Cultural Logics and Global Economies

[ Latin American Studies ]

Cultural Logics and Global Economies

Maya Identity in Thought and Practice

By Edward F. Fischer

Drawing on recent theories from cognitive studies, interpretive ethnography, and political economy, Edward F. Fischer looks at individual Maya activists and local cultures, as well as changing national and international power relations, to understand how ethnic identities are constructed and expressed in the modern world.



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6 x 9 | 303 pp.

ISBN: 978-0-292-72534-8

As ideas, goods, and people move with increasing ease and speed across national boundaries and geographic distances, the economic changes and technological advances that enable this globalization are also paradoxically contributing to the balkanization of states, ethnic groups, and special interest movements. Exploring how this process is playing out in Guatemala, this book presents an innovative synthesis of the local and global factors that have led Guatemala's indigenous Maya peoples to assert and defend their cultural identity and distinctiveness within the dominant Hispanic society.

Drawing on recent theories from cognitive studies, interpretive ethnography, and political economy, Edward F. Fischer looks at individual Maya activists and local cultures, as well as changing national and international power relations, to understand how ethnic identities are constructed and expressed in the modern world. At the global level, he shows how structural shifts in international relations have opened new venues of ethnic expression for Guatemala's majority Maya population. At the local level, he examines the processes of identity construction in two Kaqchikel Maya towns, Tecpán and Patzún, and shows how divergent local norms result in different conceptions and expressions of Maya-ness, which nonetheless share certain fundamental similarities with the larger pan-Maya project. Tying these levels of analysis together, Fischer argues that open-ended Maya "cultural logics" condition the ways in which Maya individuals (national leaders and rural masses alike) creatively express their identity in a rapidly changing world.

  • Acknowledgments
  • Part I: Context of Study
    • 1. Maya Culture and Identity Politics
    • 2. Tecpán and Patzún
  • Part II: Global Processes and Pan-Maya Identity Politics
    • 3. Guatemalan Political Economies and the World System
    • 4. The Rise of Pan-Maya Activism
    • 5. Constructing a Pan-Maya Identity in a Postmodern World
  • Part III: Maya Identity as Lived Experience in Tecpán and Patzún
    • 6. Souls, Socialization, and the Kaqchikel Self
    • 7. Hearth, Kin, and Communities
    • 8. Local Forms of Ethnic Resistance
    • 9. Economic Change and Cultural Continuity
  • Part IV: Conclusion
    • 10. Convergent Strategies and Cultural Logics
  • Notes
  • Glossary
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Maya culture has been shaped by the favorable and unfavorable circumstances under which it has existed, and yet it remains the same culture developed by our ancestors over thousands of years of history in what is today Guatemala. The form of our culture has changed, but not its essence.

Raxche' (1992)

No tradition is constructed or invented and discontinuous with history... [traditions] are chosen because of what they distill ontologically; that is, they make sense and condense a logic of ideas which may also be integrated to the people who make the selection although hidden from their reflective consciousness.

Bruce Kapferer (1988)

Early one Sunday afternoon in late October 1981, Doña Ramona Peres Tuj, while working at her market stall in Tecpán, Guatemala, received word that the army was looking for two of her sons. Not knowing if the news should be believed—it could have been a cruel practical joke— she rushed home to alert the family, who decided that the threat was real enough: the Peres Tuj boys had been involved in several Kaqchikel Maya cultural organizations that the army now viewed as subversive, and one of their uncles had been disappeared by unknown men earlier that same week. The fate of those arrested was no secret: everyone had heard the late-night cries of people taken for questioning to the army compound in the middle of town, many of whom never returned; and so the Peres Tuj family decided to take no chances. They hurriedly bundled up a few belongings and were on a bus headed for the relative anonymity of Guatemala City within three hours of receiving the initial threat. In the capital they found a small apartment in a neighborhood filled with some of the tens of thousands of other families likewise fleeing violence in their home communities. The Peres Tuj family lived in their new urban home for almost eight years, and while the children adapted to their new surroundings with youthful enthusiasm, the parents mostly whiled away their time indoors. Don Carlos longed to get back to his fields, which he had hastily entrusted to relatives, and Doña Ramona missed the bustle of the Tecpán market where she had sold sweaters. Their children finished their studies, worked odd jobs along the way to help the family survive, and all went on to attend the university, at least intermittently.

At the university, the Peres Tuj youths encountered other young Maya students froin across Guatemala, most of whom had come to the capital under similar circumstances, and they became involved in a loosely organized network of Maya student groups concerned with promoting peace and protecting their cultural heritage. Given the political climate (50-200 people a month were being kidnapped in Guatemala City during the early 1980s, mostly student and labor activists), the groups met in secret. They also took pains to distance themselves from popular leftist groups that supported armed rebellion, focusing instead on less threatening issues of cultural conservation. Since the violence in Guatemala began to subside in the mid-1980s, the number of groups promoting Maya pride and cultural rights has dramatically expanded, part of what I term the pan-Maya movement. With their growing ranks, these groups have taken on higher public profiles (tellingly, their activities now receive routine coverage in the country's major newspapers), which they are effectively able to leverage for greater influence in national political debates.

In 1989, Don Carlos and Doña Ramona returned to Tecpán and began to rebuild the life they had enjoyed there before the violence. It was never quite the same, as suspicion had poisoned so many social relationships, but it was certainly preferable to living in the capital. The older Peres Tuj boys stayed on in Guatemala City, continuing their studies and becoming ever more involved in Maya cultural activism; they have since married, had children, and are raising them in Guatemala City. Yet they have not forsaken their ties to Tecpán. All maintain plots of land there to supply part of their family's maize needs, and they frequently come home to visit and to participate in special celebrations and ceremonies. This is a pattern typical of the new generation of young, urban-based Maya leaders, and it points to the continued importance of cultural forms developed and played out in myriad small communities within the urban-centered development of a broad panMaya identity.

Leaders of Guatemala's pan-Maya movement seek to unite the country's Indian groups, which have long been divided by language, rugged terrain, and local custom. The Maya make up 40-60 percent of Guatemala's 11 million inhabitants (estimates range from the government's official 1994 figure of 41.9 percent to Maya estimates of greater than 60 percent), and most speak one of the country's twenty-one distinct Mayan languages. The Guatemalan Maya thus form one of the largest concentrations of indigenous people in the Americas, but they are also one of the poorest and most divided. More than 80 percent live in rural areas inadequately served by public services, and almost 60 percent live in conditions of extreme poverty (UNDP 1999). State-level political and economic systems are dominated by a relatively small Spanish-speaking ladino elite, but Maya leaders hope that cultural unification will provide a peaceful path to garner greater Maya political voice in Guatemala's fledgling democracy. Yet Indian leaders are constrained in their creation of a pan-Maya identity, for they must remain true in spirit, if not in form, to the cultural norms that emerge through quotidian lived experience in the rural communities where most Maya live.

This book examines the tensions and synergies that arise from the conjuncture of national pan-Maya identity politics and lived experience in Tecpán and Patzún, two predominately Kaqchikel Maya towns. It brings together data gathered from multiple interdependent locales and levels of abstraction (the town, the state, the "world system"), attempting to trace linkages in the dynamic process of identity formation. My goal is not to privilege one level of analysis over another, but rather to highlight the mutually constitutive relations between local and pan-Maya cultural identities, between territorially grounded identity politics and transnational processes.

The relationship of local cultures to national and international systems has long been problematic for anthropologists (Marcus and Fischer 1986:91-92; Knorr-Cetina 1981:28). On the one hand, there is a long-standing tendency in ethnography to view local systems as discrete clusters of structures that constitute a unique whole. Such perspectives need not negate outside influences on local culture, but in practice they often relegate external influences to a secondary status. At the other extreme, world-system theorists often treat peripheral formations as mere reactants to change emanating from the core of the world system. This book seeks a middle ground, representing Maya individuals as actively seeking their self-conceived best interests while working within larger systems not entirely of their own making.

In the chapters that follow I examine various forms of Maya cultural identity, individual as well as collective, local as well as global. I argue that Maya identities as lived experiences and self-interested presentations share certain discernible patterns linked both to an underlying cultural substrate (internalized through cognitive models) and to a dynamic articulation with increasingly global relations of political economy. After briefly introducing the sites of ethnographic research, I turn to an analysis of Maya identity politics (particularly the rise of the pan-Maya movement) in the context of ladino (non-Indian)-dominated Guatemalan state politics. I show that certain urban Maya intellectuals and leaders have tactically engaged emergent structures of global political and economic relations to advance their own ends and those of their peoples. Anthropologists today are well aware of the constructed nature of identity (more pastiche and contingent manipulation than inescapable heritage), and in many ways the pan-Maya movement is a textbook example of an imaged community. Yet, Maya identity politics are actively shaped by both the larger context in which they exist and the lived experience of individuals living in rural Maya communities.

Metaphors and Models of Culture

Famously paraphrasing Max Weber, Clifford Geertz writes "that man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, [and] I take culture to be those webs, and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretive one in search of meaning" (1973:5). This popular and enduring metaphor neatly captures the cultural properties of creativity as well as of observable structure. Yet, often overlooked in the comparison is that man weaves culture with largely borrowed strands, and the product is but a unique recombination of elements (and even swatches of structure) of other patterns. This is to say that humans exercise individual creativity only within the limits imposed by available (i.e., culturally recognized) material and ideational resources, a point that Geertz himself acknowledges in another of his memorable metaphors: "The culture of a people is an ensemble of texts, themselves ensembles, which the anthropologist strains to read over the shoulder of those to whom they properly belong" (ibid.:452). Cultural actors create their own unique cognitive worlds out of already cultured ideas. The nature of cultural creativity itself thus binds individuals together through points of common reference, reinforcing and creating cultural communities that may or may not correspond to a particular geographic territory.

Like those of spiders, webs of cultural meaning are sticky. Through cultural production in general—and not just fabricating lies—humans weave webs from which they cannot escape, at least not quickly, easily, or painlessly. At the level of internalized culture—individual cognitive patterns uniquely derived from available cultural resources—previous choices set one down a path that delimits the range of one's current opportunities. To many, this process gives rise to a belief in destiny, even if the pattern of causation is apparent only post hoc. At the level of culture in general, such individual "destinies" result in a degree of social stickiness that can be both beneficial (as in a sense of relatedness and purpose, of sharing common elements of cultural reference, and of maintaining a degree of security in a rapidly changing world) and potentially detrimental (as expressed through the zealous maintenance of boundaries, a cultivated ethnocentrism, and so on).

In this book I focus on such cultural stickiness, looking at how webs of meaning are woven between structural elements supplied by the material and social environment. As much recent anthropological theory has made clear, individuals actively construct their own cognitive and cultural worlds, and yet all these idiosyncratic constructions dynamically articulate with certain structural givens. And herein lie the limits of methodological individualism: individuals exercise creativity, but only within certain cultural constraints that are intimately related to the larger processes (often conceived of as "structures," yet themselves inherently dynamic) of national political structure, the world system, and globalization.

Essentialism and Anti-essentialism

Geertz's memorable metaphors and advocacy of interpretive anthropology did much to solidify a movement in the discipline that questions the static and homogeneous image of culture—presumably put forth by earlier ethnographers—to focus on the weaving of webs and not just their solidified structure. As part of this trend, anthropologists have increasingly concerned themselves over the last thirty years with understanding and representing microlevel change and diversity, giving the discipline a heightened sensitivity to individual variation and agency, particularly of the subaltern variety. This endeavor is as much political as intellectual, and it is seen by many as precisely the sort of praxis in which academics should engage—all research, including that which claims neutrality and objectivity, has political implications, and to ignore those implications is naive.

To the end of producing intellectually and politically liberating analyses, a number of anthropologists have adopted a stance of anti-essentialism. Essentialism here refers to the sort of analysis (both folk and academic) that makes "simplistic or universalizing assumptions about domination and uncritically assumes the possibilities or impossibilities of resistance based on a particular form of collective identity" (Knauft 1996:255; see also Obeyesekere 1997). To essentialize, in its pejorative sense, is to reduce the rich diversity of lived experience to social categories that are manageable both intellectually and politically. Essentialism thus reinforces the romantic themes of much ethnography and promotes the delusion of holism expressed in phrases such as "The Maya believe that . . ."

Yet, it should be noted that "essentialism" is itself an essentializing construct, and good ethnographers have long resisted essentializing tendencies in their representations, even before the term became common currency. The nuanced ethnographic observations of Sol Tax, Robert Redfield, Charles Wagley, and other putatively essentialist Maya ethnographers belie simple categorizations of their work as "essentialist." Perhaps the clearest example of scholarship in the tradition of essentialism is Paul Kirchoff's (1943) trait list of uniquely Mesoamerican cultural elements. Kirchoff's list focused on precolumbian traits (hieroglyphic writing, human sacrifice, maize-and-bean agriculture, a sacred 260-day calendar, and so forth), but it became a handy baseline against which to measure the persistence of autochthonous culture and the pace of acculturation. Such a trait-list approach to documenting cultural change, and the underlying notion of the inevitability of Westernization, was widely accepted by even the best ethnographers working in the first part of the twentieth century. At the time, acculturation was seen as largely inevitable: the homogenizing march of progress would continue the world over just as it had in the West, with native peoples unable to resist its imposition and seduction. Progressively modernist ethnographers were thus committed to the Boasian project of documenting lost and soon-to-be-lost elements of traditional cultures, and to this end they frequently resorted to trait lists of traditional and modern elements. Despite such good intentions on the part of their users, trait lists also served as essentializing constructs, both in academic representations (offering clearly defined categories for analytic modeling, as in Robert Redfield's [1941] folk-urban continuum) and in political policies (reducing the essence of a Maya Other in pursuit of social, political, and economic containment strategies). Such approaches have long been employed by the Guatemalan state to justify social engineering programs aimed at directing culture change by manipulating trait-list variables, often with dismal consequences.

Anti-essentialist approaches point out that what we know about the Maya, or any other group, is ultimately distilled from what we know about particular individuals, a knowledge that is at best incomplete (Said 1978; Clifford 1988). The most successful anti-essentialist approaches wed Geertzian phenomenology to self-referential textual criticism in a way that illuminates the rich complexity of forms and polyvalence of symbols from which social categories and trait lists are distilled (Spivak 1987, 1994; Bhabha 1990, 1994; Abu-Lughod 1991; Gupta and Ferguson 1992; García Canclini 1995; Appadurai 1996). In Maya scholarship, anti-essentialist analyses have effectively critiqued a long-standing perspective that assumed a clear linkage between contemporary Maya culture and ancient Maya forms, showing this as a form of archaeo-romanticism that in many ways supports neocolonial relations of dominance (Hervik 1992; Castañeda 1996; Montejo 1999).

In studies of identity politics, anti-essentialism is closely linked to theories of cultural construction that focus on how individuals and groups actively create their own psychological and cultural realities—weaving the webs of significance in which they live. One particularly fruitful branch of constructivist theory builds on the work (and terminology) of Benedict Anderson (1983) and Eric Hobsbawm (1983) to show how "invented traditions" are strategically deployed in the creation of "imagined communities" (e.g., see Handler [1988] on the Canadian Québecois, Linnekin [1983, 1991] on Polynesian cultural invention, and Chatterjee [1993] on Indian postcolonial nationalism). That traditions and whole cultures are invented is at first blush a radically egalitarian notion, and as carried out, such analyses dramatically unveil the "Wizard of Oz" quality to hegemonic imposition by Western states-turned-nations. Yet the relativism implied by constructivist theory is morally ambiguous, and it has more recently been employed to undermine indigenous claims of authenticity. As a result, the theoretical position of "strong constructivism" (i.e., "one that views the individual as fully plastic, that, as a result, cannot provide grounds for a political critique of any given construction" [Reddy 1997:329]) has itself become the target of recent subaltern critiques coming both from within the academy and from the subjects of anthropological inquiry. As Nelson observes, "making arguments for hybrid identities, no matter how well supported by the U.S. academy's current hip theory, may feed right in to anti-indigenous arguments that it is all made-up, inauthentic hogwash" (1999:133).

While benefiting from its general valuation of subaltern agency, Maya scholars and peasants are suspicious of strong constructivism, seeing in it the same sort of hidden racism that Slavoj Zizek attributes to multiculturalism. Characteristically provocative, Zizek writes that

multiculturalism involves patronizing Eurocentrist distance and/or respect for local customs without roots in one's own particular culture. In other words, multiculturalism is a disavowed, inverted, self-referential form of racism, a "racism with a distance"—it "respects" the Other's identity, conceiving the Other as a self-enclosed "authentic" community towards which he, the multiculturalist, maintains a distance rendered possible by his privileged universal position (1997:44)

Thus, the apparent irony is that Maya scholars turn to discourses of modernist essentialism rather than to multiculturally sensitive constructivism to justify their reconstructions of ethnic identity. The scientific exactitude of modernist discourse helps Maya activists legitimate claims on the Guatemalan state, claims largely based on positions of cultural authority and authenticity rendered through cultural continuity. Indeed, such essentialist views of culture underwrite many contemporary ethnic movements the world over. As the former subjects of colonial and neocolonial governments seek to recover and assert their ethnic distinctiveness, they quite naturally turn to those elements that are perceived as being most authentic, the apparent essences of their culture. Anthropologists steeped in anti-essentialist theory often take an ambivalent stance toward this sort of essentialism, and most appear to support the philosophy of indigenous self-determination while proffering constructivist critiques that undermine their subjects' notions of cultural authenticity (Watanabe 1995; Fischer and Brown 1996; cf. Allen 1992 and Tedlock 1993:156).

In Defense of Culture

In its most radical form, anti-essentialism attempts to undermine the concept of culture itself. Yet, as Christoph Brumann (1999) points out, there exists a widespread, although largely implicit and differently represented, similarity in the concept of culture as invoked by contemporary anthropologists from all theoretical perspectives. Perhaps, then, we should acknowledge and examine these similarities, not in an effort to impose a hegemonic position but to complement our heightened awareness of the differences that separate our positions. Brumann (1999:S1) states that "the root of the confusion is the distribution of learned routines across individuals: while these routines are never perfectly shared, they are not randomly distributed. Therefore 'culture' should be retained as a convenient term for designating the clusters of common concepts, emotions, and practices that arise when people interact regularly." This is a pragmatic approach to the representation of realities that can be observed and recorded. As Ulf Hannerz (1992:109) remarks, culture is "the most useful key word we have to summarize that peculiar capacity of human beings for creating and maintaining their own lives together, and to suggest the usefulness of a fairly free-ranging kind of inquiry into the ways people assemble their lives" (cf. Rodseth 1998).

Culture is symbolic, which does not imply a negation of its material aspects, for just as the material world is symbolically organized by culture, so too is the symbolic organization of culture realized through the lived dialectic between ideational constructs and "real world" circumstance. Culture is, to varying degrees, shared, as both a condition and a consequence of its social transmission. Yet there is no homogeneous ideal model of culture embedded in the minds of cultural actors and no disembodied and uncontested Durkheimian ideal encoded in social structure. The boundaries of cultures are not so clear-cut as ethnographic maps suggest, and these boundaries are ever more blurred in the postmodern age of telescoping time-space differences.

Cultural actors are differentially implicated in larger systems of relations and they develop divergent and idiosyncratic views of themselves and their cultures. And yet there exists an ever changing field of social discourse that they appear (to themselves and to others) to share, a field only partly accessible to cultural outsiders. At one level, this field is clearly delimited by language, dress, and other markers of group affiliation. In turn, such surface markers reflect underlying cognitive schemas that facilitate intersubjective understanding, what Michael Herzfeld (1997) calls "cultural intimacy." These cultured patterns of thought are idiosyncratically internalized by individuals while maintaining a dialogic sharedness that demarcates fields of cultural identity.

Identity—ethnic or otherwise—is always a particularly motivated representation of cultural difference—in short, culture in social action. As Carol Hendrickson notes, ethnicity "provides a rationale for action, at least in the case of the Maya population [of Tecpán]. An indigenous person might consciously and explicitly speak out, act a particular way, or criticize another human being in accordance with his or her perceived ideal of what it is to be an Indian and how this ideal should find expression in the world" (1995:31). For some, it has become acceptable to treat culture and identity as interchangeable, a view that neatly dovetails with instrumentalist conceptions of cultural construction. Cultural elements can be and are self-consciously deployed and manipulated by individual actors in the course of events both grand and small; but culture itself (conceived of more as gestalt than trait list) acts on these individuals and delimits their options in very subtle—often subconscious—ways. This leads us to the irony that culture is dynamic while remaining continuous. Cultural symbols are continually construed and reconstrued through practice, and social fields of common identity are redefined through changing categorizations of ethnicity. Yet, the wonder of culture is that, through symbolic transposition and internally logical transformation, continuity is maintained by giving old forms new meaning and giving new forms old meaning.

Lila Abu-Lughod (1991) exhorts anthropologists to begin "writing against culture," meaning to focus on change and idiosyncratic variation in ethnographic accounts in a way that explicitly critiques the sense of homogeneity implied by the term culture (cf. Clifford 1988). Like many anti-essentialists, Abu-Lughod is more strident in her position statement than in her specific methodological suggestions. She herself chooses to focus on particular individuals and circumstances, minutely contextualized in space and time. Her aim is to confront the reader with the vivid and undeniable heterogeneity of actions motivated by competing (cognitively and socially) intentions, and thus to break down the illusion of homogeneity often attached to synthetic cultural description. But Abu-Lughod's tactical approach need not preclude making broader conclusions from our field data. The importance of her book Veiled Sentiments (1986) rests partly, but not solely, on her empathetic descriptions of Bedouin women's inner lives; it is widely used in undergraduate courses because of the larger cultural significance of her data and what these can tell us not only about a few particular women but also about other women like them. We need not say all Bedouin women are the same to accept that there are important commonalities in their socialization, structural position in society, and even the nature of their agency and intentionality.

The issue of individual diversity versus cultural commonality brings us to the heart of much recent debate in anthropology. As Abu-Lughod and others point out, ethnography that ignores individual variation cannot adequately represent actual lived experience. And yet, at the same time there exist patterns of thought and behavior commonly held among individuals—in short, culture. These patterns are most evident in salient cultural metaphors and cognitive models, both of which act as fluid templates against which particular actions (and innovations) take place. The "science" of cultural anthropology is concerned with modeling these patterns and their dynamic interrelationship; the art of ethnography lies in sensitive humanistic representations of the same patterns and in the acknowledgment of diversity.

In contrast to Abu-Lughod's exhortation to write against culture, I argue in this book for the utility of culture in analyzing the complex circumstances in which Maya self-identity and worldview have been maintained and (re)interpreted (both externally and internally) through interindividual and intercollectivity interactions. Such an argument does not necessitate a naive return to the static essentialism of an earlier era or to the reductionism of vulgar cultural evolutionism. At the same time, it is important to recognize and account for the importance of continuity as well as change in cultural systems; of cultural commonalities as well as idiosyncratic variation; and of intersubjectively perceived (if not wholly objective) structural relations (or relations of structuration) in regional, state, and global systems as well as individual agency and local manifestations of collective intentionality. I adopt what Paul Gilroy (1993) has called an "anti-anti-essentialist" stance, arguing that we need not reject the commonality and continuity indexed by the culture concept in order to acknowledge and theoretically account for individual variation and change.

Students of the Maya have long attempted the sort of balance that Gilroy advocates. Victoria Bricker (1981), for example, argues for the existence of a culturally continuous mythical substrate reproduced through Maya historical representations of ethnic conflict. Bricker does not attempt to reduce behavior to a slavish commitment to tradition. Rather, she shows how existing symbolic structures are actively deployed in the process of giving meaning to contemporary events, and how these structures are both replicated and transformed through practical action and material and social contingencies. She acknowledges the weight of tradition, but sees it not as determinant in and of itself but as a resource (in Giddens's sense of the word) that plays into the ongoing construction of agency and structure. Gary Gossen (1974), Eva Hunt (1977), John Watanabe (1983), and Robert Carlsen (1997) similarly document the mythic and ideological substrate of Maya culture, relating similarities to shared cultural patterns and environmental contexts. In Gossen's words, such studies "reveal deep, generative roots for derivative phenomena that occur in both time and space," forming part of a "regional ideational logic that follows its own rules" (1986:4-5).

Cultures and Their Logics

Different cultures (conceived of, following Brumann 1999 and Rodseth 1998, as overlapping distributions of cognitive and behavioral patterns) are marked by different logics of internal organization. This is not to deny that cultures are dynamic and porous or to claim that other cultures are incapable of the sort of formal logical reasoning characteristic of the Western tradition (cf. Levy-Bruhl 1926; Levi-Strauss 1966). Rather, the concept of cultural logics reaffirms the importance of cultural relativity (' la Boas 1938) and of anthropology's contribution to the critique of Western reason (Marcus and Fischer 1986). The notion of cultural logics builds on constructivist theories in seeking to elucidate cognitive mechanisms of improvisation and proactive cultural construction. Cultural logics are not hard-and-fast rules (although they may appear solidified in particular schemas that lend themselves to formal modeling), but dynamic, shared predispositions that inform behavior and thought. Cultural logics cannot predict particular actions, but they do lend a sense of regularity and continuity to behavior though post hoc analysis.

Change is an integral part of culture, but such change must be reconciled with preexisting cognitive schemas in a manner that allows for an intersubjective sense of cultural continuity, even—perhaps especially—in the face of dramatic externally induced modification. In this regard, Bruce Kapferer rightly stresses the simultaneity and inseparability of sociological and psychological factors. Comparing nationalist mythologies in Sri Lanka and Australia, he observes that "these ideologies contain logical elements relevant to the way human beings within their historical worlds are existentially constituted" (1988:19). In this view, idiosyncratic variation, the ultimate basis of cultural change, is reflexively linked to underlying structural paradigms: "no tradition is constructed or invented and discontinuous with history...[they] are chosen because of what they distill ontologically; that is, they make sense and condense a logic of ideas which may also be integrated to the people who make the selection although hidden from their reflective consciousness" (ibid.:211).

Benjamin and Lore Colby (1981) provide the most explicit description to date of the workings of Maya cultural logics as expressed in the thought and behavior of individuals. Focusing on the life of a single Ixil day-keeper, they are able to reconstruct detailed cognitive schemas and decision-making models, which they link to larger organizing metaphors and cultural grammars. As the Colbys make clear, the processes of cultural logics are simultaneously generative and constrained, idiosyncratic and context-dependent, while predicated on a shared understanding of acceptability. Patterns of cultural logics (expressed in metaphors, historical narratives, religious beliefs, social sanctions, observed behavior, and in myriad other ways) are received by individuals through the processes of socialization and ongoing social interaction, and yet they are also redefined through these very processes. Cultural logics are realized (and thus, for the observer, can only be meaningfully analyzed) through practice. And this practice has a marked constructive quality, with new symbolic forms and meanings emerging from the dynamic interaction of individual intention (itself culturally conditioned but not predetermined), cultural norms (variably enforced through reflexive social interaction), and material contingencies (encompassing not only local ecologies but also structural position in global systems of political economic relations). As Hendrickson points out in her study of Tecpán, "persistence and change are integrally related" (1995:197). She continues:

What endures needs to be recreated daily, in different ways, for people to be aware of it as "always there." Indigenous activists who urge people to be conscious of their Maya heritage, to wear traje [traditional dress], to speak lengua [a native language], and to practice costumbre [local customs] recognize this if only implicitly. The persistent is also hard to shake, as it keeps reappearing—sometimes in very changed and "invisible" forms even if people desperately want it to change.... What endures, however, is not necessarily static: change itself can be a predictable, enduring quality of life.... Thus, the past is seen as "the past" only insofar as it lives at the moment, and the new makes sense only insofar as it relates to, builds on, or contrasts with the old or traditional. (ibid.)

As Hendrickson suggests, cultural actors' self-interests and the ways they see fit to pursue them are variably conceived in relation to received cultural forms and normative patterns. It is useful here to recall Pierre Bourdieu's discussion of the containing nature of the doxa, which he defines as "the aggregate of the 'choices' whose subject is everyone and no one because the questions they answer cannot be explicitly asked" (1977:168). This is to say that the realm of what is taken for granted is continually delimited through the practice of social interaction, which, expressed through both orthodox and heterodox positions, reinforces the undiscussed foundations of the restricted field of cognitive and cultural possibilities.

Cultural logics (and the doxa they produce) change and expand through interaction with other, differently conceived fields of reference, which is to say that the realm of the thinkable does not exist in cultural isolation (an implicit premise of the containment strategy of cultural essentialism). Individuals and cultural groups often termed "marginalized" are deeply implicated in the world system, today more than ever, and fields of meaning and identity space (such as those denoted by the core-periphery distinction) are decreasingly confined by time and space distances. As the bounds of doxa expand, there is certainly a blurring of boundaries in regard to specific elements. Yet, though Appadurai (1988), Gupta and Ferguson (1992), and Hannerz (1996) rightly note that cultural communities need not correspond to a readily delimited geographic location, on the far margins of hyperspace and postmodern mobility—such as in rural Guatemala—physical proximity remains the single most influential determinant of both cultural and self-identity.

Meaningful cultural boundaries appear if we look not at specific elements but at the relationships between them. Watanabe (1990a, 1992) points out that the very act of sharing the same physical space leads to the formation of a shared sense of community and sensibility concerning appropriate behavior (see also Wilson 1993; Hervik 1994, 1999). This holds true in the cases of Tecpán and Patzún: reflexive lived experiences in particular social contexts produce a powerful sense of community-based identity, a field of cultural discourse from which outsiders are excluded. This discursive field is delimited not only by overt markers (language and dress, for example) but also by the shared sensibilities of which Watanabe writes, the fluid consensus about what constitutes acceptable behavior. This cultural sensibility, in turn, rests on shared generative cultural logics.

Maya cultural logics provide only a broad underlying foundation for comprehending and producing thought and behavior; they are productive and generative while ensuring continuity; and though by nature idiosyncratically internalized, their specific social instantiations may be deemed rational or irrational by others based on consensual norms, indicating their shared, normative quality. Such cultural logics, because they are cognitively deep, change at a much slower pace than surface elements. Partha Chatterjee (1993) makes an analogous point in his study of anticolonial nationalist movements. Chatterjee distinguishes two cultural domains, the material and the spiritual. He defines the spiritual as "an 'inner' domain bearing the 'essential' marks of cultural identity" and notes that "the greater one's success in imitating Western skills in the material domain . . . the greater the need to preserve the distinctiveness of one's spiritual culture" (ibid.:6). Change occurs in both of these domains, united by a complex system of feedback mechanisms, but change at the surface level of material culture occurs most rapidly. Change in underlying cultural logics (Chatterjee's spiritual domain) moves at a slower pace because of the intimate interdependency of their elements.

The approach I take in this book builds on Bourdieu's (1977) model of the habitus and Anthony Giddens's (1984) description of the "modalities of structuration." Bourdieu defines the habitus as "systems of durable transposable dispositions, structured structures predisposed to act as structuring structures, that is, as principles of the generation and structuring of practice and representations which can be objectively 'regular' and 'regulated' without in any way being the product of obedience to rules" (1977: 22). He explains that the principles of the habitus are so fundamental that they are taken for granted: "what is essential goes without saying because it comes without saying: the tradition is silent, not least about itself as a tradition" (ibid.: 167; cf. Tyler 1978; Shore 1996:54). Through an "economy of logic," the set of relations of the habitus is applied to many different domains, and in this manner invention conforms (although in unpredictable ways) to subjective limits on thought imposed by the habitus. Bourdieu appears to argue that individuals are constantly improvising their culture, yet these improvisations can only be made on the basis of past cultural experiences that are conditioned by the internalized cultural logics of the habitus. Nonetheless, Bourdieu fails to extend his argument to account for the processes of cognition through which the habitus is manifest, and he ultimately undercuts the power of cultural agency by resorting to a form of material determinism ("practice never ceases to conform to economic calculation even when it gives every appearance of disinterestedness" [1977:177]). In this book, I extend Bourdieu's analysis by examining the dynamic interplay between individually internalized cognitive models, culturally shared structuring structures of the habitus, and broad political economic processes.

Giddens's (1984) work on structuration offers a partial corrective to Bourdieu's reductionist view of agency. Giddens focuses on the interactive dynamics of the duality of structure: structures exist only as they are "instantiated in action" by knowledgeable human agents, and yet these very instantiations are based on "rules and resources, recursively implicated in the reproduction of social systems" (ibid.: 377). Giddens breaks free of the implied tautology (agents enact structure while structure conditions agents' actions) by focusing on the knowledgeability of agents and their access to resources (as broadly conceived); by positing the generalizability of rules; and by acknowledging that structure is ultimately embedded in cognition (existing as "memory traces, the organic basis of human knowledgeability" [ibid.]). Thus, structuration (the dynamic process involved in the historically specific conjunctures of structural duality) involves knowledgeable (in the sense of enculturated) actors reflexively indexing cognitive schemas (themselves built upon the knowledge and availability of cultural and material resources) in innovative ways through social practice. Yet Giddens errs in focusing on the aggregate application rather than on the individual internalization of social rules. To avoid a deterministic view of agency one must account for the idiosyncratic internalization of cultural schemas (cf. Sewell 1992). As I argue below, it is the idiosyncratic internalization of received cultural schemas that composes the cognitive bases of cultural logics and thus of agency. Such a view of cultural logics allows one to theorize the role of agency without reducing it to mechanical structural enactment or atomistic self-interested individualism.

Idiosyncracies and Socialization

Culture is that which is shared and relationally construed while at the same time ultimately existing only in myriad idiosyncratically internalized forms. Idiosyncrasies are centrally important to the process of cultural maintenance and formation (Crapanzano 1980; Obeyesekere 1981; Abu-Lughod 1986): seemingly novel cultural forms emerge and flourish while others fade into disuse (Anderson 1983, Hobsbawm 1983, Chatterjee 1993), and yet cultural boundaries remain and cultural groups are identifiable based on objective (albeit changing) criteria. Thus, the essence of culture remains its sharedness; even the most unique and outrageous thoughts and actions of an individual are formulated, enacted, and interpreted in reference to shared (to varying degrees) cultural constructs.

Idiosyncratic variants of shared cultural logics are encoded in cognitive schemas during the course of socialization. Socialization here refers to the unique conjuncture of social and cultural information dynamically articulated over time with individual life histories. From these received data are gleaned patterns of cultural meanings and social relations that must be reflexively reconciled with biogenetic predispositions and existing cognitive models, and from this ongoing reconciliation emerge internalized cultural logics indexed to the external social and material world. An individual's socialization is unique because of the particular configuration of social forms to which one is exposed; the precise conjunction of these forms in time and space are never the same for any two individuals. Yet, this idiosyncrasy is built upon the conjuncture of shared elements, both synchronically (the temporal and spatial context of socializing events, of which there are an innumerable quantity) and diachronically (as received information is reconciled with previously received information). The compound effect of consistently reinforced received cultural information is the formation of an idiosyncratic variant of a common cultural logic. Change in one's internalized cultural logics can and does occur in later life as a function of interaction with the material and social world, and catastrophic (environmentally, socially, personally) events can dramatically change one's worldview.

The foundation provided by cognitive encoded cultural logics gives rise to surface structures such as mental models and cognitive schemas. The development and maintenance of a cultural logic involves a reflexive indexation of cognitive preconceptions and predispositions to social and material relations. Through such practical activity, derivative cognitive schemas and their underlying cultural logics are reinforced (when the social and material world conform to the expectations of an internalized cognitive model) and are changed (when expectations are not fulfilled and a working hypothesis of a cultural logic must be modified; see Sahlins 1985). An internalized cultural logic is thus partly a function of life histories intersecting with social relations. Yet, in studying the practical basis of cultural logics, we must move beyond extreme methodological individualism to situate the field of culture not only within the minds of individuals but also in the position of individuals and populations in global processes of political economy. The broad structural framework of the global system is historically received, and yet one's structural position does not merely follow from circumstances of birth, but emerges from the active engagement of individuals with received norms and systemic processes.

Cognitive Models

Cultural logics condition the improvisation of cognitive models as they are called upon in specific social contexts. In part, this book is concerned with understanding the individualized cognitive bases of shared Maya cultural patterns. All cultural models are by their nature internalized, and thus integrated into an idiosyncratically unique gestalt: culture does not exist independent of the mind (see Gentner and Stevens 1983; Shore 1996; Strauss and Quinn 1997). At the same time, in examining the lives of a number of Maya individuals, I show how idiosyncratic mental models are built out of both received knowledge and ongoing interaction with the social and material world—in short, out of available cultural resources. In domains as varied as spirituality, agriculture, and sports, the specific conjuncture of events acting on an individual throughout his or her life uniquely affects how that person views and acts in the world. Yet, although the specific conjuncture of events is individually unique, the elements themselves are by and large shared, understood in relation to social conventions even if they are not themselves conventional. Take, for example, the case of a middle-aged Kaqchikel woman in Tecpán who explained to me her visceral dislike for soccer matches and their associated revelry. She remembers as a young girl watching her father drink heavily, and subsequently become abusive, when he went to soccer games on the weekends. These early childhood experiences conditioned what has proven to be a resilient cognitive link (both natural and logical), tainting the pleasure of soccer as sport with the memory of domestic violence. She understands her own sons' passion for the game, recognizes its potential health and social benefits, and has resigned herself to living in a house full of soccer fanatics, but it still pains her to attend games or even watch them on television. This woman's view of soccer is certainly idiosyncratic, the result of cognitive patterns built up through her unique life history. At the same time, her internalized cultural logic is built upon a more broadly shared model of soccer in society (even as construed in partial opposition to that cultural model).

Practical experience forces one to constantly modify and improvise one's cognitive models and cultural logics, thus inextricably linking the social and material world to the cognitive realm. In converting cognitive models into practical activity, individuals enter into structural relations with others. These structures cease to be purely idiosyncratic, placed as they are in relation to myriad other externalized structures, and thus can no longer be controlled solely by an individual's intentions. As Marshall Sahlins (1985:149) notes,

in action, people put their concepts and categories into ostensive relations to the world. Such referential uses bring into play other determinations of the signs, besides received sense, namely the actual world and the people concerned. Prax is, then, a risk to the sense of signs in the culture-as-constituted, precisely as the sense is arbitrary in its capacity as reference. Having its own properties, the world may then prove intractable. It can well defy the concepts that are indexed to it. Man's symbolic hubris becomes a great gamble played with the empirical realities.

Conjunctures of externalized cognitive models both perpetuate and modify the preexisting cognitive schemas of social interlocutors who are actively engaged in a consensual discursive community (Habermas 1990). If perceived relations conform to held models, those models are reified, but if actions produce unintended results, the models must be modified.

World-System Models

Each mind may indeed be a world unto itself, and yet there also exists a world external to the individual, one filled with practical experience, unseen material constraints, and shared circumstances. Although this larger world may at times seem far removed from the minutia of quotidian cognitive modeling, global processes exert a strong influence on the ways in which individuals conceive of and live in their worlds.

World-system theorists focus attention on the historical development of global capitalism and its effects on the political and economic structures of marginalized societies (Baran 1957; Frank 1967; Wallerstein 1974; Cardoso and Faletto 1979 [1967]). Dividing the world into a core of advanced capitalist countries and a periphery of underdeveloped countries, such approaches show that capital and capital-intensive manufacturing have long been concentrated in the core countries of Western Europe and North America, part of a global economic system that renders peripheral economies dependent on the core. Worldsystem theorists have used this basic model to analyze how the historical development of capital-intensive manufacturing in the West combined with colonial and neocolonial expansion in southern countries to create global economic structures that concentrate capital accumulation and development in core areas. The structural logic of capitalism thus revealed is simultaneously based on expansion (of labor, capital, and consumer markets) and on concentration (of wealth in the hands of the most efficient producers); on a global scale, as markets for raw materials from the tropics expanded from the sixteenth century onward, capital accumulation was concentrated in the manufacturing and industrial economies of core countries, fueling their continued expansion. After manufacturing innovations in textile production provided the initial impetus, feedback mechanisms built into the capitalist system acted to restrict capital accumulation to the core while "developing underdevelopment" in the periphery to ensure a continued cheap supply of goods and labor (Luxemburg 1913; Cardoso and Faletto 1979 [1967]). This has led to the situation today in which the whims of core markets largely dictate production of primary export products in peripheral areas, and these large core markets encourage global competition between peripheral regions to keep prices low for raw materials. Large core corporations are able to leverage their access to capital-intensive means of production to charge high prices for the manufactured goods that they export to the periphery, thus maintaining the cycle of capital concentration in core areas.

Early formulations often erred in portraying the world system as a monolithic behemoth, unilaterally imposing its hegemonic structure on local systems and individuals. The system itself seemed to take on a life independent of individual action and intention while largely determining the rules of engagement between global forces and local producers. Immanuel Wallerstein (1979) goes so far as to claim that the world system is singularly capitalist, and that surviving "pre-capitalist" forms of production are not actually pre-capitalist, enmeshed as they are in global capitalist relations of production. In this view, the system is greater than the sum of its parts, led by an internal logic of its own creation—indeed, a true system in the sense that no one actor can unilaterally determine the effects of his market actions. In many ways, however, such a perspective mystifies the very object of analysis, for, ultimately, the system is built out of the varied specific actions of individual actors (see Godelier 1972; Terray 1972; Laclau 1977; Meillassoux 1981).

A useful corrective to overly deterministic world-system models is found in the work of Richard Fox (1985), who takes as his starting point dramatic instances of culture change precipitated by new terms of engagement with global political-economic structures. His study of Punjab anticolonial resistance uncovers the ways in which individuals appropriate and manipulate cultural symbols as well as material objects for situationally contingent ends. Fox goes on, however, to point out that "as people build their current culture out of pieces of the old and live out their material conditions in new ways, so their social world takes on new configurations" (1985:197). Thus Fox acknowledges that cultures—not just individuals—manifest the properties of change through referential practice, but his focus on dominance and resistance leads him to stress the instrumentality of such change: "contemporary individuals and groups take pieces, not the pattern, of the past and form them into new social arrangements" (ibid.; see also Friedman 1994:136). Yet, as Fox himself shows in his ethnographic analysis, patterns (albeit extrapolated post hoc) can and do persist through time as an intersubjectively perceived cultural continuity.

Late-twentieth-century capitalism (marked by post-industrialization in core countries and offshore production and assembly in the periphery) has opened new arenas of resistance and new venues for development for marginalized peoples around the world. Today the world system is less monolithic than ever because of its increasing points of direct articulation with local systems and individual actors. The power of core countries, then, to dictate the direction of the world system is much diminished, although hierarchical structures remain (Kapferer 1900). The emergence of new forms of economic structures is closely correlated in time and space to the rise of identity politics and various forms of hyphenated nationalism in peripheral areas. Indeed, it appears that ethnicity has eclipsed the importance of class identity in stimulating struggles of resistance.

This postmodern identity space has been colonized by the pan-Maya movement and other ethnic movements around the world, and these movements have actively engaged in a dialectic negotiation of boundaries within the postdependency framework. In so doing, pan-Mayanist leaders and rural Maya peasants alike have co-opted new forms of communication and production and deployed them in ways that make sense in terms of Maya culture. Contextualizing local forms of identity politics within Guatemala's changing position in the post-Cold War global political economy and the increasingly transnational links between international and local organizations, I attempt in this book to elucidate the mutually constitutive nature of identity politics played out in local contexts but thoroughly informed by national and international systemic relations.


Edward F. Fischer is professor of anthropology and Director of the Center for Latin American Studies at Vanderbilt University.

"It has been many decades since anthropologists relied on the convenient fiction of being able to study a single community as if it were unaffected by other, or could pretend that any population could be interpreted as a microcosm of its nation or region. But the logic and methods of understanding individual and local group behavior in a context of globalization have rarely been spelled out in a way that could be easily understood by an intelligent nonspecialist. Fischer (Vanderbilt Univ.) does that—and much more—beautifully, as he shows how Maya-speaking Guatemalans survived the terrible civil war, increasingly participate in world markets, and are vigorously experimenting with noel cultural and political activism. Traditionally focused on their own communities, it is remarkable that they (like Native-speaking populations throughout much of the Americas) have recently won recognition of their rights to languages, customs, and many realms of decision-making, while cobbling together a novel pan-Mayan identity that vividly proves the adaptability and vitality of culture as a set of shared meanings and values. Clearly written and well organized, this book combines the best of traditional ethnography with a realistic context of political economy and insights about what culture is and how it works.


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