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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Cultural colonialism and ethnography : European travellers in nineteenth century Ecuador Fitzell, Jill


As a contribution to the historical anthropology of colonial processes and the politics of ethnographic representation, I describe and analyse the work of European travellers in the highlands of nineteenth century Ecuador a a case study of the relationship between colonialism and representation in a particular historical context. I investigate European work through its practical application in the ethnographic context of Ecuadorian spatial politics and organization, as an alternative to the formal analysis of literary strategies and political discourses within a purely textual frame. The validity of Europeans' vision of Ecuadorian space is examined in relation to two different audiences. I questioned the legitimacy of their accounts for twentieth century anthropologists, as a basis for ethnographic knowledge about the organization and politics of space in Ecuador at that time. I also questioned the extent of their legitimation by nineteenth century Ecuadorians, and whether their work there came to be seen as a common-sense vision o the world. I address the concerns of these audiences through a comparative analysis of European and Ecuadorian points of view. The first section focuses on an ethnographic analysis of spatial representation in the travellers' accounts: the ways in which historical and cultural conditions limited their consciousness of Ecuadorian points of view, but also the ways in which they successfully described local organization of space. The second section focuses on a discursive analysis of the travellers' work: the new political languages which emerged as their scientific and progressive conceptions of space were removed from their intended discursive context and redeployed in the different environment of Ecuadorian culture and history. I conclude that the European accounts are valid sources of ethnographic knowledge about the organization and politics of space in Ecuador. Although travel accounts were dismissed as legitimate ethnographies in early twentieth century anthropology, they should be recognized today as early examples of fieldwork and ethnographic writing before anthropology became a professional discipline. Recognizing these accounts as marginalized forms of ethnography can contribute to current reflexive critiques of anthropological practice. They contribute to an understanding of anthropology's roots in the ideological tension between romantic natural history and objective natural science which continues to influence the discipline today. The accounts also foreground the sites and relations which have been excluded from more recent ethnographic frames, such as the process of "getting there", the national context and capital city which ethnographers pass through to reach the "field", and the cosmopolitan intermediaries and complex political negotiations involved in representing local points of view. Recognizing these external relations contributes to recent arguments that ethnographies must represent the larger global and national conditions through which local encounters are mediated. I also conclude that the Europeans were indirectly but inevitably involved in Ecuador in the nineteenth century process of imperial expansion. Their diplomatic services, their natural scientific fieldwork and collections, and their descriptive accounts, contributed knowledge which was useful in Europe to assess the potential for market expansion through trade relations and the extraction of raw resources. On the other hand, an examination of their influence in Ecuador, rather than in Europe, contributes to a recognition that their more direct involvement in the success of cultural colonialism was limited. Although they had social influence and intellectual legitimation amongst the cosmopolitan ruling elite of Quito, their ideas and activity in Ecuador were not generally accepted as a commonsense vision of the world. Furthermore, their work was variously and ingeniously appropriated by different social groups to bear unexpected meanings as Ecuadorians constructed their own visions of nationhood and modernity.

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