Friday, August 22, 2008

Media, Politics, and Indigenous Identity in Bolivia, South America

Circuits of Culture: Media, Politics, and Indigenous Identity in the Andes


Jeff Himpele

Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Reviewed by:

Carlos D. Torres, Doctoral Candidate, Anthropology, University of Colorado – Boulder

Caroline S. Conzelman, PhD, Anthropology, University of Denver


One of the strengths of cultural anthropologists (as opposed to political scientists or mass media researchers) conducting research in the emerging field of media anthropology is that through their deep relationship with a particular place, particular people, and particular media, they are able to more holistically document the visible and audible evidence of cultural production in all of its situated complexity. Jeff Himpele, in Circuits of Culture: Media, Politics, and Indigenous Identity in the Andes,in this way creates a comprehensive media ethnography of La Paz, Bolivia, but he also goes beyond geographic constraints to look at the history of media circulation and distribution in the country as its own unique narrative and constitutive cultural process. Himpele performs an ethnographic service to his readers by offering a focused perspective of an emerging indigenous public media sphere, with increasing political consequence, that largely has been unobserved, unnoticed, unanalyzed, unarticulated, and thus unknown. At base this is a superb example of an intimately engaged, meticulously researched longitudinal ethnography.

Himpele introduces his argument with the juxtaposition—captured in a photo—of a cinema marquee advertising El Rey Leo (The Lion King) movie along the main boulevard of La Paz while a procession of costumed dancers performing the traditional Aymara Diablada (Devil) dance passes a full crowd in the foreground. Modern with ancient, elite with indigenous, this scene represents some of the circuits of popular culture that Himpele wishes to explain, evaluate, and even diagram (inspired by de Certeau, 2008:49). As with another example of Aymara and Quechua neighbors watching karate flicks in tiny theaters along the city canyon walls, “the boundary between Indians and non-Indians” is “not easily drawn” (2008:xix). While he acknowledges that folkloric parades and other indigenous festivals can be considered part of Bolivia’s “broad and diverse cultural media,” he directs his analysis on “key sites in the representational media of film, television, and video as [mobile] indexes of wider historical practices that have shaped the present” (2008:xvii). After centuries of the marginalization and oppression of Andean peoples, this “present,” Himpele argues, is witnessing the indigenization of Bolivia’s media as well as its urban publics, which he suggests is also helping to indigenize the country’s politics.

Read the rest of the review: Circuits of Culture: Media, Politics, and Indigenous Identity in the Andes.

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