Cynthia Radding – Wandering Peoples

24 October, 2021 - examPrep


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Wandering Peoples recounts the persistence of indigenous peasant nations in Sonora during the transition from the Spanish Imperium to the Mexican Republic . The principal stories it weaves concern the defense of native polities , ethnic and cultural mixtures , and the material and symbolic foundations of community life . It engages in both narrative and historical analysis and represents a dialogue among different subjects and points of view . This work explores the multilayered meanings of culture , community , and ecology , even as it brings to light the parallel production of colonial and subaltern texts in the course of more than a century of struggles for power and survival .

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On one important level Wandering Peoples represents a qualitative shift in the historiography of northwestern New Spain . Responding to the call for “ a new mission history , ” it transcends the institutional perspective of the colonial mission associated with Herbert Eugene Bolton and his figure of “ the rim of Christendom ” and undertakes an ethnohistorical approach centered on the native peoples of Sonora . 1 It views the mission not merely as an instrument of Iberian expansion but as a site of cultural and political confrontation . This alternative vision of the colonial mission underscores the biological consequences of Spanish policies of forced congregación , the economic linkages between mission communities and Spanish mercantilist policies , and the cultural and ecological displacements set in motion by the practices of discipline and surveillance established by the religious orders .

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My purpose is not to demean either the mission or the missionaries ; rather , it is to focus centrally on the native subjects of this history , who built and maintained their communities under the duress of Spanish colonialism and articulated an alternative vision of polity to the expansionist project of the early nineteenth – century Mexican nation – state .

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By historical convention and geographic location Wandering Peoples corresponds to the “ borderlands ” of territories and populations suspended between Spanish and British America , destined to be divided by the binational border between Mexico and the United States . 2 I contend that this region , commonly seen as marginal to the political cores of both empires , was and is important precisely because of its frontier character . Northwestern Mexico and ( what would become ) the U.S . Southwest comprised a zone of confluence in which political and imperial boundaries intersected with different ecological and cultural spaces . The physical dimensions of this frontier were not fixed but were historically changing , in both the mental and material worlds .

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Without losing sight of the historicity of its subject , my work seeks meaningful comparisons and addresses the wider issues of colonialism , ethnic identities , and ecological and cultural borders that are germaine to Latin America and to the growing field of subaltern and “ postcolonial ” studies .

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Innovative methodological approaches to history , to the social sciences , and to literary criticism — developed from the philosophical currents of postmodernism , poststructuralism , postcolonialism , and subaltern studies — have opened a salutary flow of cross – disciplinary exchanges and have challenged scholars to consider troubling questions concerning the assumed tenets of their academic craft . 3 These labels are not synonymous , nor do they necessarily represent discrete fields of study , nevertheless they exhibit reciprocal influences in their search for new perspectives and in their critical drive to problematize familiar categories and concepts .

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Emerging from such diverse and , at times , contradictory lines of inquiry , three points of consensus bear on this study : ( 1 ) the eschewal of unitary paradigms and linear views of history in favor of heterogeneous theoretical approaches ; ( 2 ) the dethronement of the “ sovereign subject , ” to be recast in a reflexively constructed dialogue among different historical subjects and cultural traditions ; and ( 3 ) the power and opacity of language . The rigorous critique of received paradigms and the search for new sources of meaning arise from the moral imperative to reunite the political and intellectual content of scholarly research and to link the author’s contemporary world with the historical past .

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Of the many paths one could follow , I shall comment briefly on four themes that are integral to my work : colonialism , subaltern identities and discourses , symbolic meanings embedded in language , and social ecology .

Introduction: The Social Ecology of the Sonoran Frontier

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Wandering Peoples charts a secular process of both change and continuity in the ecological , cultural , and political relations through which the highland peoples of northwestern Mexico defined their world . It examines the persistence of ethnic polity and peasant economy during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries , in order to produce a regional history that addresses some of the core issues of Latin American historiography . 2 As such , this book concerns ethnic divisions and the emergence of social classes , the reconstitution of indigenous communities , and the complexities of cultural adaptation and resistance . The main argument concerns social stratification along ethnic , class , and gender lines during this period of transition between the Bourbon colonial administration and the formative years of the Mexican Republic .

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While focusing on one province of northern New Spain , this study looks for the linkages which help to explain both the incorporation of this region into the European world economy and the ways in which the responses of indigenous peoples modified Spain’s imperial project .

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this is essentially what my project attempts to do, at a different time, for a different colonial project, in a different part of mexico

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This is not to suggest that preconquest Sonorans had achieved a sustained equilibrium with nature that was suddenly and irrevocably shattered following the European invasion of their territory ; rather , as we shall see in Chapter 1 , serrano villagers had undergone major transformations in their economy and social organization prior to Spanish contact . Nevertheless , this view from the periphery does underscore basic differences in the mode and intensity of exploitation of human as well as natural resources by Amerindian ethnic polities and Iberian conquerors . The ecological context of Sonoran responses to Colonialism placed limits on the advance of empire and informed native modes of political resistance .

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In this sense , social ecology provides a unifying framework for the major themes of this book . Chapter 1 summarizes the anthropological and historical bases for Spanish – Amerindian relations in northwestern Mexico , delineating the critical points of change from Jesuit to Bourbon and , later , to Mexican administration . Chapters 2 and 3 contrast the principles that underlay native subsistence and the colonial economy ; Chapters 4 and 5 illustrate the ways in which serrano households and communities reconstituted themselves under the duress of colonial domination ; Chapters 6 and 7 analyze opposing systems of land tenure and point to the political conflicts that arose over the control of people and resources in this northern province of shifting borderlands . Finally , Chapters 8 and 9 narrate the Sonoran peoples ‘ responses to conquest and its aftermath , distinguishing between the often contradictory strategies of accommodation and resistance .

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As the opening epigraph of the present chapter implies , by bringing together the history of nature and the history of society , social ecology addresses basic questions concerning the persistence of frontier peoples and settled peasantries under alien domination , in different areas of the Ibero – American empire .

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Wandering Peoples views this peasant class – in – formation through the cultural , economic , and political dimensions of the social relations of production . 13 I argue that although preconquest serrano polities were not egalitarian , Spanish colonialism created overlapping spheres of power and transformed a classless society into a society of classes defined in terms of property and access to the means of production . 14 My principal thesis is that social stratification occurred through the internal differentiation of the Indian and the Hispanic segments of Sonoran society , a process in which the separate lines of class , ethnicity , and gender intersected .

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In summary , Wandering Peoples expands our definition of peasantry and sheds new light on the relations of power and interdependency between indigenous peoples , the state , and local elites .

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More than a decade ago , Eric Wolf challenged historians and anthropologists “ to uncover the history of ‘ the people without history ‘ — the active histories of ‘ primitives , ‘ peasantries , laborers , immigrants , and besieged minorities . ” 33 His influential synthesis viewed the emergence of the modern world system through the recorded experience of the subaltern peoples — workers , slaves , subjugated indigenes — whose labor made possible the rise of capitalism . Wolf’s central argument cautioned scholars not to reify concepts like nation , society , and culture , nor to splinter the complex totality of historical processes into isolated units , thereby distorting the interconnected quality of cultural phenomena .

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But , how do we place the indigenous peasants of highland Sonora on center stage as the subjects of this history ? How do we hear their voices ? Our method begins with the historian’s craft ; that is , to conjoin theoretical propositions concerning class formation , ethnic persistence , and the emerging quality of relations between state and society with specific historical encounters found in the empirical data .

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My purpose is to tell the story of the highland villagers of Sonora and , in so doing , to increase our understanding of the limits of autonomy for colonized peoples as well as the regenerative quality of their communities .


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