Group Members:
Andrew Curley, Department of Development Sociology
Laura Martin, Department of Natural Resources
Morgan Ruelle, Department of Natural Resources
Michelle Baumflek, Department of Natural Resources
Ashley Smith, Department of Anthropology
Paul Nadasdy, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology

Our graduate student reading group will continue its investigation of indigenous responses to liberalism through extending core insights from our previous readings into an examination of indigenous responses to state formation, environmental change, identity formation and “development” today. From our last year’s group readings we’ve produced two basic insights: 1) the indigenous and the colonizer are mutually constituting on opposite ends of the colonial encounter; and 2) as political boundaries crystallize, colonies become states and indigenous groups become tribes. To further these insights, we will draw on new literature that highlights different colonial dynamics from those of last year’s readings. This literature will be selected in such a way as to examine social topics that transgress our subject and can be found in other social contexts outside of indigenous responses to liberalism broadly speaking. These topics are: state-formation, the environment, environmental governance, identity-formation, development and development contestation.

Our first goal is to account for some of the complex conditions and experiences with which we find indigenous peoples today, from tribe-formation to the creation of autonomous regions, minority repression, attempted genocides, (en)forced marginality and displacement. States and indigenous reactions to states will carry forward the thread of indigenous responses to liberalism initiated in our first year’s reading group.

Our second goal is to account for some of the ways in which indigenous peoples are responding to environmental change and, more specifically, environmental governance. The ways in which indigenous groups respond to states and state-formation have bearing on what tools and options are available for indigenous groups to respond to environmental threats, both old and new. This area of focus will take us into the newest realms of contestation between indigenous groups and colonialism and demonstrate how liberal discourses are being reconstituted in different ways in this era of climate change.

Our third goal is to stress the shifting nature of identity formation in these areas. Through strategic deployment of identity (or “strategic essentialism”) indigenous peoples have created new tools for addressing continued processes of colonialism.

Our fourth consideration is to bring the following three insights into discourses on development and its discontents. The colonial encounter and subjugation of indigenous peoples has been re-imagined and proved much more efficient through “development” projects. Development is how capitalism and colonial processes of subjugation and exploitation originally began under the rhetoric of liberalism and is how they largely continue today.

As is shown in this proposal, extending our understanding of indigenous responses to liberalism must address the new ways and the new forms in which liberalism and indigenousness continue to encounter one another. Through examination of these four topic areas, we will show how indigenousness and colonialism are mutually constituting but at the same time work in opposition to one another.


Group Members:
Rafael Acosta Morales, Department of Romance Studies 
Alyssa Clutterbuck, Africana Studies and Research Center
Jamila Crowther, Department of Anthropology
Armando Garcia, Department of Romance Studies 
Polly Nordstrand, Department of History of Art and Visual Studies
Bradley Pecore, Department of History of Art and Visual Studies
Holiday Powers, Department of History of Art and Visual Studies

This reading group is aimed at deconstructing the violent implications of modernity for indigenous peoples and (re)considering how indigeneity constitutes resistance to a 500-year history of European imperialism that persists. Our conceptualization of indigeneity is global and comparatively examines indigenous movements to think about the potentiality for reflective connections while contemplating the complexities of each local and political context. While we focus particularly on the Americas, we also examine New Zealand, Australia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Our project will consider the intellectual life of indigeneity and the ways in which indigenous thought survives and expands. This includes attention to the suppression and erasure of indigenous epistemologies and histories; indigenous visual culture and the visuality of indigeneity; indigenous interpretations of the meaning of history; and the role of transculturation on the dispersion and survival of indigenous philosophies and thought. We also consider the ways in which indigenous alterities and resistance reveal the limitations of the nation-state, a concept that has evolved with little (if any) attention to the impact of such a system on indigenous peoples.


Group Members:
Fernando Aguirre Pérez, Department of Romance Studies
Ricardo Arribas, Department of Comparative Literature
Karen Benezra, Department of Romance Studies
Federico Fridman, Department of Romance Studies
Pablo Pérez Wilson, Department of Romance Studies
Kyong-Min Son, Department of Government
Osvaldo de la Torre, Department of Romance Studies
Zachary Zimmer, Department of Romance Studies

Our group proposes to establish a cultural and theoretical meeting point in which to discuss the structural, social and economic changes brought about by late capitalism in Latin America. We take as our point of departure the so-called crises of the Left and of the hegemonic model of the national popular that have tended to mark the understanding of modernity, modernization and modernism within Latin Americanism over the last twenty-five years. The failure of the project of modernization and its cultural counterparts, most often associated with the military dictatorships of the 1960s and 70s, would produce a critique of such culture to the point of exhaustion.

The question that we pose is thus: what theoretical discussions can emerge or resurface during or after such purported crises? Questions such as the rise of bureaucratic power and the managerial class, the role of new technology and the bio-political and religious origins of state and subjectivity remain inadequately addressed by the existing tradition of Latin Americanist cultural criticism and have thus prompted our formulation of the following questions.

State, Peoplehood and Populism 

To what extent do recent political experiences such as those of MAS in Bolivia or Chavist populism in Venezuela demand a re-examination of the theoretical and historical grounds for national sovereignty, law and constitutional theory? Alternatively, if neo-populist movements demand a new understanding of the popular itself, to what degree does the reintroduction of categories such as class and ontology help us to uncover historical and theoretical problems obscured by the paradigm of transculturation and its critique?

Political Subjectivity from Governance to Affect

One of the legacies of the modernizing projects of the state in Latin America is the prominence of racial and biological categories in the constitution of its citizenry. The changing articulation of power over the last thirty years thus demands a re-examination of the processes of subjective constitution with respect to affect, sense and life vis-à-vis the political realm. In shifting our focus from the problem of the nation to that of the state, we are also prompted to ask how indeed to approach the critical or symptomatic value of culture within this framework.

Latin America and the Utopian Imaginary

The foundational role of Spanish and Portuguese imperialism in the conception of European modernity begs a reconsideration of the real, historical function of Latin America in its imaginary. Conversely, we are also interested in the constitution of community in neoliberal and networked societies, as well as in the digital and cooperative aesthetic forms that it assumes. We seek to interrogate the political horizons and notions of community to which such projects give rise as well as the globalizing legal regime through which they function. Such new political projects thus also force us to ask both if and how to address such experiences through the framework of national or regional particularity and thus to question the immanence of Latin America to the articulation of late capitalism.


Group Members:
Christopher Ahn, Department of Asian Studies
Akiko Ishii, Department of History
Samson Lim, Department of History
Hajimu Masuda, Department of History
Honghong Tinn, Department of Science and Technology Studies
Chunyen Wang, Department of Theater, Film and Dance
Suman Seth, Assistant Professor, Department of Science and Technology Studies

We approach modernity by examining authorities’ and people’s desires and demands for making society intelligible. Such phenomena appeared as the categorization of people and materials at home and abroad—an experience common to East and Southeast Asian and American societies as each attempted to re-organize their domestic social order, as well as the political, colonial, and cold war frameworks of thought through which they could imagine this order. In investigating such transnational attempts at constructing modernity, we raise a simple question: who makes modernity? This inquiry is indeed not new. Earlier studies have raised the question, stressing the roles of the West, elites, and states in making modernity. By revisiting this theme, we hope to go beyond this standard formula by emphasizing a broader set of actors –everyday people who create popular discourses of modernity.

Each member of the group is looking at local actors and conditions that have been undertheorized in some way, especially in analyses of modernity, which often focus more generally on distinctions between the “West and the Rest.” Our focus is not on diffusion or inheritance of a singular style. Rather, we investigate the simultaneous materialization of modernity in multiple locations and the way in which this modernity spread and took hold through the agency of local actors. That is, local manifestations of what it means to be modern formed the basis of a shared experience of modernity in Western, as well as in Asian societies.

If our first theme is a critique of the West-to-East diffusion model, our second is a reassessment of an elite-led, top-to-bottom diffusion model. While earlier studies have emphasized the role played by elites and states—with emphasis on education, propaganda, and censorship—we hope to complicate this understanding by examining more diverse forms of social, cultural, and technological truth-making processes through which not only authorities but also people collaboratively and inseparably sought to make society visible, orderly, administrable, and controllable. The group’s members, thus, look into how elites, scientists, engineers, novelists, and ordinary people in multiple locations have visualized and materialized varieties of modernity.

While inquiring into “who makes modernity” however, we are not aiming to confirm the traditional binaries of West/East and state/civil society. Rather, our interest has more to do with whether the inclusion of “new” sets of actors and conditions will have important consequences on how we theorize the formation of modernity. How have we recognized or erased certain actors who participate in the construction of modernity? In a sense, our question concerning modernity is from the outset methodological. Our expertise with various kinds of primary materials in our respective dissertation research projects in a variety of fields—from government documents, census reports, technical reports, public health statistics, to investigative reports of rumors, as well as local newspapers, cartoons, fictions, theater, street performance, and people’s letters—will be extremely useful in providing reference points while discussing our readings, and in revealing various specific experiences of modernity and its remarkable simultaneity.

Asking “who makes modernity” opens up an important new endeavor in the study of modernity. By suggesting an on-going and conflictual process that includes—and, perhaps sometimes is even driven by—non-state actors, including ordinary people, we are hoping to explore another dimension of modernity that may shed light on the popular formation of modernity, attempts that go beyond the existing, dominant understanding of what it means to be modern.