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The path of the senses: kinship, intimacy and sensory experience in Pehuen Mapu, Chile

Piña A., Gabriela (2019) The path of the senses: kinship, intimacy and sensory experience in Pehuen Mapu, Chile. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004236


Based on fieldwork among indigenous Pehuenche people living in the Andes in southern Chile, this thesis comprises an ethnographic exploration of intimate relationships that begin in Pehuenche households and expand outwards through various shared spaces. It shows how the shared sensorial experiences of these places act as vehicles for sociality and how children are introduced into these social dynamics. The first part of the thesis is primarily concerned with interactions that take place inside the house and examines how Pehuenche people engage in relationships with their closest kin inside the family home and with other households. It begins with an analysis of mate drinking, which affects the drinkers’ perception of time and allows them to cultivate affectionate horizontal relations with each other. It then turns to the way in which the Pehuenche move beyond their households and expand their relationships through visiting and hosting as a key way of cultivating voluntary relationships. Next, the thesis provides an analysis of marriage and the potential conflict that arises between the traditionally hierarchical parent-child relation and the fostering of personal agency in partner selection. Together, these three chapters delineate a model of horizontal, voluntary, and caring relationships that I argue are strongly rooted in shared sensorial experiences, which are key for navigating hierarchy, the threat of witchcraft attacks as well as cultural change. The second part of the thesis expands outwards to consider sociality in settings further afield, notably the forest, the state school, and the Nguillatun fertility ritual. Pehuenche people routinely engage in relationships with non-human entities during their seasonal migration to the uncultivated forest, where children acquire traditional Pehuenche knowledge, skills, and ways of relating to the landscape. The state school, meanwhile, is effectively a hybrid space in which the model of relationships cultivated inside the household is confronted with practices of assimilation pushing people to blend into mainstream Chilean culture. This causes conflict between the community and school staff. Finally, through participation in the Ngillatun fertility ritual, and especially the sensorial experiences it entails, the Pehuenche are able to go beyond one-to-one bonds to establish a relation with their whole ritual community. The thesis contributes to anthropological understandings of Amerindian kinship and sociality by underscoring the role of shared sensorial experiences in creating relatedness that is grounded in the body but not necessarily on consubstantiality. It shows how sensory experiences comprise a thread connecting together Pehuenche understandings of similarity and difference, cooperation and amity.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2019 Gabriela Piña A.
Library of Congress subject classification: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GT Manners and customs
Sets: Departments > Anthropology
Supervisor: Astuti, Rita and Walker, Harry

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