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The attraction of unity: power, knowledge, and community among the Shuar of Ecuadorian Amazonia

Buitrón Arias, Natalia (2016) The attraction of unity: power, knowledge, and community among the Shuar of Ecuadorian Amazonia. PhD thesis, The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

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Abstract

This thesis is about how the Shuar, a group of people living in South-Eastern Ecuador, create centralised political institutions. Over the last century, Shuar have experienced a rapid transition from a highly mobile lifestyle based on small, fluid, politically autonomous family groups to a sedentary life in large, nucleated communities. Owing to the decline of missionary involvement, the gradual loss of power of the ethnic federations, and drastic changes in the subsistence base, Shuar have also become increasingly reliant on state-derived resources, secured by their participation in electoral politics. Based on long-term fieldwork within a network of forest sedentary communities, the thesis explores how Shuar seek to organise themselves in order to live together peacefully and to benefit from public resources while keeping the state at bay. It shows how Shuar have acted creatively to institute new forms of centralised political association which enable them to suppress longstanding antagonistic relations while still prioritising personal and domestic autonomy. Through their management of sedentary communities and their appropriation of external institutions such as schools and government offices, Shuar effectively regenerate domestic wellbeing and valued forms of selfhood. At the same time, they create new political categories and individual identities. The interplay between everyday sociality and consciously created political collectivity reveals the importance of two contrasting but interlinked processes: the flexible shifting back and forth between centralised and decentralised social arrangements; and the emergence of increasingly formalised ways of organising collective life, along with inflexible forms of inequality that escape internal control. By showing how processes of institutionalisation can result in increased formalisation and stratification, but also in social fluidity and political improvisation, the thesis contributes to the broader anthropological understanding of state formation and the political imagination.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2016 Natalia Buitrón Arias
Library of Congress subject classification: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
Sets: Departments > Anthropology
Supervisor: Astuti, Rita and Walker, Harry
URI: http://etheses.lse.ac.uk/id/eprint/3376

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