Missing the Revolution: Anthropologists and the War in Peru

Essay Excerpt

Dozens of ethnographers worked in Peru's southern highlands during the 1970s. One of the best-known Andeanists, R. T. Zuidema, was directing a research project in the Rio Pampas region that became a center of the rebellion. Yet no anthropologist realized a major insurgency was about to detonate, a revolt so powerful that by 1990 Peru's civilian government had ceded more than half the country to military command.

The inability of ethnographers to anticipate the insurgency raises important questions. For much of the 20th century, after all, anthropologists had figured as principal experts on life in the Andes. They positioned themselves as the "good" outsiders who truly understood the interests and aspirations of Andean people; and they spoke with scientific authority guaranteed by the first hand experience of fieldwork. Why, then, did anthropologists miss the gathering storm of the Shining Path? What does this say about ethnographic understandings of the highlands? How do events in Peru force us to rethink anthropology on the Andes? (Orin, 63)

About the Author

Orin Starn is Chair and Professor of Cultural Anthropology and History at Duke University. He has wide-ranging interests including Latin America, Native North America, social movements and indigenous politics, the history of anthropology, activist anthropology, and, more recently, sports and society. His newest book, "The Passion of Tiger Woods: An Anthropologist Reports on Golf, Race, and Celebrity Scandal," examines the superstar golfer's place in American society and culture. Starn is also the author of the award-winning "Ishi's Brain: In Search of America's Last 'Wild' Indian," a chronicle of the life and legend of the last survivor of California's Yahi tribe. Earlier in his career, Starn worked for many years in Andean South America, mostly Peru. His "Nightwatch: The Politics of Protest in the Andes" recounts the history of one of Peru's major 20th century rural movements. Starn is also lead editor of the "The Peru Reader: History, Culture, Politics" and edits Duke's very successful World Readers Series. In 2005, he won Duke's highest undergraduate teaching award and was awarded the Sally Dalton Robinson Professorship in Cultural Anthropology. Starn is also the co-editor of "Indigenous Experience Today" and "Between Resistance and Revolution: Cultural Politics and SocialProtest" together with three books in Spanish. Starn's essays and op-ed pieces have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chronicle of Higher Education and many other newspapers, and his work cited in the New York Times, USA Today, and other newspapers. He has also appeared on NPR, ESPN and numerous other radio and tv programs. Starn has served as the Director of Duke's Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies and the Duke Human Rights Centers, and chaired the Editorial Advisory Board of Duke University Press. He maintains a blog about golf, sports, and society at www.golfpolitics.blogspot.com). He is planning new book about the culture, business, and experience of back pain, having had six back surgeries himself.

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