Dan Rosengren, Associate Professor in Anthropology, School of Global Studies, Gothenburg University

Social Stratification, Modernity, and Knowledge. On Understandings of Climate Change among Matsigenka and Colono People in the Peruvian Amazon

Departing from a query about different notions of knowledge I explore in this paper different manners of understanding such atmospheric phenomena that in English are categorised as ‘weather’ and that are associated with distinct modes of engaging the environment. It is observed that while modernist epistemologies rely on abstractions and universal generalisations which disembeds it from people’s lived realities, ‘relational epistemologies’ (or ‘indigenous knowledge’) commonly are entrenched in particularities of local life and knowledge is in consequence no independent system of facts but a negotiated relation with the environment. It is argued that these differences are ontological and not epistemological which means that modern and other-than-modern people live in “different” worlds rather than entertain different views of the world. The particular case discussed deals with the relationship between indigenous Matsigenka of the Peruvian Amazon and immigrants from the Andean highlands. The latter identify primarily as ‘Peruvians’ which signifies that they consider themselves as ‘modern’ which, among other things, means that they confide in the superior knowledge of science. This self-image is contrasted to Matsigenka people whose animistic perspective on the world is seen to reflect their naïve irrationality and as being proof of their backwardness. This attitude serves in the eyes of colonos as a legitimisation  of their position of dominance that are seen as reflecting ‘modern’ or ‘non-modern’ perspectives and that are employed to as a ‘civilising’ attempt to make Matsigenka people conform to ‘appropriate social norms’ in order to become proper citizens.

Dan Rosengren is associate professor in anthropology at School of Global Studies, Gothenburg University. He has been working with Matsigenka people since the 1970s and dealt with issues such as leadership, cosmology, ethnicity, and identity. At the moment he is working on Matsigenka perceptions of “weather” and “climate change.” Recent publications include The Fashion of Politics and the Politics of Fashion – On Indigenous Modernities and Matsigenka Struggles. In E. Harbsmeier & E. Mader (eds.) (forthcoming); Seriously Laughing: on paradoxes of absurdity among Matsigenka people, Ethnos, 75(1): 102-121, 2010; Transdimensional relations: on human-spirit interaction in the Amazon, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 12(4): 803-816, 2006.

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