Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

The Politics of Isolation: Refused Relation as an Emerging Regime of Indigenous Biolegitimacy

  • Lucas Bessire (a1)

This essay describes the politics of voluntary isolation, an emerging category of indigeneity predicated on a form of human life that exists outside of history, the market, and wider networks of social connection. It traces a recent controversy around one such “isolated” population—Ayoreo-speaking people in the Paraguayan Gran Chaco—to suggest how these politics of isolation may represent a new regime of what Didier Fassin has called “biolegitimacy,” or the uneven political parsing and authorization of valid human life, within global formations of indigeneity. Here, I identify how international human rights law, multiculturalist state policies, humanitarian NGO programs, and genetic science all share an investment in the moral defense of isolated life. I explore how this investment may divide the kind of humanity authorized or claimed as “indigenous” into opposing legitimacies that are set against one another and vertically ranked. The essay argues that what is at stake in this process is not merely a new technique of the self or the enduring romance of the primitive, but the redistribution of the meaning and value assigned to those domains of human life imagined in opposition to social relation itself.

Corresponding author
Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Robert Albró . 2006. The Indigenous in the Plural in Bolivian Oppositional Politics. Bulletin of Latin American Research 24, 4: 433–53.

Lucas Bessire . 2011. Apocalyptic Futures: The Violent Transformation of Moral Human Life among Ayoreo-Speaking People of the Paraguayan Gran Chaco. American Ethnologist 38, 4: 743–57.

Judith Butler . 2006. Critique, Coercion and Sacred Life in Benjamin's Critique of Violence. In Hent de Vries and Lawrence E. Sullivan , eds., Political Theologies: Public Religions in a Post-Secular World. New York: Fordham University Press, 201–19.

Paul Chodoff . 1970. The German Concentration Camp as a Psychological Stress. Archives of General Psychiatry 22, 1: 7887.

Jean Comaroff and John Comaroff . 2003. Ethnography on an Awkward Scale: Postcolonial Anthropology and the Violence of Abstraction. Ethnography 4, 2: 147–79.

Marc de Wilde . 2006. Violence in the State of Exception: Reflections on Theologico-Political Motifs in Benjamin and Schmitt. In Hent de Vries and Lawrence E. Sullivan , eds., Political Theologies: Public Religions in a Post-Secular World. New York: Fordham University Press, 188200.

C. Dornelles , J. Battilana , N. Fagundes , L. Freitas , S. Bonatto , and F. Salzano . 2004. Mitochondrial DNA and Alu Insertions in a Genetically Peculiar Population: The Ayoreo Indians of Bolivia and Paraguay. American Journal of Human Biology 16, 4: 479–88.

Sidney Dos Santos , Elezemar Ribero-Rodrigues , Andrea Ribero-dos-Santos , and Mara Hutz . 2009. Autosomal STR Analyses in Native Amazonian Tribes Suggest a Population Structure Driven by Isolation by Distance. Human Biology 81, 1: 7188.

Didier Fassin . 2009. Another Politics of Life Is Possible. Theory, Culture, and Society 26, 5: 4460.

William Fisher . 1997. Doing Good? The Politics and Antipolitics of NGO Practices. Annual Review of Anthropology 26: 439–64.

A. S. Goicoechea , F. R. Carnese , C. Dejean , and S. A. Avena . 2001. New Genetic Data on Amerindians from the Paraguayan Chaco. American Journal of Human Biology 13: 660–67.

Gaston Gordillo . 2004. Landscapes of Devils: Tensions of Place and Memory in the Argentinean Chaco. Durham: Duke University Press.

Akhil Gupta and James Ferguson . 1997. Beyond Culture: Space, Identity, and the Politics of Difference. In Akhil Gupta and James Ferguson , eds., Culture, Power, Place: Explorations in Critical Anthropology. Durham: Duke University Press, 3352.

A. C. Hudock 2000. NGOs’ Seat at the Donor Table: Enjoying the Food or Serving the Dinner?IDS Bulletin 31, 3: 1418.

David Hulme and Michael Edwards , eds. 1997. NGOs, States and Donors: Too Close for Comfort? New York: St. Martin's Press.

Jean Jackson . 1995. Culture, Genuine and Spurious: The Politics of Indianness in the Vaupes, Colombia. American Ethnologist 22, 1: 327.

Jean Jackson and Kay Warren . 2005. Indigenous Movements in Latin America, 1992–2004: Controversies, Ironies and New Directions. Annual Review of Anthropology 34: 549–73.

Inge Kaul , Isabelle Grunberg , and Marc Stern . 1999. Introduction. In Inge Kaul , Isabelle Grunberg , and Marc Stern , eds., Global Public Goods: International Cooperation in the 21st Century. Oxford: Oxford University Press, xix–xxxviii.

Will Kymlicka . 1996. Multicultural Citizenship. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Luisa Maffi . 2005. Linguistic, Cultural and Biological Diversity. Annual Review of Anthropology 34: 599617.

Shaylih Muehlmann . 2009. How Do Real Indians Fish? Neoliberal Multiculturalism and Contested Indigeneities in the Colorado Delta. American Anthropologist 111, 4: 468–79.

Fred Myers . 1988. Locating Ethnographic Practice: Romance, Reality and Politics in the Outback. American Ethnologist 15, 4: 609–24.

Fred Myers . 2004. Ontologies of the Image and Economies of Exchange. American Ethnologist 31, 1: 520.

Dora Napolitano and Aliya Ryan . 2007. The Dilemma of Contact: Voluntary Isolation and the Impacts of Gas Exploitation on Health and Rights in the Kugapakori Nahua Reserve, Peruvian Amazon. Environmental Research Letters 2, 4: 112.

Andrew Nickson and Peter Lambert . 2002. State Reform and the ‘Privatized State’ in Paraguay. Public Administration and Development 22, 2: 163–74.

A. A. Perez-Diez and F. M. Salzano . 1978. Evolutionary Implications of the Ethnography and Demography of Ayoreo Indians. Journal of Human Evolution 7: 253–68.

Marshall Sahlins . 1993. Goodbye Tristes Tropes: Ethnography in the Context of the Modern World System. Journal of Modern History 65: 125.

Ricardo Ventura Santos . 2002. Indigenous Peoples, Postcolonial Contexts and Genomic Research in the Late 20th Century: A View from Amazonia (1960–2000). Critique of Anthropology 22, 1: 81104.

Ricardo Ventura Santos and Marcos Chor Maio . 2004. Race, Genomics, Identities and Politics in Contemporary Brazil. Critique of Anthropology 24, 4: 347–78.

Ismail Serageldin . 1999. Cultural Heritage as Public Good: Economic Analysis Appplied to Historic Cities. In Inge Kaul , Isabelle Grunberg , and Marc Stern , eds., Global Public Goods: International Cooperation in the 21st Century. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 240–63.

Rachel Sieder . 2002. Introduction. In Rachel Sieder , ed., Multiculturalism in Latin America: Indigenous Rights, Diversity and Democracy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Ann Laura Stoler . 2008. Imperial Debris: Reflections on Ruins and Ruination. Cultural Anthropology 23, 2: 191219.

Michael Taussig . 1987. Shamanism, Colonialism and the Wild Man: A Study in Terror and Healing. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Loïc Wacquant . 2010. Class, Race & Hyperincarceration in Revanchist America. Daedalus 139, 3: 7490.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Comparative Studies in Society and History
  • ISSN: 0010-4175
  • EISSN: 1475-2999
  • URL: /core/journals/comparative-studies-in-society-and-history
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 13
Total number of PDF views: 51 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 239 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 23rd July 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.