An Interview with Marisol de la Cadena

by Yoko Taguchi

This is an edited version of an interview with Marisol de la Cadena, professor of anthropology at the University of California, Davis, and the author of two major books: Indigenous Mestizos: The Politics of Race and Culture in Cuzco, Peru, 1919–1991 (2000) and Earth Beings: Ecologies of Practice across Andean Worlds (2015). After receiving anthropological training in Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (Lima, Peru), she continued her education and research at the University of Durham (England) and the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (Paris, France). She received her PhD in 1996 from the University of Wisconsin at Madison (USA).

I visited Marisol at UC Davis during early 2016, and we met again in December 2016 in Osaka at “The World Multiple” conference.[1] I prepared the questions for this interview partly based on discussions about Earth Beings at a Hitotsubashi University anthropology seminar. I recorded our interviews, which began in person in Osaka and continued over Skype between December 2016 to February 2017.

(Photographs provided by Marisol de la Cadena.)

Personal and academic history

Yoko Taguchi: One of the attractive things about your anthropological work is your political commitment and passion. Can you tell me a bit about how this passion was originally shaped by your experiences in Peru? How were you involved in political activism?

Marisol de la Cadena: My fieldwork practice as an undergraduate student in Peru was a combination of anthropology and activism. There were almost no students at the university who were not involved in politics! As student-activists, we were involved in what we called “peasant movements”—we did not organize the movements of course, but we had the possibility of following the organization from very close—we were part of it without risking much! For example, we went to events called congresos campesinos (a literal translation would be “peasant congresses”) that happened in the countryside, usually in the hinterland of a big highland city. Those were huge, nation-wide meetings convened by the many “peasant federations” in the country. During the events, female students like me were either in the kitchen cooking for thousands of the people alongside peasant women, or typing the Congress resolutions… We also attended the speeches and voted.

I learned so much—and I also felt an intellectual anxiety: leftist politics were as modernizing as their right-wing counterparts, and with the left-wing, I was supposed to think that the peasants were backwards. That thought (and practice!) contradicted the equality that we were preaching as activists. So…  I took it as sort of my duty to teach the activists that they were being racist [laughs]. They wanted to change the world for better, but they had a historicist evolutionary hierarchy in their minds—we should all be modern! It was a modern left, sharing with the right what Aníbal Quijano (2000) called the “coloniality of power.” Some among them were inspired by Gramsci—Foucault had not yet entered the stage of the Latin American left, and they were all modern… they practiced the thought that peasants were behind.

Our task as revolutionaries was to change them into modern subjects, individuals with “class consciousness”—a term that was synonymous with something like a structurally situated historical consciousness. Once transformed into historical subjects, “peasants” would realize that what we call their “myths” were only stories. Modern history would then replace mythology as their cosmology—they would become subjects of the nation-state, we would all be equal. It was an equality in modernity. It was hard for me to follow that script—perhaps if I had not been a fieldworker it would have been easier. The script implied the implementation of a hierarchy—and being “in the field” (which we can translate as “living with peasants for long periods of time”) the idea of  the “superiority of (my) historical consciousness” crumbled. To begin with, I would not have survived without those that were supposed to be non-modern inferiors. And to continue… I was also confronted with my ignorance of Quechua, with the historicity of allegedly ahistorical myths, and with the political astuteness of those that were supposed to be followers. They could lead! And they were leading—except no urban leftist intellectual cared about that leadership.

This personal history became fodder for Earth Beings many years later. Back in the 1980s, I used it for discussions in my activist surroundings (there were quite a few that thought like me—they were also anthropologists of the kind that does fieldwork!) and against my anthropology teachers, some of whom worked with a very static notion of culture—curiously, they were not fieldworkers. I wanted to combine Marxism and anthropology and that seemed hard! So when, years later, in Paris, I sat in Maurice Godelier’s seminar and learned to think ethnographically through historical materialism, Marxism became something else:  a tool to think historically without resorting to “class consciousness” or the requirement to transform “them” into what “we” are. Not necessarily a tool for the revolution though…

You have been educated in Lima, Durham, Paris, and Wisconsin. What brought you to all these places?

Different reasons in different moments. When I went to Durham and Paris, I was very young and wanted to leave Peru for a while, not for good. In the 80s, Latin American fledgling intellectuals had to go through what we called our “obligatory training abroad” jokingly paraphrasing the idea of “military obligatory service.” My undergraduate degree was in anthropology, and I decided to apply for a grant; I applied to the British Council—the grant took me to Durham. Personal circumstances took me to Paris where I sought theoretical, conceptual thinking.

I got an MA degree in Durham and a DEA (diplome d’études Approfondies) in Paris, which I don’t think exists anymore. I was Maurice Godelier’s student and attended his seminar. At that time, he had just finished The Making of Great Men (1986 [1982 in French]) and was writing The Mental and the Material (1986 [1984 in French]). I think that experience still motivates me to think conceptually, which is different from thinking theoretically. Maurice thought through Marx, which was what drew me to him—I thought of myself as a Marxist back then, sometimes I still do—but what influenced me was the way he used his Baruya material to “manipulate” Marxist categories. I think of this as Godelier’s making concepts with the local—I have not read either book recently, and I do not know if I have invented this memory of his seminar… but it feels real to say that, in that seminar, he made concepts with “local” and theoretical categories. At that time Godelier was also working with Marilyn Strathern and Roy Wagner to edit Big Men and Great Men: Personifications of Power in Melanesia (1991). Maybe there is a not-so-subtle connection between both (Strathern and Godelier) that influences my work now… My period in Paris was a very special moment in my life and I was seduced by Godelier’s combination of Marx and ethnography, which I thought almost impossible!

After Paris, I went back to Peru in 1985, and I left again in 1988 to come to the US. During that time, I worked at the Institute of Peruvian Studies—it’s a think tank, a leading one in the country. It was a great position. I was a researcher, I didn’t have to teach… I was interested in exploring hierarchies within indigeneity and wrote an article called “Women are more Indian,” in which I wanted to show that indigeneity was flowing unevenly through state bio-political taxonomic systems: women bore more markers of “Indianness” than men.

After Durham and Paris, you went to do a doctoral degree at the anthropology program at University of Wisconsin-Madison…

I went to Wisconsin simply because I knew people there: three professors that taught about Latin America. My Ph.D. training was mostly in history. I was registered in an anthropology department, but the person I worked closest with was a historian (Florecia Mallon) who, unlike most historians, did not shy away from theory;  I read Laclau and Mouffe’s Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (1985) and Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks (1987) in a memorable graduate seminar that she led. My official advisor was an ethno-historian (Frank Salomon) whose work is beautifully replete with Andeanist erudite nuance and worldly literary sophistication. I wrote my dissertation at the crossroads of history and ethnography; with the latter illuminating the former. I interrogated the notion of race to explain that, in its Latin American version, racial taxonomies were organized not only through biology like in North Atlantic countries but also through culture. Both “culture” and “biology” being emergent bio-political fields in the making of modern nation states. Skin color could be a matter of morality which, in turn, was a matter of  class distinction (referred to as cuna or ‘cradle’ in English), or education. Being an intellectual could thus be a racial condition. I enfolded the same assumption to explain that “mestizo” was not about “mixture” (biological or cultural) or “Indian” about racial purity—rather, both were cultural conditions: Indianness was a rural condition and mestizos were transgressive Indians who had dared moved to the city—opening the latter to its occupation by indigeneity. Thus the category indigenous mestizos that gave the title to the book.

It was the moment of postcolonial anthropology in the US—historicizing cultural representation was important. I wrote my dissertation in the aftermath of Eric Wolf’s Europe and the People without History (1982), Sidney Mintz’s Sweetness and Power (1985), and Talal Asad’s incisive “Are There Histories of Peoples without Europe” (1987)—if colonial anthropology had followed on Hegel’s path and denied History to the others of modernity, post-colonial anthropology required a historical approach to the others of modernity. Retrospectively, what I find fascinating about this post-colonial gesture is that US liberal anthropologists and my Peruvian leftist compañeros agreed that, differences notwithstanding, History was how the “others of modernity” would be “like us.”

History, STS, and ontology  

How does this background relate to your newer work on ontological openings, which seems to move in quite a different direction?

In a completely different direction! But it started at the same crossroads of history and anthropology. Writing Indigenous Mestizos I learned that, in conjunction with the racialization of Indianness, the assumption (even among the most progressive urban intellectuals) was (and still is) that there were no “Indian political leaders.” Since Indians were trapped in myths and lacking class consciousness, the leftist vanguard had to at least be “mestizo.” I went to Mariano Turpo, the initial inspiration for Earth Beings, to contradict and complicate this assumption. I had been told that “he had collected an archive about the peasant movement he led in the 1950s”— in Cuzco he was one of the few “Indians” whose political astuteness was recognized. I wanted to write an ethnographic history of the archive that I was told he had collected. I wanted to know how the archive became, what its purpose was, how the documents had been collected. How could illiterate peasants write documents?—I think that was my only intriguing question. Do you know Ann Stoler’s Along the Archival Grain (2009)? I wanted to do something similar, but not with an official (colonial or national) archive, but with an archive compiled by peasant politicians—an archive that did not exist officially. I envisioned my ethnography as engaging with something quite marginal, but within the limits of history. My intention was not beyond an anthropology of history, my intention was to interrogate the care of an archive in a place that was peripheral to national history; I was convinced that such care was a political act to become historically relevant. My question was how did indigenous peasants write themselves into history and into the nation-state? All my thoughts where within the limits of history—and  then… these two men, Mariano and Nazario (Mariano’s son) productively confused me.[2]

When I first got to their village and talked to Mariano about working with “his archive,” he went along with my idea—probably because I did not explain my purpose enough, or perhaps because we needed to practice what I was asking for the question to become something that he could accept or reject. The point is that once we started, he dismissed my idea. I understood gradually that he was telling me something like “If you want to meet me”—in the sense of encountering him at a crossroads built with both his terms and my terms affecting each other—“we have to talk about something else.” The stories that he narrated based on information contained in the documents—for example, conversations with judges, alliances with lawyers, peasant political demonstrations,  Mariano’s hiding places, the possibility of his travels to Lima—could not have been told without other presences that were not in those documents. And those presences that he then started telling me about—earth-beings—made possible what I was calling an archive. I didn’t understand without translating it into “culture,” into Mariano’s “beliefs” about what had happened. It slowly but certainly became clear to me that in my effort to understand Mariano’s archive I was differentiating the strong reality of “what had happened” from a weaker reality of “what had not really happened.” I did not want to do that, if only because “what had not happened” had been so central! So my ethnographic object changed as I was offered an important ethnographic moment, a moment of disconcertment which pushed me to the limit of my understanding. What do you do when you acknowledge that your analytic tools are insufficient? The years I worked with Mariano and Nazario were filled with those moments—of course I did not want to dismiss them. I wanted to work from “not understanding.”

Those moments also made me engage with the STS (science and technology studies) literature; reading authors that worked on how scientists go about knowing could perhaps suggest ways of dealing with the requirements of my own practice; that is of dealing with that I had found I was missing. After all, I shared epistemic genealogies with science that that I did not share with Mariano and Nazario. I resorted to the STS literature to help me think how “we” know—and I also learned ethnographically—that is through fieldwork and writing—that the practice of epistemic knowledge is not the only way to relate to every ethnographic event. I learned to allow excess (to epistemic representation, for example) to signal its presence and to relate to that presence without epistemic knowledge occupying it (and canceling it as excess.) To get there, Isabelle Stengers was my inspiration: my ethnographic moments were similar to what she describes with the figure of the idiot: they slowed down my initial resolution to understand and eventually allowed me to leave it in suspense. Understanding as usual might never happen, but I continued my conversations with my friends.

I encountered these ethnographic moments in 2003. I started reading Bruno Latour in 1995 and I taught We Have Never Been Modern (1993) in 1998, but I wasn’t using his ideas in my work. I continued to read and use Gramsci, and the Subaltern Studies group, Walter Benjamin, and (of course!) Foucault. I read Dipesh Chakrabarty’s Provincializing Europe (2000) as soon as it came out; that book started me thinking seriously about translation. It also connected with the discussion about the geopolitics of knowledge, a topic that was in conversation with the “modernity/coloniality’ group in which I participated tangentially while teaching at UNC Chapel Hill. Both Provincializing and the modernity/coloniality group were very inspiring but both also felt insufficient. On the one hand, through my relation with “the archive,” I could feel the “coloniality” of history—Mariano’s demand to move our conversation “outside of the box” (that contained the documents that I called “his archive”) made me think about the ontological political underpinning of anthropology’s drive to historicize. On the other hand, the philosophical explanation of the modernity/coloniality group, the necessity of making the decolonial emerge in recognizable scholarly guise seemed more of the same: it felt premature, emerging before excess, and indeed suffocating it. My difference both with Provincializing and with “modernity/coloniality” was ethnographic—theoretically I could agree, but my agreement vanished when in conversation with Mariano.

Guha and Chakrabarty abided by the archive but Mariano deemed it insufficient. Mariano and the runakuna exceeded the archive. And this was not a religious or spiritual excess like the one encountered by Guha (2003) when he consulted the seemingly secular archive of the Santhal rebellion, which contained peasant declarations about having been motivated by the gods. Guha took seriously those records and in so doing he included the gods in politics and thus transgressed the modern requirement of its secularity. But Mariano’s story was different on at least three counts: first, earth-beings did not appear in any archival document; second, they are not gods, and three, being with runakuna, earth-beings had contributed to the archive with something that runakuna alone would not have been able to. The excess was more complex than sacred to secular—it exceeded nature and also culture. To think about this excess I read “between the lines” of Latour, and I came across Eduardo Viveiros de Castro. Because in We Have Never Been Modern, Latour refers to multinaturalism, right? Although what I was facing was not multinaturalism, the idea resonated with nature being not only nature. So I started reading Viveiros de Castro and through him, I encountered Marilyn Strathern.

I had tried to read Marilyn Strathern before, very unsuccessfully; it took my own “ethnographic moments” to understand her work. I understood what her “duplex operators” do—or what she means when she says “anthropology uses relations to explore relations.” It took ethnographic fieldwork-writing to understand “partial connections” (Strathern 2004) as a  (relational) concept to explore relations; it also took fieldwork-writing—should I say practicing “partial connections”?—to understand how, upon being enacted, that concept releases a view of its own “duplexity.” In my particular ethnographic writing, it also releases a “feeling” for what the relation can not contain, and thus a kind of excess to the relation as an epistemic concept.

What I mean is that, while working on Earth Beings, I learned my concept-tools as I worked on an analysis that was ethnographically inspired. The archive and Mariano and Nazario’s lives were so tangibly in a partial connection with the State, and the emergence of the State in their village was similarly partial. Our conversation was a partial connection as well—full of relations that contained and exceeded each other simultaneously. I felt the capacity of this concept for grappling with analytical complexity—indeed the concept itself is an enactment of complexity. It shielded my analysis from the grammar of the “unit” (and the plural). Haraway’s “cyborg” was also useful—her “one is too few, but two is too many,” which according to Marilyn Strathern inspired her “more than one, less than many”—and thus… under the spell of these wonder women analysts, partial connections became my “unit of analysis.” I hope the spell is never broken… currently it does its work in silence. And I have to add that my falling under this spell was propitiated by conversations with colleagues at UNC-Chapel Hill: Arturo Escobar, Judy Farquhar and Margaret Wiener. Years later, I met Mario Blaser—he was at Chapel Hill as a post-doc; I was already at UC Davis. We presented at the same conference and surprised each other with the similarities of our perspectives. The three of us—Mario, Arturo and I—have been in conversation for more than ten years now.

Can you elaborate on the relationship between STS and your work?

I locate my work at the interface between of STS and non-STS. My conceptual and perhaps even empirical inspiration comes from STS, but I do not do the anthropology of science—perhaps I could call it an anthropology in the company of the anthropology of science—I do think through relational comparisons with STS quite frequently. Something I know I am not doing is work at “the interface between modern or non-modern” because that would simplify the partial connection that the “interface” where I locate my work is.

Inevitably, Mariano’s archive—a historical object made with practices that it could not contain (because they were ahistorical)—acted as a proposal to work with ontology as analytics. It revealed history as an event that does ontological political work. In turn, my analysis commented on two aspects of this work. First, history, or its performance, distributes the real and the unreal, and second, this distribution also allocates what can and cannot be included in politics. No wonder the event of history—its performance—is important! And here I am conjuring Foucault of course: eventalizing is his method-concept. I use it to historicize both the politics of politics and the politics of history—and also their work together. They (Politics and History) are twin events, jointly birthed from state-practice as their womb-midwife. This phrase is indirectly (or perhaps directly!) connected with comments by Deleuze and Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus (1987) on the intimacies between the state, the book and history—logos, the philosopher-king, and their counter-proposal of nomadic thought, short-term ideas, and on recognizing the micropolitics within every macropolitics. We inscribe as knowledge what the state can certify, or more dramatically, what it “allows us” to inscribe as knowledge; doing so, we negotiate with it in a dance of knowledge/hegemony, and we do what is epistemically allowed; nothing more and also nothing less, of course. The constraint is that we cannot do something else. And within (I also want to say without) this constraint, persons like Mariano Turpo and earth-beings in the Andes and Davi Kopenawa and Yanomami spirits of the forests (Kopenawa and Albert 2013, Viveiros de Castro 2007) are important because, being beyond “the allowed,” their agencements—what and how they become, their doings—challenge authorized knowledge not to mention state recognition. This means that I do not side with them benevolently (they would reject any benevolence indeed!)—I side with them selfishly, because I need the challenge they pose.

So is that related to your statement that you don’t understand Mariano, because your history doesn’t allow you to?

If my “understanding” transpires through (modern epistemic) knowledge, I don’t understand Mariano’s practices. I don’t know what he did. I cannot know because what he does is not within epistemic limits. If understanding is to feel what he does, to be moved by it from my not-knowing, and to allow it to make me think—about not-knowing for example—I understand Mariano. And I need him (and Nazario!) And of course, importantly: that I could “not get” what they did, did not cancel their doings! This is sort of Clastres 101—it has never been sufficiently paid attention to: “It is imperative to accept that negation [or absence, I would say] does not signify nothingness; that when the mirror does not reflect our own likeness, it does not prove there is nothing to perceive” (Clastres 2007: 20).

Theory and concept

I remember you once told me that you were less interested in “only theory,” and your book was less about methods for collecting information than about thinking through relations, the stories they allowed, and the creation of concepts. What are the differences between theories and concepts? And how does this relate to your “borrowing concepts” from other authors?

Did I tell you that when you were here in Davis? The difference I make between theories and concepts is simple: for me, to speak theoretically is to speak without the empirical. And to speak conceptually is to speak with the empirical, and at times, with what escapes the empirical—earth-beings for example. So when I say “I borrow,” for example, “cosmopolitics” from Stengers, what I mean is that I use it to think empirically with it in order to formulate what I present as a concrete abstraction. Now, this last phrase sounds oxymoronic, right? I want to use this weird-sounding phrase—concrete abstraction—to call attention to the specificity of ethnographic concepts as those that do not easily detach from what provoked them, and when they do so they still refer back to their “conception.” That is the kind of concept I work with and towards. Ethnographic concepts evoke what Walter Benjamin (1968: 90) says of the story of the storyteller: “it preserves and concentrates its strength and is capable of releasing it after a long time.” An ethnographic concept preserves the strength of what made it: it is that localized strength that makes the concept travel. Indigenous cosmopolitics as I thought it is not the same as the concept that Stengers (2005) invented. She was thinking through Latour’s “parliament of things” and what would happen to modern politics if things were to be brought into it—cosmopolitics was for her a philosophical speculative tool. I wasn’t thinking about (modern) things being brought into (modern) politics, and I was not speculating (only—because I was also speculating, at least somewhat). I was speaking from an empirical situation as I faced the participation in politics of an entity—that was not a human but that was also not a modern thing—and in so doing, was making present a world that was different from the world that saw it as a mountain. I used cosmopolitics to reflect on a negotiation between worlds that alters the ontology of modern politics—politics as a human modern endeavor—and is also different from cosmopolitics as a speculative philosophical concept about the inclusion of things in politics. Cosmopolitics as ethnographic concept emerges from an empirical condition that was also not only such because the entity in question—the earth-being—exceeded “the empirical” as it escaped observation. In that sense it was also a speculative notion, yet an ethnographic one.

I think the above also illustrates what I mean by borrowing: I use what I think is useful from a term, and transform it for my purposes. I think I did the same with Marilyn Strathern’s “partial connections”; in my work it is not only the concept as she used it. Isn’t that what we all do? Borrow and transform, stay connected and do something else—something like a torque that generates an otherwise.

Partial connections

Could you explain the differences and relations of “partial connections” and “not only”?

They are related! “Not only” shares with partial connections a post-plural vocation (away from units—“units of analysis,” for example—and towards multiplicity and complexity) but wants to emphasize a different intervention. Both signal entities, things, events as “more than one and less than many”; a simple distinction is that while “partial connections” is a relation, “not only” is also about being as a condition of “and… and…and” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 25). Importantly, it indicates that an entity, thing, or practice is not a totality—neither complete or incomplete: always exceeding what it also is, even if this excess has not been confirmed via experience. More than one, less than many—partial connections—allows us to think machine-human, or human-animal as they become together. “Not only” works with that and emphasizes the excess—that which which neither category (human-animal, for example) might contain. Human-animal might be not only each of them: human but not only/animal but not only. The phrase opens space for what is neither animal or human. A potential emergence. I tend to explain  “not only” recursively: I say that it points to what is not only what it also is. Not only does not tell you what it also is because it wants to perform an ontological opening to a possibility [of something] that does not need to be known to be (such a possibility).

What do you think are the most striking differences between the partial connections of yours and that of Mol’s and Law’s (e.g., Law 2004), from whose descriptions you explain partial connections in Earth Beings?

In Earth Beings I think partial connections from political ontology. As a relational condition, partial connections include a politics of reality between what we call “modern” and that which refuses to be only such—which we could call “amodern,” where the latter exceeds the former which discounts it (if it ever counts it.) Within the partial connection, the state can define for its public what the connection is about: it can define the connection as being about wholes and parts and cancel that which it considers (a part that) does not belong to the whole (and therefore is not!) Hence partial connections do not even appear—it is all or nothing: a whole and its parts. What appears are relations (between the state and its others) that can be heterogeneous (for example: discrimination, multicultural assimilation, and an endless combination of both) through practices of classification that divide ‘self’ and ‘others’ and depending on the occasion, want to include or exclude the other within, or from, the self. The partial connection between indigeneity and state that I present in Earth Beings is one in which the former exceeds the latter, but the latter ignores it, and that ignorance (both as disavowal and as incapacity to know) cancels that which is ignored: it is not.

In Annemarie Mol’s (2002) work, the practices that make atherosclerosis are heterogeneous but they can be recognized—even as they are made singular. The ontological politics between the heterogeneous practices that make atherosclerosis is between more and less powerful practices—but they all are as they emerge through epistemic knowledge practices (or a translation to it). The practices that make earth-beings are not—they vanish into belief—when translated to the world of the state because earth-beings are beyond the possibility of state recognition. To be with earth-beings the state would have to undo itself!

Yeah, but maybe patients cannot recognize the disease in the same way the doctors recognize it? Isn’t that the same as the modern politicians…

I don’t think it is the same. Of course there is no absolute difference, but it is not the same either. When a patient talks about pain, doctors translate it into something unrecognizable by the patient (and vice versa, the patient might not recognize the disease as the doctors recognize it) but pain is between patient and physicians, and it is multiple indeed. In contrast, the usual (and usually epistemic) translation of earth-beings would start from the assertion that “earth-beings are beliefs, i.e. earth-beings are not. Whereas doctors and patient acknowledge pain, even if they do not know it through the same practice. Earth beings are translated into culture, acknowledged as a belief about mountains. This is a translation in two steps: the first one cancels the practices that make the entity and thus the entity; the second one is an acknowledgement of what these entities (not only) are: “culture”—without the (not only) of course. A partial connection translated through a “part and whole” formula that makes the complexity disappear…

You quote John Law (2004): “The argument is that ‘this’ (whatever ‘this’ may be) is included in ‘that,’ but ‘this’ cannot be reduced to ‘that’.” And you continue: “To paraphrase: my world was included in the world that my friends inhabited and vice versa, but their world could not be reduced to mine, or mine to theirs” (de la Cadena 2015: 4).  So I understand your world, the modern world, is included in your friends Mariano and Nazario’s world, but in the other direction…

It is also included because my world(s) is not without that “other world.” But my world does not recognize it—is not equipped to recognize it. It was not easy for me—I had to slow down, be stopped by Mariano and Nazario and be taught and co-labor in order to understand the complexities in our relation—but that does not mean that I could recognize the composition of the excesses to, let’s call it “my knowledge equipment,” that were through the partial connection. How could I recognize that which I could not know—that which is not accessible through translation into epistemic representation? I really like that quote by John—it helped me to articulate partial connections for Earth Beings. Now I also realize that it is very close to “not only”—maybe what I add to it (to make the “not only”) is that what in his quote “is not reducible” (to “this” or “that”) may not be what it initially was.

Your partial connections imply movement, but even as they keep moving in terms of more and more overlapping and incorporating parts of each other (indigenous/modern), in a way the two worlds still remain separate. So what changes? I understand that indigenous-mestizos are not becoming one or even hybrid, but are they becoming more different through current partial connections? Or are they becoming more similar to each other?

Yes there is history, so there are changes, definitely. And of course movement—there is nothing that is not movement. But there is not “two worlds!” Ours are not two worlds—but they are not one either, right? My realization of what the complexity that ‘more than one less that two worlds’ implies was empirical. I realized both the sharing of worlds and the mutual excess through the amassing of crucial ethnographic moments—also because those moments were emotional. For example, when participating together, Nazario and I, in the defense of the Ausangate at the main square of Cuzco! Same place, same moment, same purpose, same networks—but not only. So more than one, less than two, definitely. And there is history and historical changes, but that does not mean that two becomes one, or that one becomes the other. My analytical terms would not have room for proceses where “indigenous becomes modern or modern becomes indigenous.” Our worlds inhabit both conditions, but the ways they do so are historically different and so is what we call change. And there is the ahistorical too—and that exceeds the analytics of change or difference.

Right, but these two—modern and indigenous—exist and just show one side at a time, maybe mixed or separated, but the indigenous and modern are the two things that stay as two categories?

Yes those are two categories—as usually used, they may appear as binaries, yet used together they may be useful as analytics to explore juxtapositions while maintaining the modern historical distinction between them. To see how they appear as both/and and as either/or, even simultaneously. I think that the task is to prevent the modern distinction from occupying all that the categories can offer if ethnograhically exposed to the empirical, and also to open up them up to what may escape the empirical. This can start by avoiding the taxonomic practices of the state and their historicist implications… for example, the hybrid that results from the mixture of “indigenous” and “modern” as two distinct conditions that pre-existed their combination…. This is the mestizo of Latin American nation-state’s bio-political taxonomies: the hybrid that was indigenous and now is not indigenous. Instead indigenous-mestizos (as a concept, not an ‘identity’) is a permanent hybrid, a complex intra-relational possibility occupying time-space simultaneously (rather than resolving temporally as historical mixture….). I use the categories of the state, because I want to communicate with and through those categories. But I start from hybridity: indigenous is an encounter, a complex hybrid—a partial connection—from the get-go. And of course the partial connection (the complex hybridity, which is not with transitional boundaries!) is not outside history—but the hybridity does not transpire in history, nor does history purify the connection. The partial connection is a historical condition—but history does not undo it, rather it becomes through it. (And of course, the partial connection may exceed history as well, but I will not bore you with excess anymore!)

Equivocations and translations

 “[Equivocations] can … be controlled. This requires paying attention to the process of translation itself” (de la Cadena 2010: 351) I think this is something you show performatively in your writing through the conversation between the author and the informants/friends. I mean, instead of just paying attention to the process taking place in the field, I read you as intentionally recreating and enacting the equivocations and thus, so to speak, accompanying radical differences.

You are absolutely right, I performed slowing down. My writing enacted an analytical process that “paid attention to the process of translation.” I showed what I was doing when moving words/things from one world-place to the other to control the equivocation, and to show what could have gone uncontrolled. In that sense it could be said that I “created” the equivocation for the reader to participate in it. If I did something intentionally, it was to show what could have easily been uncontrolled, and how that would have yielded “difference” explained within “the same” and thus easily understood. Yes, I performed the equivocations in my writing to reveal translation as practice. But thanks for this question because I had not thought about it in exactly those terms—I wanted to reveal the translation, but did not think through the phrase you are giving me: “enacting the equivocation.” I like that, it is very provocative, generative as conceptual method.

It’s common for anthropologists to take it as their task to learn to see from local peoples’ points of view. And in that sense, I imagine it’s not too difficult to see Ausangate as Ausangate. Or at least, after living there for a while and talking with people who take it as a being, to not see it as a mountain.

I can see Ausangate as other than a mountain, and I can call it an earth-being, but I do not know Ausangate as earth-being. I would not say that knowledge is the relationship from where runakuna and tirakuna (or Ausangate specifically) emerge. I know that runakuna and tirakuna are (together) in relationship that makes (what I call) place—but: is what I call place all that runakuna and tirakuna emerge as? Place may be how I connect with their emergence—how I know it—but it does not occupy all that their emergence is. And that is without even considering that, as I learned from Nazario, Ausangate (as earth being) cannot be represented! The way I know, as an anthroologist, is through representation: useful in my relation with Ausangate—my knowledge of it—but also insufficient as Ausangate exceeds representation, or my knowledge through it. A picture of Ausangate may be representing only the mountain, which is not only such, with the italicized claused exceeding representation and being with it. Intriguingly complex, isn’t it?

Do you think outsiders cannot really get involved in relations with earth-beings like Mariano and Nazario?

I don’t know—what would an outsider be vis-à-vis Ausangate? I think I would not say that “outsiders” cannot get involved. I would say that getting involved requires training… learning the relation, and possibly learning through relations that I cannot even imagine. I do not know if you remember that passage in the book where I am asking Nazario for a definition of pukara and he answers “pukara is pukara and what you are going to write will not be pukara—pukara is a different way of speaking.” Nazario’s phrase stops representation—stops knowing through the relation that representation is—and I wanted to maintain that. His phrase, as it spoke to me, closes knowledge through representation and opens other possibilities, including the possibility for other relations. I know that Ausangate is an entity constantly made present, but what that entity is… I cannot “know as usual.” Would Mariano and Nazario term their practices knowledge? Maybe, but then it would be a knowing how-to with the emphasis on how-to: they know how-to become with tirakuna. I don’t have the least idea about how to become with tirakuna. That doesn’t mean that I couldn’t have learned. But I didn’t want to learn.

Why not?

Many reasons! But mainly because I felt that there was not enough time, and also because I was scared. Scared because it might have been too hard for my body, for my mind, for my emotion, for my everything. I did not need that as an anthropologist… it would have been moving myself, translating myself into something that I don’t want to be. And I wasn’t offered the possibility either—Mariano and Nazario never offered to teach me—and I know they had previously “taught” other anthropologists to be with Ausangate and other earth-beings.

I see. Maybe these reasons are related to my impression that you are restrained or modest. Also, I thought you were particular about describing their practices from your knowledge or your grammar. You showed the learning processes to understand Ausangate and their ways of living in the community, but it was often through asking, like, “Is Machu Picchu the same as Ausangate?” Also you got this phrase “not only,” as explained by them in language.  

Right—my tools were my knowledge and my grammar, but I learned that I could only go so far with them in relation to earth-beings. And yes, we used words: I was working in Quechua, and translating to Spanish (and English.) But some words in Quechua were practices as well.  Those words were not only words [laughs]—we were doing—a t’inka for example—and I would ask about the practice naming the word, and sometimes I got a “definition” (a representation of what we were doing, in the case of t’inka it could have been “inviting the earth-being to participate in our event”), but many times, and more productively perhaps, I also learned that word-and-practice were one. What this means is that the answers were more than words—the words in the answers were practices. And of course our words also became our conversation: an interface composed by questions, answers, practices, walks, smiles, and more that we inhabited in different ways—like with any conversation I suppose, except that ours was ongoing, and had a book as a purpose. The conversation was what we had in common—and it was a most important thing. It made us together.

How do you describe the way your work changed or challenged the previous categories (e.g., indigenous/modern or the oppressed/oppressor) or “our” ontology?

It challenged the categories I used but also the grammar with which I put them together—for example: the grammar of discrete entities was inadequate to think the phrase “runakuna-tirakuna take-place.” That is a phrase in which, as Helen Verran (personal communication) would say: “there is no matter in time and space.” There is no subject and object in that phrase (place is tirakuna-runakuna as well as vice-versa); also, time and space are together in “taking-place.” But the lesson that I most cherish—the most important, the one I want to disseminate—is that for entities or events to be, “we” modern knowers do not have to know them. I learned to challenge the Cartesian “cogito ergo sum” as it extends into “things or events are because we know them.” Entities can be eventful beyond the limit of modern knowledge. Modern knowledge is not needed for what is not within it to begin! Through practice, I learned a lesson in political ontology: not everything is through modern epistemology.

Would you say that’s a change that happened to yourself?

Exactly. This brings me back to your previous question about the difference between my work and Annemarie Mol and John Law’s: they work within the bounds of modern knowledge and practices. Beyond that I need someone else’s work:  Marilyn Strathern is my “go to” thinker in this case.[3] She uses what she calls “Melanesian” (concepts, practices, relations, events) in translation to rethink notions that are central to the ways “we” know, like “relation.” She goes there, where she doesn’t have access, to get puzzled and uses that puzzlement to figure a translation that alters her thought — not to make it “Melanesian” but to alter her categories—which also continue to be the same, but not only. I am with her, and I am also with Mariano and Nazario, and with them I want to open view of worlding practices that exceed how we know.

Future projects

Could you tell us what you are working on now?

The working title of my current research project is “Learning Cow.” I conduct it in collaboration with Santiago Martínez, an anthropologist who is also a physician—he is from Colombia, where we will work on the project. “Learning cow” is a working conceptual metaphor, and an aspring ethnographic concept with which we want to achieve several things. On the one hand, it paraphrases Evans-Pritchard’s “bovine-idiom” to look at how it might do work in pastoralist practices in contemporary Colombia. On the other hand, “learning cow” alludes to the anthropological requirement of learning the human language of our field site. In Colombia (as in most places were cows are bred) there is a vast and heterogeneous human language related to practices of cows’ lives—and also their deaths. Veterinarians, biologists, ranch owners/workers, peasants, merchants, industrialists, breeders’ associations and others speak a partially connected contemporary “bovine idiom” à la Evans-Pritchard which we—diverging from him—locate in the space between “human and cows” and make of such interface an analytical site. I do not know if it has any continuity with Earth Beings—perhaps the idea that the unit of analysis is the relation that comes from the Haraway-Strathern conversation is a continuity. But we might not write an ethnographic monograph—we  have talked instead about a series of ethnographic concepts referring to cow-human related events that may not only be local. Methane for example—the trajectory from local grass to burps to CH4—how does that happen? Something else that is fascinating us is the industry of bull semen, artificial insemination and what we are calling “genetics without genes,” but we also are interested in practices that are very local, like human-animal training for example.

Yoko Taguchi is a Junior Fellow at the Graduate School of Social Sciences, Hitotsubashi University, Tokyo. She has done anthropological fieldwork in Mumbai, India, focusing on citizens’ movements and activists’ personhood. Her publications include “Corruption, anti-corruption, and “personal values”: citizen movements connecting “two selves” in Mumbai, India” (Japanese Journal of Cultural Anthropology (2016). In Japanese: 「腐敗、反腐敗、『個人的価値』:インド、ムンバイにおける『二つの自己』をつなぐ市民の運動」『文化人類学』) and “Civic sense and cleanliness: pedagogy and aesthetics in middle-class Mumbai activism.” (Contemporary South Asia (2013)) She and her colleagues translated anthropological works into Japanese, including Marilyn Strathen’s Partial connections and Annemarie Mol’s The body multiple: ontology in medical practice. She has also recently translated Marisol de la Cadena’s article, “Indigenous Cosmopolitics in the Andes: Conceptual Reflections Beyond ‘Politics.'”


[1] “The World Multiple: Everyday Politics of Knowing and Generating” conference was held at the National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka, on December 10–11, 2016. An edited volume based on the conference papers is under preparation by Keiichi Omura, Atsuro Morita, Grant Otsuki and Shiho Satsuka.

[2] Mariano and Nazario Turpo, father and son, were both Quchua speaking runakuna (the plural for person in Quechua—singular is runa) with whom I sustained the conversation that was the primary material for Earth Beings. They not only allowed me to write a book; they opened up for me the possibility of a new way of thinking.

[3] See Annemarie Mol (2011) and Marilyn Strathern (2011) for an exchange about the relations and differences of their perspectives.


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