- Kuxlejal Politics: Indigenous Autonomy, Race, and Decolonizing Research in Zapatista Communities by Mariana Mora
Using an approach that combines participatory, feminist, and decolonial theories, Mariana Mora analyzes the politics of Zapatista autonomy in this innovative book. While the Zapatistas are often romanticized or drawn on to compare vastly different forms of resistance in academic writing, Kuxlejal Politics instead offers a grounded portrait of their everyday lives. Drawing on more than a decade of solidarity work and research in a Zapatista municipality, Mora demonstrates the possibilities of community-engaged research.
The text deftly approaches the lineage of the movement, past and present racialization of indigenous peoples, and the vicissitudes of resisting the neoliberal political-economic project of the state of Mexico. While the book is focused on analyzing three pervasive racialized tropes and demonstrating that they contribute to past and present exploitation of indigenous peoples in Chiapas, I especially want to emphasize how Mora is simultaneously provoking scholars in a profound way to deeply reconsider their research practices.
There is a bevy of academic work on the Zapatista movement, and Mora acknowledges that Chiapas receives more anthropological inquiry than any other state in Mexico. One goal of the book is to unravel this anthropological genealogy, by directly addressing the colonial-imperial and racist legacies of anthropological research. Kuxlejal Politics is not just "another book about Chiapas" to be shelved alongside accounts of resistance in Latin America and rebellion in Mexico more broadly; rather, it represents a feminist decolonial approach to research with indigenous peoples that breaks with long-standing practice by making the research itself a key component of the analytical work being done.
In eight chapters, Kuxlejal Politics makes evident that knowledge production is a concrete and collective act. Chapter Two forms the backbone of this text, where Mora provides an in-depth discussion of the research approach. Using a feminist decolonial framework, Mora argues for situating academic research as a dialogue and suggests that her own fieldwork became subject to the processes of autonomy and political debates that were being studied. In three succinct subsections Mora unpacks "democratizing knowledge production" (pp. 50–55), the "power between the written and the oral" (pp. 55–62), and "the interview as testimony on the knowing-doing of history" (pp. 62–68), and demonstrates the power of a project that has active participation. Mora describes the processes and practices of dialogic research in a way that challenges basic concepts of researcher reflexivity and transforms the way that we as scholars might consider the tensions and power relations at work in the development and deployment of research. [End Page 235]
The book takes its title from the indigenous Mayan Tseltal word for "life" or "life-existence" (kuxlejal) (p.19). In using this framing of "life politics" as a starting point, Mora weaves a narrative that is infused with stories of struggle and radical possibility. The analytical foundations of the book are three racialized tropes that Mora presents in the introduction; the enunciation of these tropes in the following chapters illuminates the processes and practices of exploitation of indigenous peoples in and before the neoliberal period. The first trope identified is "infantilization," which casts indigenous people as subjects in need of constant care by outsiders (p.16). The second is the trope of the "mozo," the servant identity that normalizes power hierarchies, which place indigenous people in the service of the non-indigenous (p.16). And finally, Mora offers a third trope, in which an early golden age of the ancient Maya is contrasted with their so-called "degenerate and biologically deficient" counterparts in the present (p.16). Together these ideas operationalize what Mora discusses as "racialized disciplinary mechanisms" that function in historical and contemporary Chiapas, and which shape the struggle of the Zapatistas (p. 17).
To ground the reader, Mora opens up the book with a historical backdrop regarding Zapatista organizing and focuses on the site of fieldwork, the community of...