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Frontier Intimacies

Frontier Intimacies
Ayoreo Women and the Sexual Economy of the Paraguayan Chaco

Set in a Mennonite colony of Paraguay's remote Chaco region, this book tracks the lives and contested practices of indigenous Ayoreo women who commodify their sexuality, exposing the fractured workings of frontier capitalism.

October 2020
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208 pages | 6 x 9 | 13 b&w photos |

Until the 1960s, the Ayoreo people of Paraguay's Chaco region had remained uncontacted by the world. But as development encroached on their territory, the Ayoreo began to experience rapid cultural change. Paola Canova looks at one aspect of this change in Frontier Intimacies: the sexual practices of Ayoreo women, specifically the curajodie, or single women who exchange sex for money or material goods with non-Ayoreo men, often Mennonite settlers.

Weaving personal anecdotes into her extensive research, Canova shows how the advancement of economic and missionary frontiers has reconfigured gender roles, sexual ethics, and notions of desire in the region. Ayoreo women, she shows, have reappropriated their sexual practices, approaching intimate liaisons on their own terms and seeing the involvement of money not as morally problematic but as constitutive of sexual encounters. By using their sexuality to construct an intimate frontier operating according to their own logics, Canova reveals, Ayoreo women expose the fractured workings of frontier capitalism in spaces of rapid transformation. Inviting broader examination of the ways in which contemporary frontier economies are constructed and experienced, Frontier Intimacies brings a captivating new perspective to the economic development of the Chaco region.

  • Preface
  • Introduction: An Economy of Intimate Transformations
  • Chapter 1. Drawing Boundaries
  • Chapter 2. Liminal Masculinities
  • Chapter 3. Labor Exclusion
  • Chapter 4. Commodifying Sex
  • Chapter 5. Consuming Desire
  • Chapter 6. Negotiating Inclusion
  • Conclusion: Toward an Intimate Frontier
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • References
  • Index

Paola Canova is an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin.


"[A] highly engaging and original work...Paola Canova offers significant new insights in her beautifully detailed account of situated lives and transgressive, racialized desires in one of the continent’s most remote and legendary regions. We come away with admiration for the profound ways in which indigenous peoples, and specifically women, are negotiating the brute force of capitalist commodification of bodies and things in this complex, masculine liminal space of the South American Chaco."
Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology

“A remarkable ethnography that shows precisely what anthropology is capable of doing: illuminating worlds that seem irrational or unsavory and helping the reader see the logic behind them.”
Nancy Postero, University of California, San Diego, author of The Indigenous State: Race, Politics, and Performance in Plurinational Bolivia

“In Frontier Intimacies Paola Canova offers an insider’s grasp of colonialism in Paraguay’s Central Chaco to counter the distant gaze of analyses that have assigned curajodie (Ayoreo women that "match intimate relations with economic transactions”) to the 'suffering slot.’ Without shying away from the multiple and interlocking forms of racialized and gendered violence and inequality that characterize life in this ‘frontier,' the book offers a vibrant ethnography of Ayoreo women’s affirmation of agency against the odds. An invaluable contribution to thought in times of #NiUnaMenos and #metoo.”
Mario Blaser, Memorial University of Newfoundland-St John's, author of Storytelling Globalization from the Chaco and Beyond