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The Devil in Nationalism: Indigenous Heritage and the Challenges of Decolonization

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 July 2016

Michelle Bigenho
Colgate University, Hamilton, NY, United States
Henry Stobart
Royal HollowayUniversity of London, London, United Kingdom


In 2006, Bolivians began living under their first indigenous president and undergoing an explicitly pro-indigenous “process of change,” alongside much rhetoric of indigenous autonomy and state “decolonization.” However, this article suggests that this same government’s twenty-first century policies regarding intangible heritage and “culture” hardly mark a departure from mid-twentieth-century mestizo-dominated liberal nationalist projects. Through the ethnography of disputed cultural claims to folklore, such as those with Peru involving the devil dance, this article examines how proprietary nationalism is experienced and expressed among certain Bolivians. For example, indignant internationally touring folklore workers imagine a hyperreal scarcity of specific expressions that have become framed as “cultural resources” for the nation. Indeed, it is common to hear propertied language employed when international disputes heat up, as cultural images circulate at high speeds through social networks and digital media. Within these media platforms, the visual sensory mode often overshadows aural and kinesthetic ones, as socially interwoven music and dance expressions fade into the background and stand-alone images of spectacular costumes move forward.

Research Article
Copyright © International Cultural Property Society 2016 

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