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Changing places. Visual ways of escaping from the functionalist-essentialist paradigms of identity

This talk addresses the problem of how to escape, methodologically, from ongoing functionalist-essentialist approaches to culture and identity, whether through the “culture area” approach, or the many kinds of regional analysis which tend to define the units under study in terms of allegedly homogenous attributes, either natural or social.

Functionalist-essentialist approaches to culture and identity have constructed boundaries around cultures, societies or civilizations that then become the “cases” for the study of social change. In Bolivia, this approach has been at the forefront of state attempts to control populations and linguistic groups, so defined, and distinguish them from neighbouring groups, with disastrous consequences of heightened xenophobia in the face of external influences, and conflictive forms of indigenous and regional nationalisms. Many alternatives to this “culture areas” approach over the past decades have derived from a re-thinking of world systems theory, developed originally by Wallerstein in 1974. The advantage of this method is that it also takes into account differences, as well as the negotiations between differences and identities that occur in the intercultural relations on the frontiers between groups, whether through trade, conquest, language contact or simply ongoing socio-cultural relations. One problem then is how to map this dynamic approach to identities and differences. We take the formation of Andean ayllus through time as a case in point.


Dr Denise Arnold | talks


Date and Time:

12 February 2008 at 6:30 pm


2 hours



Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities
Birkbeck, University of London
Malet Street
020 3073 8363

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