From Indigenismo to Zapatismo: Theory and Practice in Mexican Anthropology
Gonzalez, Roberto J., Human Organization
This paper reviews the close relationship between theory and practice in Mexican anthropology, comparing and contrasting it to U.S. anthropology. The discipline in Mexico has successfully engaged public policy and politics in different ways, ranging from participation in the construction of nationalist ideologies to development anthropology to cooperation with popular movements. The experience of Mexican anthropology might provide U.S. anthropologists with creative ideas for connecting theory and practice in future projects.
Key words: history of anthropology, theory and practice, indigenismo, Mexico
Several U.S. anthropologists have observed recently that the discipline may be so detached from real world issues that it runs the risk of undermining itself. A commentary in The Chronicle of Higher Education noted that many cultural anthropologists are "pursuing trendy issues of postmodernism, blurred genres and identities, hermeneutic interpretation, voices of hegemony, and reflexivity...we are making ourselves increasingly irrelevant to contemporary policy and politics" (Thu 1999).1 At a symposium on secrecy in science organized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Laura Nader (1999) stated that the discipline "is presently vastly hampered by both secrecy and self-censorship and in danger of becoming insular to the point of irrelevance except for literary and cultural studies concerns."
In this context, it may be instructive to trace the trajectory of anthropological theory and practice in other countries, particularly those in which the discipline is not perceived as irrelevant or insular. Mexican anthropology provides a revealing comparison to the United States because, for nearly a century, many anthropologists have conducted their work for practical purposes and have frequently engaged with policy makers. (For detailed analyses of the history of Mexican anthropology, see Garcia Mora 1987; Krotz 1991; Medina 1996; and Nahmad 1997.)
It has had complex results. For example, anthropology has helped provide modern medical facilities to millions of indigenous people and raised awareness of the multicultural nature of contemporary Mexican society, but it has also played a role in the displacement of tens of thousands in the wake of development projects. A number of distinguished anthropologists have critically assessed the current known as indigenismo (indigenism)-development anthropology seeking to integrate indigenous people into national life (Barabas and Bartolome 1974; Bonfil Batalla 1962; Stavenhagen 1971; Warman 1970). Those affiliated with Mexico's Instituto Nacional lndigenista (National Indigenous Institute, or INI) from the 1940s to the 1980s most frequently carried out indigenista (indigenist) projects.
Mexican anthropologists have interwoven theory and practice not only in the indigenista period but also in more recent years, demonstrating that the two need not exist separately. Theory has both informed and been informed by practice, and most anthropologists have not always given high priority to an analytical division of the two in the Mexican case. After reviewing the history of Mexican anthropology, I will return to a discussion of its relevance to debates in the United States regarding anthropological theory and practice.
Forjando Patria: Anthropologists and State Ideological Production, 1916-1939
For nearly a century after its independence from Spain, Mexico was racked by civil war between royalists and those seeking independence, liberals and conservatives, and regional leaders and centralists. The country was also attacked and invaded, first by the United States in a war that resulted in the loss of nearly half the country's territory and then by France, which occupied the country during the 1860s. The century ended with the 35-year dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz and a very deep popular peasant revolution.
Mexican anthropology was born in the twilight of the 1910 Revolution. …