LIVING RUINS, ed. by P. Erikson & V. Vapnarsky (2022)

Living Ruins

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

Edited by Philippe Erikson and Valentina Vapnarsky

University Press of Colorado, 2022

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. Ruins and remnants of the past are endowed with life rather than mere relics handed down from previous generations.

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.


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

Anyone interested may pre-order with a 40% discount on the site of the University Press of Colorado, with the attached promo code: ERIK22. (It will expire shortly after publication).

About the Editors

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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