Mario Blaser

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Professor Harvey Feit




In this dissertation I focus on some particularities of the present moment through an analysis of the governmental rationality that grounds the contemporary status of 'Indigenous culture' in development agendas. The role of 'Indigenous culture' in development is an entry point to analyse changes that involve the ontological foundations of modernity. I argue that changes in the role of 'Indigenous culture' in development agendas are connected to the emergence of a 'neoliberal governmental rationality.' This governmentality, in turn, is a result of changes in the modern ontology based on the dualism between nature and society. I pursue these arguments by narrating a story of how changes in the ways of imagining Indians, nature and development have been taking place since the late 19th century in the Paraguayan Chaco. I tell this story by focussing on the successive agendas of development through which these changing imaginations were deployed among an Indigenous people of this area, the Yshiro people. In spite of changing imaginations and forms of governmentality, the Yshiro have been constructd as quasi-objects which are suitable for the 'monologues' of the non-Indigenous peoples with whom they are in contact. However they are seldom truly engaged as fellow human beings with whom to engage in dialogues. This key condition for their subordination is reproduced even by their non-indigenous supporters. These dynamics, I argue, are inherent to modern ways of producing knowledge. For this reason I avoid using a modern perspective in my analysis. In order to do this I use the concept of imagination which is intended to escape modern dichotomies such as those between material and ideational, and between living entities and non-living entities. In this sense this work is an exploration of the political and epistemological possibilities of writing ethnography from a non-modern standpoint.

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