Are anthropologists monsters? An Andean dystopian critique of extractivist ethnography and Anglophone-centric anthropology

Anders Burman


The article departs from an ethnographic experience involving the kharisiri, a dystopian, fat-stealing monster of the Bolivian Andes that has been analyzed by generations of anthropologists to understand Aymara culture. However, it argues that when Aymara people identify Others, in this case anthropologists, with the kharisiri, they are primarily saying something about those Others, and not about themselves. Following Wagner’s “reverse anthropology” and Taussig’s study of native evil figures as a critique of capitalism, this article proposes that people who have been subjected to anthropological scrutiny have a critical vantage point on anthropological practices. Thus, dystopia and monstrosity fulfill a decolonial purpose by handing over a mirror to anthropologists, urging them to meditate on their own monstrous ways of operating, the “extractivist” nature of ethnography, the Anglophone-centrism of anthropological writing, and, not least, the coercive reward systems of academia which disciplinize us into practicing “kharisiri anthropology.”


extractivism, dystopia, reverse anthropology, colonial difference, decolonization, activist research, Aymara, kharisiri

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/698413