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The afterlife of abundance: wageless life, politics, and illusion among the Guaraní of the Argentine Chaco

Diz, Agustin (2016) The afterlife of abundance: wageless life, politics, and illusion among the Guaraní of the Argentine Chaco. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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In Argentina, indigenous populations have been marginalised from the nation-state’s projects of enfranchisement even though their labour has often been in high demand. The Guaraní of the Argentine Gran Chaco are a case in point. Once highly involved in the extractive frontier economy of the region, they have had very little access to broader political projects of belonging. Over the last few years, however, this historical trend has been reversed. On the one hand, Guaraní settlements currently constitute a surplus population whose labour is no longer demanded by the regional economy. On the other, state-sponsored cash transfer programmes secure the subsistence of Guaraní families while multicultural legislation has sought to enfranchise them in new ways. At the local level, these simultaneous processes of inclusion and exclusion have created a series of tensions and contradictions that mark everyday life. To investigate these processes, this thesis explores the various motivations, opportunities, and challenges that characterise the political and economic life of Guaraní settlements. It considers the gendered impacts of unemployment and welfare dependency at the settlement level and analyses the ways in which autonomy and dependency play out in local politics. This leads to an ethnographic exploration of factional conflict and to an appreciation of how people negotiate legal projects of institutionalisation. It is shown that practices of egalitarianism, hierarchy, autonomy, and representation are intertwined with ideas about gender, work, and plurality. The thesis argues that a concern with abundance lies at the heart of Guaraní life. Two subjunctive moments – an annual harvest celebration and the game of football – are explored as particular instances in which the Guaraní appear to attain such desirable states of abundance; at the same time, it is argued that these moments create a space of ‘illusion’ wherein the gendered ties of dependency and control that underpin abundance are fundamentally misrecognised. The thesis elaborates a theory of Amerindian political economy in which wageless life and abundance partially displace more classic themes of labour and scarcity. In doing so it provides new understandings of how collectivities are fashioned among subaltern populations, while highlighting how inclusion and exclusion are achieved and experienced in the everyday.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2016 Agustin Diz
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Sets: Departments > Anthropology
Supervisor: Walker, Harry and James, Deborah

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