PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review, 39(1), 95–109.

Andes , Colonialism , Development , Indigeneity , Peru , Public Space

This article investigates the relationship between political identity and public space in the communities of the Colca Valley, in Peru’s rural Andes, by examining two moments in which the built environment became a medium for formatting and engaging a local indigeneity. The first is the colonial invasion, during which the reducci´on plan condensed and dispersed “unruly” native subjects around a public square and a church. The second is the contemporary moment, in which that same space is used to stage audits, evaluations, and competitions in the context of a development paradigm shifting from service provision to investing in indigeneity by financing the promotion of entrepreneurial and agricultural practices that organizations classify as typically indigenous. This article offers two arguments: (1) in the colonial era, notions of indigenous identity configured efforts to improve and regulate daily life—or, to achieve development; and (2) through changing historical contexts, the built environment is used as a medium for defining Colcan indigeneity, deploying it to generate strategic knowledge and regulatory force, and investing it with the potential for various kinds of salvation. This approach suggests that transnational paradigms do not simply “touch down,” but also, adjust and push existing dynamics through the local media at their disposal.

Main finding
The author argues that the contemporary public square is a site of encounter controlled and managed through power by which indigenous people seeking entrepreneurial assistance were put on display to present to investors in hopes for investment. This was done in an effort to economically improve the community; however, this development tactic, to engage a new indigenous self, masked the structurally determined needs that were evident in the village.

Description of method used in the article
Questions asked were, "how has indigeneity come to be at stake through Colca's built environment?...what is it about colonially configured public space that transforms Colcan indigeneity into a contemporary resource" in the wake of demands for "authenticity" and "traditional knowledge" in tourist, food and agricultural sectors? (pg. 97). The author drew on archival documents, archeological and historical scholarship, and interviews to support his argument.

Of practical use

Organising categories

Economic Transactions
Field Observations
Physical types
Geographic locations