The Sanema and the Socialist State in Contemporary Amazonia
248 Pages, 11 b&w photos, 1 b&w map
Sales Date: April 18, 2023
A study of the modes of predation used by and against the Sanema people of Venezuela.
Predation is central to the cosmology and lifeways of the Sanema-speaking Indigenous people of Venezuelan Amazonia, but it also marks their experience of modernity under the socialist “Bolivarian” regime and its immense oil wealth. Yet predation is not simply violence and plunder. For Sanema people, it means a great deal more: enticement, seduction, persuasion. It suggests an imminent threat but also opportunity and even sanctuary.
Amy Penfield spent two and a half years in the field, living with and learning from Sanema communities. She discovered that while predation is what we think it is—invading enemies, incursions by gold miners, and unscrupulous state interventions—Sanema are not merely prey. Predation, or appropriation without reciprocity, is essential to their own activities. They use predatory techniques of trickery in hunting and shamanism activities, while at the same time, they employ tactics of manipulation to obtain resources from neighbors and from the state. A richly detailed ethnography, Predatory Economies looks beyond well-worn tropes of activism and resistance to tell a new story of agency from an Indigenous perspective.
A great read that goes beyond well-rehearsed ideas about Amazonian cosmology to explain why concepts such as predation are integral to the means by which Amazonian people engage with their neighbors, the state, and extractive economies. Rather than simply dwelling on differences between Penfield’s Sanema informants and other Venezuelans, her detailed and textured ethnography shows how the state and its promises are imbricated in people’s lives, hopes, frustrations, and failures. This is exactly the kind of book that helps contextualize and give substance to key concepts that have emerged in regional scholarship in recent years. Its clear and engaging presentation, along with its depiction of Amazonian people living at the margins of wider Latin American political and economic processes, guarantees this book’s importance beyond the field of Amazonian ethnography. I very much look forward to using it in my courses.
— Casey High, University of Edinburgh, author of Victims and Warriors: Violence, History, and Memory in AmazoniaPredatory Economies is an utterly engaging story of Sanema lives entangled in predation and desire amid the rush of gold, oil, and gasoline in Bolivarian Venezuela. Penfield brilliantly combines the best traditions of Amazonian ethnography with an astute analysis of the wider tentacles of predatory capitalism, offering a Sanema lesson on the ills wrought by the fever of endless growth.
— Bret Gustafson, Washington University in St. Louis, author of New Languages of the State: Indigenous Resurgence and the Politics of Knowledge in Bolivia
Penfield’s work demonstrates the value of conducting holistic, interethnic-focused, and system-based anthropological work in grasping the difficulties and necessities of state-based citizenship acts, many of which resist the machinery of capitalism while falling prey to some of the same strategies they utilize.
- Key Characters
- Introduction: Locating Predators and Prey
- Chapter 1. Predation, Then and Now
- Chapter 2. Extracting Good Things
- Chapter 3. Horizons of the Unknown
- Chapter 4. Subterranean Forces
- Chapter 5. Invoking the State
- Chapter 6. Forest Papers
- Epilogue: Predatory Economies in Amazonia and Beyond