Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Krebs and Braunstein on Gran Chaco Studies

It would be hard to see from the one-sentence abstract how a new SSRN essay, The Renewal of Gran Chaco Studies, would be of interest to legal historians.  But the essay itself reveals a fascinating field of study, in which law figures in interesting ways. I'm posting a little from the essay to get you started.  It surveys new sources, and may be helpful to legal historians looking for a dissertation topic.
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The authors are Edgardo Krebs, The Smithsonian Institution, and Jose Braunstein, Republic of Argentina - Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (CONICET).  The essay appeared in the History of Anthropology Newsletter, Vol. 38.1, pp. 9-19, June 2011.  Here's the brief abstract:
This is a review essay covering books published and theses written during the last ten years, dealing with the ethnography and history of the Gran Chaco. 
And here's a snippet:
Interest in the Gran Chaco among social scientist during most of the 20th century has not been high. In comparison to the Amazon, or the Andes, this enormous territory, over 500,000 square miles, has inspired a modest output of scholarly studies, its very existence as a distinct and important ecological and ethnographic area seemingly lost in the shadows of the other two neighboring giants. Its vast dry plains- "a park land with patches of hardwoods intermingled with grasslands'" - is the second largest biome in South America, after the Amazon. it is shared by four countries, Paraguay, Bolivia, Brazil and Argentina; and in all of them it represents pockets of wilderness coming under the increasing stress of demographic expansion and economic exploitation . In all of these countries the Chaco is also an ethnographic frontier , still open after centuries of contact, and still the refuge of last resort of a few elusive Indian groups....

During the last fifteen years, however, things have begun to change....

The Gran Chaco is an area where a recurrent idea of ecological unity goes hand in hand with an astonishing ethnic diversity, a kaleidoscope of fifty-odd discrete social units, speaking around twenty different languages. Since the beginning of the 20th century the study of these indigenous groups has been beset by inescapable century the study of these indigenous groups has been beset by inescapable difficulties: military defeat, incorporation in a market economy, the emergence and influence of Pentecostal Christianity, the activities of conservation NGOs whose definitions of "nature" are frequently at odds with those held by the Indians themselves and, more recently, the potential or actual effects of a number of legislative changes at the national and provincial level. These changes reflect a tension between granting increasing autonomy to indigenous groups and the resistance to any advance in that direction, and also pose serious juridical challenges of interpretation regarding entire bodies of customary law, and how they may function within the larger framework of national legal systems.