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Stefano Varese, Eulogy of Utopian Praxis: From Dystopian Reality to the Research of Hope (LASA, 2013)

Stefano Varese, Eulogy of Utopian Praxis: From Dystopian Reality to the Research of Hope (LASA, 2013)

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Published by José Ragas
Discurso de recepción del antropólogo peruano y profesor de UC Davis Stefano Varese al LASA / Oxfam America 2012 Martin Diskin Memorial Lectureship.
Discurso de recepción del antropólogo peruano y profesor de UC Davis Stefano Varese al LASA / Oxfam America 2012 Martin Diskin Memorial Lectureship.

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Published by: José Ragas on Aug 14, 2013
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tofeelwhatoneSpanishphilosopher(UnamunoorOrtegayGasset?)called“generationalsolitude”—thatmysticalsentimentthatmakesitdifcultformetoremovefrommyaddressbooknamesandaddresses(evene-mailaddresses)offriendsandcolleaguesthathavecrossedtheriverandleftusbehindtowonderaboutthemysteriesofcosmicjustice.Indaprofoundsenseofjusticeintheprogressivelossofvitalenergythatestablishesthenaturalchronologyofbiologicaldecayofeachoneofusinthecompanyofallourrelatives:theanimals,birds,sh,insects,amoebas,andallotherentitiestangibleandintangiblethatconstituteourpreciouscosmology.WhatIndmoredifculttograspandacceptisthearbitraryandcapriciousearlydeath—bycaraccidentandbychronicdisease—oftwointellectualactivistswhoselongerlivesandpoliticalandsocialactivitieswouldhavebetteredtheworldforallofus.MartinDiskinandGuillermoBonlBatallabelongtothesamegenerationasMexicanandLatinAmericananthropologist-activistsRodolfoStavenhagen,SalomónNahmad,NemesioRodríguezMitchell,andmyself,andengagedNorthAmericansocialanthropologistMichaelKearney.Wewereallbornbetween1930and1940inLatinAmerica,Europe,ortheUnitedStates.Wegrewupinthehighlycontestedpost-WWIIPaxAmericana,wewereallsubjectedtoanticommunistbrainwashinganditsmiseducationalprocess,andweallhadtosortoutinourearlyreadingbetweenthebourgeoisinterpretationoftheworldandthesocialist(Marxist)rewritingofhistory.Wehadtobuildourcosmologyinthecontested,bipolar,andcontradictorydomainsoftheutopianhopefulnessofsocialismandthedystopianresignationofliberalcapitalism.Wewerestronglyinuencedbythepreviousgenerationofthinkersborninthedecade1920–1930:Later,IpublishedtheshorthomageinSpanishasanarticlein
Desacatos
,thescholarlyjournalofCIESAS-IstmoofOaxaca(theCentrodeInvestigacionesyEstudiosSuperioresenAntropologíaSocial).
1
WhatIintendedtodointhathomage,besidesretracingtheparallelanthropologicalpathsofDiskinandBonl,wastoaskwhyinthepastonehundredyearsofanthropologyintheAmericas,especiallyintheUnitedStates,wehaveseensofewexamplesofsociopoliticallycommittedactivistanthropologistssuchasMartinDiskinandGuillermoBonl.Whywasitsohardtondnamesandlifehistoriesofscholarsandintellectualsthatwouldresonateamongthepoor,theunderprivileged,thecommoners,thepeasants,andtheindigenouspeopleasmuchasthelivesofDiskinandBonldid?Irealizethatinourageofimpersonalglobalization,anonymoustransitthroughexistenceasonemorecommodityorasamercantileelectronicpersonalivingtheillusionofworldfamethroughacomputermonitor,itisbecomingincreasinglydifculttoextricaterealpeoplefromthecybernetoftheanonymousandfamousimpersonators
.
Books,articles,writtendocuments,declarations,poems,andespeciallypopularoralstorytellingarestillthesourcesthroughwhichwemustreconstructthelifehistoriesandintellectualjourneysofstubbornthinkersandobstinateactivistslikeDiskinandBonl.ThesenamesandtheirmemoriesarelivingintheMiskitoandCreolecommunitiesofNicaraguaandintheZapotec,Mixtec,Maya,Pur’epechaanddozensofotherindigenousand
mestizo
pueblosofMexico,CentralAmerica,andtheUnitedStatesasproofofAntonioGramsci’sassertionthatpopularmemoryistrueandthereforealwaysrevolutionary.HavingagedinsynchronywithDiskinandBonl,attheirprematuredeathsIstarted
2013 lasa/oxfam america martin diskin lecture
EulogyofUtopianPraxis:FromDystopianRealitytotheResearchofHope
by
s
teFaNo
v
arese
|UniversityofCalifornia,Davis|svarese@ucdavis.edu�
IamgratefulandextremelyhonoredtohavebeennamedrecipientoftheLASA/ OxfamAmerica2013MartinDiskinMemorialLectureship.Iamverypleasedbythishonorbecauseofmylong-standingandloyalmembershipandparticipationinLASA,oneofthebestprofessionalassociationsofsocialstudiesandthehumanitiesinthehemisphere.IthankthemembersoftheSelectionCommittee:ChairAldoPanchiHuamán,ofthePonticiaUniversidadCatólicadelPerú(myalmamater);PeterH.Smith,oftheUniversityofCalifornia,SanDiego;RichardO.Snyder,ofBrownUniversity;andGabrielleWatson,ofOxfamAmerica.IalsothankMilagrosPereyra,ExecutiveDirectorofLASA,andthefriendsandaudiencegatheredhere.Special
abrazos cariñosos
toVilunya,Leah,andAaronDiskin,incelebrationofthoseyearsspentinSanFelipedelAgua,Oaxaca,playinganddreaminginSpanishandEnglish.Inthefallof1998atthe21stLASAmeetingheldinChicagoIdeliveredabrieftributetotwofriendsandcolleagueswhohadleftanirreplaceableemptinessintheLatinAmericananthropologycommunity,inthecommunityofhope,andinthepersonallifeofinnumerableindigenouspeople,peasants,thepoor,and—whynot—scholars.MartinDiskinandGuillermoBonlBatallakneweachotherwellsincethe1970s,whenOaxacahadbecomethehomeofMartinDiskinandhisfamily—hiswifeVilunyaandchildrenLeahandAaron—andwhenMexicananthropologywasbeingsweptbytheinnovativeinitiativesofGuillermoBonl,who,asdirectoroftheINAH,theInstitutoNacionaldeAntropologíaeHistoria,wasdecentralizingtheinstitution,sendingteamsofsocialscientiststothe
México profundo
 
thatlayhiddenundertheofcialmirageofmodernizationandtheexpansionofthecorporatemarketeconomy.
lasaforum
summer 2013 : volume xliv : issue 3
8
 
postwarNicaraguawithaprofoundsenseofhumanity,justice,unprejudiceddialogicability,andadown-to-earthandelegantsenseofhumorthatIlateridentiedaspartofhisJewishheritage.WhatIsawinDiskinintheAtlanticCoastofNicaraguawaspraxisatlargeinthetrueoriginalAristoteliansense:
 praxeis
supportedby
theoria
and
 poiesis
.Knowledgeinitsthreebasickinds:theoretical,practical,andpoietic(theproductionofsomething,inthiscasethesuperbLASAReportonthehumanrightssituationintheAtlanticCoastofNicaragua).IdonotknowforsureiftheLASAReportwastakenseriouslyintoconsiderationbytheSandinistagovernment.IknowthatsometimelaterImetbrieyComandanteTomásBorgesandotherSandinistaofcials,andthattheattitudeoftheNicaraguansfromthePacicCoastregardingtheindigenousandcreolepeoplesoftheAtlantichadgonethrougharadicalchange,admittingaseriesofmisjudgmentsandethnopoliticalerrorscommittedbytheSandinistasduetotheirignoranceoftheanthropologicalrealityoftheAtlanticCoast.HereImuststopforamomentandmakeaspecialtributetotwoyoungeractivistanthropologistswhoplayedafundamentalroleinpromotingademocraticpoliticalprocessofethnicpluralityinNicaragua(andotherpartsofLatinAmerica):CharlesHaleandEdmundGordon(bothattheUniversityofTexas,Austin,andbothactivistmembersofLASA).Nicaraguainthe1980s—likePeruandChileinthe1970s,ElSalvadorinthe1980sand1990s,andthefourdecadesofgenocidalwarinGuatemala—becameatestinggroundforanthropologistsandothersocialscientiststochoosebetweensocialjusticeandculturalandpoliticaldemocracyortheprofessionalrewardsofvoluntaryexile.Thetwodecadesof1960and1980werelostinLatinAmericaforanyopen,progressivesocialmovement.Militarydictatorshipsrulingbytorture,death,anddisappearancestookbrutalcontroloftwo-thirdsofthecontinentandmillionsofhumanbeings,puttingonasilverplatetheresourcesandthesubjugatedlaborforcesofourcountriestobeusedbycorporatecapitalandthevariousRepublicanorDemocratadministrationsoftheUnitedStates.ThePaxAmericanaalreadystainedbythewarinVietnam
 
becameunbearablybloodyinLatinAmerica.Intheearly1980sIaccompaniedMartinDiskintotheAtlanticCoastofNicaraguainafact-ndingmissionofaLASATaskForcechargedwithanalyzingthehumanrightssituationoftheindigenousandcreolecommunities.
2
ThemilitaryactionsoftheContras,supportedandnancedbytheReaganadministration,hadwounddownandtheSandinistagovernmentwasreshapingtherelationsofthecentralrevolutionarygovernmentofNicaraguawiththeemergingindigenousforcesseekingtheregionalautonomyoftheAtlanticCoast.InmysomewhatarrogantnaivetéasanactivistanthropologistwhohadworkedfortherevolutionarygovernmentofJuanVelascoAlvaradoinPeruoftheearly1970s,andwithayoungerbrotherwhohadfoughtasan“internationalist”withtheSandinistainsurgentsandreachedahigh-rankingmilitarypositionintheSandinistaArmy,IthoughtthattherewasverylittlethatIcouldlearnaboutactivistanthropologyfromthis“gringo”friendfromMITandOaxaca.Now,after30years,Icaneasilyconfessmycondescension—soLatinAmerican,sostereotyped,sounfair,andespeciallysoconfused.MartinDiskinguidedmethroughtheroughestandmosttroubledethnic/racialpoliticalwatersofC.WrightMillsandNoamChomskyintheUnitedStates,DarcyRibeiroandPauloFreireinBrazil,andIvanIllichinEurope,LatinAmerica,andMexico.Werecognizedthattheseintellectualswerealsoandmostimportantlypoliticalactivistswhowerewillingtorisktheiracademicstabilityandtheirprofessionallivestoputintoactionwhattheyhadunderstoodintheory.IbelievethattheMarxistideaof
 praxis
begantomakesensetoourgenerationpreciselywhenwesteppedintoeldwork(orshouldIsayintothemineeldofworkingwiththeruralandurbanpoor).Thisresearchwassupposedtobeobjective,neutral,empiricallydisinfected,andfocusedondiscretesocio-geographicalspaces:thecommunity,maybethesurroundingregion,butneverthecountryanditsnation-state,andabsolutelybynomeansthelargercontinentalandworlddimensions.IspeakinpluralpreciselybecauseasasocialscientistandahumanistIamobligedtoacknowledgethatideasandpracticesarealwayssocialandcollectiveandveryseldomthepersonalpossessionsofthesingleindividual.Praxisbecameforusliterallyfreeaction,theactivityandcreativityexercisedinfreedom,withouttherestrainingconceptualdevicesofourconformistandconventionaldiscipline.Praxis,therefore,asfreecreativeactivityforourgeneration,aimedatchangingandshapingethical,social,political,andeconomiclifeinthedirectionofamorejust,egalitarian,andhumanisticworldcommunity.Someofuschosetheparty,othersthelabormovement,otherssocialmovements,othersoccasionallyendedupworkingforrevolutionaryoratleastreformistgovernments.Andeventually,inLatinAmericasincethe1960s,mygenerationofactivist-anthropologistslandedinjailorweredeportedorin
9
 
multidisciplinaryeldofcriticalknowledgeandalternativeepistemologywheredozensofintellectualslikeVineDeloriaJr.andRobertWarrior,colleagueslikeJackForbes,DavidRisling,InésHernández-Avila,VictorMontejo,andGuillermoDelgado,andoldfriendsfromAmazonia,theAndes,andMexicoandGuatemalaaretestimonytotheenduranceandintellectualsovereigntyofancientandyettrulycontemporarypeople.Ioftenhaveaskedmyselfthisquestion:Canweabandondystopia?Whendidwestarttoneglectutopiaandassumedystopia?Whendidwebegintotakeforgrantedthattheworldweliveinisirremediablyunchangeable,thatitisagoodworldthewayitis,withafewhundredthousandpeoplelivinginimperialluxuryandbillionsofhumanbeings(andotherbeings)barelysurvivingorbecomingextinct?Whendidwestarttoacceptasnormalthat1,300internationalcorporationswithaconcentratedandpoliticallyarticulatednucleusof147companies—the“centralizedeliteofpower,”the1percentoftheworldpopulation—canruleatwillovertherestofus,thebillionsofhumansandotherbeingsthatconstituteourworld?
3
Canwe,membersofthelocalandglobalcivilsociety,continuetobeblindtothefactthatthistransnationalcorporateclassprotectsitsinternationalcapital,itsindecentlyacquiredwealth,withtheconcentratedpowerofthemilitaryempireincreasinglydenationalizedandprivatized?Inthelast50yearstherulesofthegamehavechangedradically.Inthenineteenthandearlytwentiethcentury,classandanticolonialstruggleshadclearlydemarcateddividinglinesbetweentheoppressorandtheoppressed,betweencapitalandlabor,betweenempireandcolonialsubjects,betweenpoliticalsocietyethnocentricandEurocentricinstitutions.Inasensewecansaythatactivistanthropologistsandindigenousintellectualshavemetonacommongroundofideasandactioncomingfromtwodifferentwaysofcounterhegemonicconstruction.Theintercrossingboundariesofthedifferentdisciplinesandhumanitiesthatarebroughttolifebyethnicstudiesandactivistanthropologyareradicallyreconguringtheepistemologyofthenewdecolonizedsocialscience,asciencethatputsatthecenterofresearchandsocialpracticethemultiplehistoriesandaspirationsofthepeopleratherthatthereiterateddominationofaEuro-Americanmodeofknowledge.ThelongandtortuousprocessofdecolonizationintheAmericasbeganalmostimmediatelyaftertheEuropeaninvasion.MorethanfourhundredyearsagotheAndeanIndianintellectualandQuechuaspeakerGuamánPomadeAyalawrotethefamouslettertotheSpanishKingPhilipIII,amanuscriptofmorethanathousandfoliosandhundredsofdrawingsinwhichGuamánlaunchestherstcritiqueofEuropeancolonialismandproposesa“buengobierno”thatwouldrestoreIncasocialjusticeandcosmologicalorder.AtthesametimeinMexicotheNahuaintellectualChimalpahinQuauhtlehuanitzin
 
waswritingthehistoryofMexicoinSpanishandNahuatl,comparinghisnativesocietywiththatoftheEuropeaninvaders.ThosecriticalindigenousnarrativesdidnotvanishthroughoutvecenturiesofEuropeancolonialoccupation;theywentundergroundormorphedintometaphorsandsymbolicrituals,orreconguredasadaptedcosmologiesandnewutopianaspirations.ThesearethenarrativesandculturalheritagethattodayconstitutethecoreofNativeAmerican/indigenousstudiesintheAmericas:anancientandnewethicalindifferenceandthetheoreticalabstractionsofmainstreamacademia.AlimitednumberofanthropologiststhroughouttheAmericaswouldreadandndinthetorturedhistoryofthepeoplesofLatinAmericatheobligationtocommittopopularcausesanddisregardtheallureofacademicfame,insteadinvestingtime,intellect,emotions,andimaginationinthetaskoftransformingthecoolanalyticaldisciplineofobservationintotheburningandoftenmuddypeoples’strugglefortheirownliberation.Asinthecaseoftheinterdisciplinaryprogramsofethnicstudiesthathadtheirorigininthesocialandcivilrightsmovementofthe1960s,conceptualandethicalinnovationandliberationofconscienceemergedfromthepraxisofthepeople’sstruggleandnotpreciselyfromthemonasticcloisteroftheconservativeuniversity,whereprofessionalmeritsareaccumulatedinproportiontothedistancethatscientistsestablishfromthepeople’scause.Iamawitnessofthisexistentialtransformation,havingmigratedearlyinmyacademiclifefromanthropologyinPeru,to25yearsofactivisminPeruandMexico,toreturntononmainstreamacademiainCaliforniaasprofessorofNativeAmerican/indigenousstudiesatUCDavis.Iwouldarguethatthesmallminorityofanthropologistswhohavechosenactivismareideologically,politically,andconceptuallyconnectedtothevariousethnicagenciesthatsincethecivilrightsstruggleofthe1960shaveconstitutedthemselvesintointerdisciplinaryprogramsanddepartmentsandhaveinltratedtherigidandoutdatedstructureoftheuniversity.TouseaUnitedNationsmetaphor,ethnicstudiesprogramsareincreasinglybecoming“refugeecamps”of“indigenous”researchers/instructorswhootherwisewouldhavebeenmarginalizedandexcludedbyfundamentally
lasaforum
summer 2013 : volume xliv : issue 3
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