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Living through forms: similarity, knowledge and gender among the Pastaza Runa (Ecuadorian Amazon)

Mezzenzana, Francesca (2015) Living through forms: similarity, knowledge and gender among the Pastaza Runa (Ecuadorian Amazon). PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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In this thesis I explore the knowledge practices of the Pastaza Runa, an indigenous group of the Ecuadorian Amazon. A central claim in my work is that processes of knowledge acquisition among the Runa involve an acknowledgement that human bodies, as well as non-human ones, share a network of ‘likeness’. This is not to be located specifically in the possession of a soul nor in the ‘shared’ substance of the body. For the Runa, humans share with non-humans specific ‘patterns’ of action, which I call ‘forms’. Things can affect humans (and vice versa) because they share a certain formal resemblance. Such resemblance is not found in discrete entities, but rather in the movements between entities. As such, forms cannot be reduced to the physicality of a singular body: they are subject-less and inherently dynamic. The concept of forms developed in this thesis seeks to think about the relationship between human and objects in ways which go beyond ideas of ensoulment or subjectification. Such focus is central to my analysis of the relationship between humans and objects, and, in particular, between women and their ceramic pots. I explore the connection between women and pots by following closely the sequences of elaboration of ceramic vessels. Pottery making is intimately linked to women’s capacity for engendering novelty. I suggest that, for the Runa, the differentiation between women and men is not ‘made’ but rather given a priori. The ‘givenness’ of this difference has major implications for what one - as a Runa woman or man - can know or do. Thus, I explore how women, by virtue of their capacity for giving birth, are thought to be ‘inherently’ inclined towards ‘exteriority’. By virtue of such ‘outward’ propensity, women need to engage in processes of making knowledge visible to the eyes of others. This ‘exteriorizing’ process has important consequences for the ways men and women are respectively thought to become ‘acculturated’. Ultimately this work also aims to examine how processes of ‘change’ - a key concept in Amazonian cosmologies - are inevitably gender inflected.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2015 Francesca Mezzenzana
Library of Congress subject classification: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
Sets: Departments > Anthropology
Supervisor: Walker, Harry and Scott, Michael W.

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