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Living Ruins

Native Engagements with Past Materialities in Contemporary Mesoamerica, Amazonia, and the Andes

edited by Philippe Erikson and Valentina Vapnarsky

Hardcover Price $71.00
Ebook Price $56.00
30-day ebook rental price $28.00

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“A major, ethnographically focused, empirically based, and theoretically cutting-edge contribution to the field of critical heritage studies that warrants global readership.”
—Christian Isendahl, University of Gothenburg

“An illuminating and much-needed contribution to the discussion of the decolonization of cultural studies, Living Ruins shows, in all its intricacies, the basic ambivalence of Native attitudes toward vestiges of the past, oscillating between fascination and fear, patrimonial pride and metaphysical discomfort."
—Philippe Descola, Collège de France, author of Beyond Nature and Culture

"This pathbreaking collection shows how vestiges of the past become sites of ontological encounter where contrasting understandings of time, materiality and 'life' are played out. Living Ruins interrogates these issues with ethnographic depth, theoretical sophistication and respect."
—Catherine Allen, The George Washington University


Ruins and remnants of the past are endowed with life rather than mere relics handed down from previous generations. Living Ruins explores some of the ways Indigenous people relate to the material remains of human activity and provides an informed and critical stance that nuances and contests institutionalized patrimonialization discourse on vestiges of the past in present landscapes.

Ten case studies from the Maya region, Amazonia, and the Andes detail and contextualize narratives, rituals, and a range of practices and attitudes toward different kinds of vestiges. The chapters engage with recently debated issues such as regimes of historicity and knowledge, cultural landscapes, conceptions of personhood and ancestrality, artifacts, and materiality. They focus on Indigenous perspectives rather than mainstream narratives such as those mediated by UNESCO, Hollywood, travel agents, and sometimes even academics. The contributions provide critical analyses alongside a multifaceted account of how people relate to the place/time nexus, expanding our understanding of different ontological conceptualizations of the past and their significance in the present.

Living Ruins adds to the lively body of work on the invention of tradition, Indigenous claims on their lands and history, “retrospective ethnogenesis,” and neo-Indianism in a world where tourism, NGOs, and Western essentialism are changing Indigenous attitudes and representations. This book is significant to anyone interested in cultural heritage studies, Amerindian spirituality, and Indigenous engagement with archaeological sites in Latin America.

Contributors: Cedric Becquey, Laurence Charlier Zeineddine, Marie Chosson, Pablo Cruz, Philippe Erikson, Antoinette Molinié, Fernando Santos-Granero, Emilie Stoll, Valentina Vapnarsky, Pirjo Kristiina Virtanen


Philippe Erikson is professor and former chair of the anthropology department at the University of Paris Nanterre, and currently editor-in-chief of the Journal de la Société des Américanistes. He has carried out long-term fieldwork in Brazil and in Bolivia among the Matis since 1984 and among the Chacobo since 1991, and published widely on Amazonian anthropology.

Valentina Vapnarsky is research director at the CNRS and holds a chair of linguistic anthropology at the EPHE, Paris. She is currently president of the Société des Américanistes and director of the EREA research center at University of Paris Nanterre. Trained in both linguistics and anthropology, she has done fieldwork in Guatemala (Itza Maya) and Mexico (Yucatec Maya).

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  • Hardcover Price: $71.00
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-64642-285-2
  • Ebook Price: $56.00
  • 30-day ebook rental price: $28.00
  • EISBN: 978-1-64642-286-9
  • Publication Month: October
  • Publication Year: 2022
  • Pages: 278
  • Illustrations: 36
  • Discount Type: Short
  • Author: edited by Philippe Erikson and Valentina Vapnarsky
  • ECommerce Code: 978-1-64642-285-2
  • Get Permissions: Get Permission

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