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VanChiVard Position Paper
Harvard University Andean Art History and Archaeology Working Group
Compiled by Parker VanValkenburgh and Gary Urton from discussions between
Thomas B.F. Cummins, Michele Koons, Jeffrey Quilter, Gary Urton and Parker
VanValkenburgh
Introduction
Over the past twenty years, many Andeanists have perceived that knowledge
produced within our domain of study is far less interrelated to wider bodies of theory in
the humanities and social sciences than it could be. Members of the Harvard University
Andean Art History and Archaeology Working Group recognize the fundamental
importance of social theory to our work – and the prerogative for Andeanists to
contribute more fully to theoretical discussions not particular to our region of study.
However, we believe that before the VanChiVard workshop can move on to explore new
ways for Andeanist scholarship to be incorporated into theoretical discourses in
anthropology, ethnohistory, and art history, we must more carefully define the
interpretive processes by which knowledge in our regional field has been produced over
the past half century and the particular, indeed peculiar place in this recent intellectual
history of the paradigm of “lo Andino.” Here, we discuss some of the more salient issues
that have emerged in our initial discussions about this topic.
We see lo Andino as being centered on a set of idealized structures – ideologies,
institutions, behaviors – constructed primarily in ethnographic and ethnohistoric
scholarship on the Andes. Through uncritical projection of these elements both forward
in time and deep into the prehistory of the conventionally accepted maximum
boundaries of the Inka empire, archaeologists and ethnohistorians have, at best, failed
to fully appreciate the historical dimensions of social process in the region; at worst, we
have contributed to what Johannes Fabian sees as the fundamental problem of
Western anthropology – the “persistent and systematic tendency to place the referent(s)
of anthropology in a Time other than the present of the producer of anthropological
discourse” (1983: 31), a pattern that accords with (and indeed is genealogically related
to) the perceived incompatibility of Andean native culture with the Neoliberal
developmentalism of Mario Vargas Llosa and others.
The History of a Problem: The Problem of History
We see the current relationship between the archaeology, ethnography, and
ethnohistory of the Andes taking shape in the 1950’s and 60’s. During this period, John
Murra’s studies of the Inka empire emphasized what he saw as that civilization’s great
distinctions from those of the Old World – among other characteristics, the absence of
markets, the importance of reciprocity and redistribution, the use of cloth as status
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good, and the “vertical control of a maximum of ecological levels,” a complex system
whereby ayllus maintained access to diverse sets of natural resources through the
foundation of colonies in different ecological zones (Murra 1980 [1956], 1972; Harris
2000: 7). Murra encouraged his students to further develop these models and to apply
them to explain new material, including patterning in archaeological remains and
contemporary practices among the people of the central Andes. Nearly simultaneously,
the early work of R. Tom Zuidema, who was trained in the Dutch structuralist tradition of
anthropology, emphasized the synchronic expression of calendrical knowledge and
social hierarchy within the Inka and early colonial Andean worlds (Zuidema 1962; Urton
1996; Harris 2000: 8-9).
According to Olivia Harris, the work of Murra and Zuidema shared in common a
“preference for understanding the quality of lived experience in the past, rather than the
dynamics of historical transformation” (2000: 9). Expressed in frameworks of regional
development as opposed to universalizing theories of human culture, the concepts and
categories developed by Andean anthropology before the 1970’s appeared to have little
impact on social anthropology and archaeology outside the region (ibid.: 1). Andean
scholarship remained centered around the idea of regional exceptionalism and driven
by the models of a small, core group of scholars with a penchant for interdisciplinary
work. Thus even as New Archaeologists made the Andes a testing ground for theories
of general social evolution, scholars studying subjects separated by broad expanses of
time and space within the region tended to borrow from, and in turn contribute to, the
common stock of terms and characteristics that had been constructed as being
inherently characteristic of social and cultural life in the regioni.
On its own, the persistent argument that the Andes has been home to distinctive
social and cultural formations should not be seen as negative. However, according to
some critics, anthropological perspectives on the Andes have suffered from the general
problems of the direct historical approach – that is, a tendency to reify changing
societies as static structures. Cultural anthropologist Orin Starn (1991) claims that
Andean scholars, prominently including Zuidema and his student Billie Jean Isbell,
failed to predict the emergence of the Shining Path guerilla movement in the Peruvian
department of Ayacucho during the 1980’s in part because they had long “portray[ed]
contemporary highland peasants as outside the flow of modern history” (1991: 64).
Approaching their subject through a uniquely Western, Orientalizing gaze (Said 1978).
Starn labels the tendency to romanticize and essentialize the Otherness of Andean
peoples as “Andeanism;” elsewhere it has become known as the problem of lo Andino.
Some Andeanists have remained wedded to the notion that many particularities
of Andean culture have been transmitted through relatively passive media over the last
five hundred years. On his part, geographer Daniel Gade embraces lo Andino, defining
it as “the culture complex that has survived the harsh acculturation imposed during the
colonial period and the technological changes of the modern world” (1999: 36, our
emphasis). Yet by and large, responses to Starn’s criticisms seem to demonstrate that
the current orientation in Andean scholarship is not only in agreement on the need for a
robust understanding of historical change in the region, but that it is also perhaps
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already more attuned to the dimensions of that change than Starn himself. Harris, for
example, notes that the context in which Andeanism emerged was not exclusively
formed by Western anthropological discourse; rather, Andeanism was also born
“through the oppositions of tradition and modernity, of civilisation and barbarism, that
were thoroughly entrenched in the Andean republics by the end of the nineteenth
century” (2000: 10-11). Urton also makes a strong case for seeing true historical and
comparative understanding of Andean contributions to human knowledge and practice
as being far more humanizing than a description of Andean lives as conditioned solely
by violence and the material implications of contemporary politics (1997: 2-3).
We believe that, insofar as the project of understanding the problem of lo Andino
and addressing it is a historiogaphical one, it is important that we locate Andeanist
scholarship within wider intellectual currents. Quilter notes that the direct historical
approach in archaeology began its life in the 1930’s as a way to make sense of the
relationship between native archaeological remains and contemporary indigenous
communities in the United States (Strong 1933, 1935; Steward 1946). In some cases,
strong connections were demonstrated between prehistoric cultures and modern tribes.
However, the direct historical approach was broadened thereafter – made heuristic and
applied in circumstances in which historical continuity was harder to argue,
circumstances in which such conditions were presumed rather than proven.
Moreover, we believe that it is important to be aware of the ways in which
idealized forms of Andean continuity are (re)produced not only in North American
scholarship but also in wider political fields: Andean indigenous movements, the tourist
industry, intellectual circles in Peru, etc.. For example, we see the tendency towards
essentialism in the scholarship of John Murra as potentially a reflection of opposition to
the linear social evolutionism ensconced in American anthropology during the 1950’s
and 60’s (Sahlins and Service 1960, Service 1962, Fried 1967), itself conditioned by the
Developmentalist paradigm in international relations during the post-war years (Rostow
1960). Marisol De La Cadena (2000, 2006) sees the origins of Andeanism in the
Indigenista movement of the early 20th century and its canonization in criollo elite circles
during the revolutionary years of the late 1960’s and 70’s. Harris (2000: 11) also notes
that the tendency to categorically isolate native subjects has been a characteristic of
recent Andean indigenous intellectual discourse, which has argued for the cultural
distinctiveness of native societies as a basis for rights to customary law and language.
Moving Forward
Centrally, lo Andino might be considered as a manifestation of “structuralism’s
problem with time” (Fabian 1983: 60, in Urton 1988: 226). In Mummies and Mortuary
Monuments (1997), William Isbell attempts to historicize one particular element of Lo
Andino, the ayllu. By identifying open, hilltop mortuary structures with the practice of
ancestor worship, and the practice of ancestor worship with the constitution of ayllu
organization (a fundamental element of lo Andino), Isbell suggests that the ayllu made
its first appearance in the region during the Middle Horizon or Late Intermediate Period.
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While we are very much amenable to interrogating the ideal categories of lo Andino
from a historical perspective, we find the theoretical foundations and execution of
Isbell’s work deeply problematic. His assumption that open mortuary monuments can be
unambiguously affiliated with ayllus itself partakes of the problem of lo Andino, positing
a timeless connection between an architectural form and a social institution because the
two are observed alongside each other in accounts of Inka ancestor worship.
In the ten years since the publication of Mummies, we have noticed a tendency
for archaeologists to shun critical discussions about the place of ethnographic and
ethnohistoric analogies in their interpretations of the Andean past. Yet because (pace
Wiley [1985]) all archaeological interpretation entails analogical reasoning, Andeanist
archaeologists who do not explicitly reflect on the ways in which they make sense of the
relationship between past and present in the region risk continually reproducing the
static categories of Lo Andino.
Simply mapping ethnographic and ethnohistoric details onto archaeological
evidence through one-off analogies is problematic. Such a mode of analysis, which Ann
Stahl labels the “illustrative analogy,” forces us to focus solely on the commonalities
between the ethnographic and archaeological situations being compared – and
therefore precludes the existence of meaningful differences between them (Stahl 1993:
236). To construct more sensitive interpretive analogies between past and present
Andean societies, we need to better understand the interplay of structure and process
within the temporal dimension of Andean social life. For example, while granting that
cultural persistence may indeed be a feature of Andean history, we should see such
continuity not as the product of simple survival but as an active achievement in a world
where the status quo is change and transformation as opposed to stasis (Chance 1996:
393). We must acknowledge, in Urton’s words, that “there are no ‘innocent ‘survivors’ –
institutions and practices untouched by history – in the Andes (1990: 15).
Yet to understand historical change in the Andes, it is imperative that we not
conflate “continuity” in institutions and practices with the problem of lo Andino. By
continuity, as applied to Andean circumstances, we understand a set of problems (not
answers) in Andean studies that emerge from the recognition of institutions, practices,
beliefs, etc., within communities, as evidenced variously by ethnographic and/or
ethnohistoric sources of information, that appear over long periods of time and/or across
great stretches of territory. The question arises in such circumstances of what is the
significance and meaning of those coincidental encounters (i.e., in the data).
Lo Andino, in contrast, entails the presumption that there are certain institutions,
practices, and beliefs that have been held onto or adhered to within communities (i.e.,
ayllus), or between communities, over long periods of time – if not from the earliest
occupation of the Andes by humans. These features are represented as though they
are autochthonous parts of the landscape, not products of human social interaction,
contestation, change and need no critical examination nor rational explanation. In our
view, the former (elements of continuity) have often been conflated with the latter (lo
andino) to the point that it has become extremely difficult to talk about historical change
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in the Andes or to bring ethnographic, historical, and archaeological data in relation to
each other.
In addition, we should note that we see lo Andino as a problem of defining culture
not only in time but across territory as well – a process in which the essential
characteristics of a people (Andeans) are co-produced with the region within which we
locate them (the Andes). Critical interpretation of the relationship between the past and
the present in modern western South America requires that we examine variation in
ideologies, institutions, and behaviors within historic and ethnographic communities in
the region.
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As a group, we disagree about the degree to which the structural principles forming the
core of Zuidema’s work on the Andes (dualism in particular) have become a part of the
general stock of concepts reproduced as lo Andino. However, we agree that lo Andino
contains ideas that derive from the work of multiple scholars working in the Andes, as
from extra-regional scholarship and political discourses carried on outside academe.
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