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Contested Identities: Urbanisation and Indigenous Identity in the Ecuadorian Amazon

O'Driscoll, Emma (2015) Contested Identities: Urbanisation and Indigenous Identity in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (KAR id:47959)

Language: English
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This thesis is a study of indigenous urbanisation and ethnic identity in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Taking as its focus Shuar urban residents of the rainforest city Sucúa, it argues that urban indigenous residents feel simultaneously more and less ‘indigenous’ than their more ‘rural’ counterparts.

On the one hand, the experience of living in a multiethnic city, on the ‘boundary’ of the Shuar ethnic group (Barth 1969), increases urban Shuar residents’ awareness of their ethnic identity, as Shuar and as ‘indigenous’. Furthermore, they want to identify as indigenous, as they are aware of the value that is placed on this identity by, for example, international organisations, NGOs, environmental activists, eco-tourism agencies, and indigenous political leaders. On the other hand, indigenous identity in urban areas is formed via a ‘play of mirrors’ (Novaes 1997) as a result of which urban Shuar are exposed to a variety of contradictory perspectives on what it means to be ‘indigenous’. These tend towards romanticisation and exoticisation of indigenous peoples as ‘ecologically noble savages’ (Redford 1993), creating the image of a ‘hyperreal Indian’ (Ramos 1992) that urban Shuar cannot hope to emulate. This leads many urban Shuar residents to feel that they are ‘not indigenous enough’. Nevertheless, with increased international migration and rising levels of education and professional achievement, a new urban indigenous middle class is acquiring the economic, cultural and social capital (Bourdieu 1984) to throw off the ‘burden of heritage’ (Olwig 1999) and determine for themselves what it means to be ‘indigenous’. Finally, I argue in this thesis for an anthropology of Amazonia that addresses the significant changes which are taking place in Amazonian peoples’ lives. If we continue to depict Amazonian groups as isolated, small-scale societies existing in an eternal ‘ethnographic present’ (Rubenstein 2002) we risk ignoring or misrepresenting the very real challenges and transformations that are increasingly facing our informants.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Peluso, Daniela
Uncontrolled keywords: indigenous, Ecuador, Amazon, Shuar, identity, urbanisation, ethnicity
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
Divisions: Faculties > Social Sciences > School of Anthropology and Conservation
Depositing User: Users 1 not found.
Date Deposited: 13 Apr 2015 10:01 UTC
Last Modified: 20 Jan 2020 04:06 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
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