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Amazonian Mosaics: Identity, Interaction, and Integration in the Tropical Forest

  • Michael J. Heckenberger

Identity is one of anthropology’s oldest and favorite topics of inquiry. Interests have bounced between polemic ideas of primordial conditions, biology, descent, and natural communities to those of situation and contingency, alliance, and imagined communities. Identity in cultural anthropology is most commonly viewed as a sense of self or self-awareness – of personhood or subjectivity – that involves reflexive understandings of sameness and difference with “others” (Jenkins 1996). This paper discusses questions of identity and, particularly, historical and archaeological identities in Amazonia. It takes as its point of departure the idea that questions of identity, like those of equally popular agency or practice, are scalar. Further, in place of traditional views of cultural and ecological uniformity, recent research on all fronts, aided by the immense power of computers and remotely sensed imagery, suggests that variability and dynamic change are no less pronounced in Amazonia than any other equally proportioned place on earth (and see Chapters 11, 12, 20 and 50 in this volume).

Archaeologists also have grappled protractedly with questions of identity (see, e.g., Jones 1997), insofar as they attempt to reveal how groups of artifacts or other material things reflect the identities (ethnicity, gender, and role) of the people who made or interacted with them and how these identities were deployed in social interactions (by agents). Recently, archaeologists have turned to questions of the body and personhood as strategic loci of social agency in the archaeological record. They approach these questions quite differently than cultural anthropologists, sociologists, and linguists who take the present as the point of departure. Archaeologists see the human body not only as a privileged site of cultural process, but instead as an inflection point between the microscopic worlds of specific events, individual cultural acts, and particulate phenomenon (bone chemistries, genetics, fish bones, stone chips, charcoal, and the like), with the mesoscopic world of gender, status and role, and household and community, which, in turn, articulate with macroscopic worlds of cultural identity within regional systems. While students of the present may concentrate on one or another level of analysis, for the archaeologist personhood must be understood from a multi-scalar and iterative perspective, linking local to regional and short-term to long-term, and boundaries change according to perspective.

Keywords

Economic Botany Culture Area Residential Site Historical Ecology Amazon Floodplain 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael J. Heckenberger
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA

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