a1 Anthropology, University of Oklahoma
This essay describes the politics of voluntary isolation, an emerging category of indigeneity predicated on a form of human life that exists outside of history, the market, and wider networks of social connection. It traces a recent controversy around one such “isolated” population—Ayoreo-speaking people in the Paraguayan Gran Chaco—to suggest how these politics of isolation may represent a new regime of what Didier Fassin has called “biolegitimacy,” or the uneven political parsing and authorization of valid human life, within global formations of indigeneity. Here, I identify how international human rights law, multiculturalist state policies, humanitarian NGO programs, and genetic science all share an investment in the moral defense of isolated life. I explore how this investment may divide the kind of humanity authorized or claimed as “indigenous” into opposing legitimacies that are set against one another and vertically ranked. The essay argues that what is at stake in this process is not merely a new technique of the self or the enduring romance of the primitive, but the redistribution of the meaning and value assigned to those domains of human life imagined in opposition to social relation itself.
(Online publication July 13 2012)
Acknowledgments: Special thanks are due to Anya Bernstein, David Bond, Paola Canova, Gastón Gordillo, Stephanie Hom, Emily Martin, Fred Myers, Todd Nicewonger, Rafael Sanchez and the CSSH reviewers for sharing vitally important comments on prior drafts of this essay, as well as to Andrew Shryock for his consideration of my work and to David Akin for his editorial input. It also benefited greatly from comments received during the presentation of an earlier version at the University of Chicago Department of Anthropology, February 2011. I gratefully acknowledge that it is based on research supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation and an ACLS/Mellon Early Career Fellowship.