Theses Doctoral

The Changing Value of Food: Localizing Modernity among the Tsimané Indians of Lowland Bolivia

Zycherman, Ariela

This dissertation offers an ethnographic account of the contemporary relationships between livelihood practices and food among the Tsimané Indians of the Bolivian Amazon. Because of the multitudinous properties of food, I use it as both a tool and a metaphor to focus my discussion on how a history of development in the region coalesces into new constructions of identity, values, practices, and knowledge for the Tsimané. Through a framework of `localized' modernity, I argue that food and food related processes are not only shaped by broad and indirect forms of development over time, but that they moderate them by formulating the ways in which they take root in everyday life. Understanding contemporary articulations of indigenous identity and cultural constructions is increasingly important to small lowland indigenous groups throughout Latin America, but particularly in Bolivia, where indigenous groups are engaging in new claims over autonomy, land, and resource rights as part of a new "plurinational" state. By offering insight into contemporary indigenous practices and knowledge, I draw attention to the ways politicized ideals of indigeneity in Bolivia can conflict with local ontologies. Based on over a year of fieldwork, the dissertation is organized into two sections. The first section examines a century of regional shifts that transformed the landscape in which the Tsimané historically reside along with their ability to survive solely from subsistence activities. I situate contemporary forms of livelihood production, specifically logging, within this history in order to highlight how past experiences transform local articulations of the emerging national indigenous and environmental politics of 'Vivir Bien'. The second section focuses specifically on livelihoods and food. I call attention to the ways global, national, and regional processes are experienced, interpreted, and transformed on a local level and through time. I illustrate this in three ways: first, through a discussion of time allotment and the relationship between subsistence activities and cash accruing activities; second, through a comparison of how people think about the domain of food and how they consume food; and lastly, through a discussion of one of the most important cooked foods of the Tsimané, Shocdye (beer), and the ways in which changing livelihood activities, conceptions of dietary practice, and social relationships and roles coalesce through cooking and eating.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Applied Anthropology
Thesis Advisors
Comitas, Lambros
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 22, 2013