Amerindian political economies of life



Elaborating on the notion of “political economy of life,” first developed in a 2009 book on indigenous forms of slavery and servitude, I argue that the idea that all forms of life share the same reserve of vitality, that such life force is transferable between different kinds of beings, and that vitality is scarce or unevenly distributed, seems to be widespread among native Amazonians. As a result, all living beings—humans, animals, plants, spirits, gods, and even some objects—are engaged in a fierce competition to accumulate as much life force as possible in order to guarantee the survival of their own kind. Through a comparative analysis of six ethnographic “scenes,” I explore what life means to native Amazonians, examine the ontologies and eco-cosmologies that provide the indigenous struggle for vitality with its rationale, and identify the elements that prevent the system from becoming a Hobbesian “war of all against all.”


Amazonia, indigenous peoples, life, vitality, eco-cosmologies, political economy of life

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/706044