- Earth Beings: Ecologies of practice across Andean worlds by Marisol de la Cadena
Developing out of decades of ethnographic work in the southern Peruvian Andes, de la Cadena's Earth Beings departs from sustained conversations she held with Mariano and Nazario Turpo, father and son. These key figures are distinctively individual while at the same time illustrative of the tensioned entanglements within and across Andean worlds of more-than-human politics and history on the one hand, and capitalist and state forms of power on the other. Earth Beings traces the often quotidian practices used by Nazario, Mariano and their co-villagers and networks to nurture relations between themselves as runakuna (Quechua, referring to Quechua-speaking and self-identifying Quechua people) with various more-than-human earth beings (particularly the earth being of Ausangate, a major mountain peak). Such dynamics are, argues de la Cadena, intrinsic to the Turpos' subjectivity in place, what she terms the "in-ayllu" interconnected chains of being between place, runakuna and names. Histories of violent landowners and the more recent rise of tourism around Andean spirituality might be expected to disarticulate these in-ayllu relations; de la Cadena argues no, that runakunas' slow, steady organising to claim territory and their income-earning from international tourism reflect the active maintenance and ongoing reproduction of in-ayllu relations. Earth Beings focuses on the extent to which and the ways the Peruvian state, rooted in western rationalities of human history, causality and the modern constitution that separates nature from society, remains fundamentally unable to acknowledge let alone comprehend the power of runakuna in alliance with earth beings.
De la Cadena's analytical toolkit draws on Latour, Viveiros de Castro and other work which interrogates and situates human-more-than-human relations, as well as subaltern studies, modernity-coloniality-decoloniality, Ingold and Rancière. In this sense, the book explores debates that geographers of various stripes have been engaging in recent years. (Despite the title however, the book does not engage with political ecology although [End Page 190] its themes of resource contests, discourses, geographical and historical contingency, and unequal power relations across and between individuals and institutions are not incompatible.) Central to the book are two ideas, partial connection and conversation. Partial connection refers to how social (in the broadest sense) worlds may not be commensurable, but communication is possible between them, as originally conceived by anthropologist Marilyn Strathern. De la Cadena extends this to explore what she terms the possibility of communication across different onto-epistemic formations. Despite being beset by conflicts, the gap between different onto-epistemic formations -- in this case, the runakuna-earth being-in ayllu and the Peruvian state and its socio-economic-institutional configuration -- is possible, she suggests, through conversations. De la Cadena's multilingual (Spanish, Quechua) conversations with Mariano and Nazario do not refer back to any "original" onto-epistemic formation (p.xxvii), nor do they result in de la Cadena's embodied knowledge of the in-ayllu, yet they are postulated to provide an entry point for understanding something of the disjuncture between runakuna and the state's disavowal of them "as political subjects in their own right" (p.247).
In this way, Earth Beings constitutes an argument about the postcolonial political sphere and the nature of governmentality in relation to heterogeneous subjects. Whereas runakuna have long had to adapt to and take seriously the arbitrary and often violent expression of state and landowner power, by contrast the state's legal, administrative and reform interventions deliberately excise themselves from the in-ayllu. Nevertheless, the in-ayllu persists as an excess, informing runakuna relations with the state. The "omnipotent and arbitrary will" (p.245) of the earth being Ausangate is found to have its counterpart in the implacable will of hacienda owners and then the state, while the Turpo's paper archive of legal claims (from the 1920s...