Personhood and “Frontier” in Contemporary Amazonia and Siberia

Olga Ulturgasheva, Vanessa Elisa Grotti, Marc Brightman


The authors of this paper carried out ethnographic fieldwork in Amazonia and Siberia, and since 2006 have been organizing efforts to compare the two regions through conferences and edited volumes. The paper reviews the ways in which conference participants have approached the themes of “frontier” and “personhood” and discusses perspectives for further reflection. Amazonia and Siberia have long been frontier zones in the Western imagination. Both have experienced extractivism, imposed by supralocal actors; both are vast and sparely populated; and both exhibit a “shamanic” relationship between indigenous peoples and the living environment. The frontier is perhaps best thought of in terms of the politicization of space and seen as multifarious, interactive, and perspectivally variable. The paper discusses different types of shamanism, human/non-human relations, and understandings of personhood, helping us understand how processes of historical change on the grand scale may be experienced by indigenous peoples. In English, extensive summary in Russian.

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