- Sentient Lands: Indigeneity, Property, and Political Imagination in Neoliberal Chile by Piergiorgio Di Giminiani
Chile's indigenous mapuche communities have had some success in establishing legally recognized ownership over more and more tracts of land in the south of the country. However, as Piergiorgio Di Giminiani forcefully and successfully argues in his book Sentient Lands, the process of transforming ancestral Mapuche territory into legal property with a market value is actually creating more displacement. This paradox, according to the author, is the result of two distinct and competing, yet also complementary, land ontologies. Sentient Lands does a masterful job of conveying the complex and contradictory nature of land and indigenous politics in southern Chile, while demonstrating the benefits and consequences of playing by the rules laid out by a postcolonial and neoliberal state. The rich ethnographic detail elucidates the processes through which Indigenous communities gain more autonomy through access to land as they also succumb to categories of the state and capital.
The author is careful not to romanticize or essentialize what it means to be Mapuche in the twenty-first century. He skillfully dissects historical and contemporary relations of power in the research area while situating his findings on a robust theoretical foundation. This analytical combination highlights a scenario in which Indigenous communities navigate modern legal structures, using categories and stories necessary to gain control over land, while remaining true to the relational connection to land characterized by two mutually constituted subjects: people and land.
Di Giminiani's main argument in Sentient Lands centers on divergent and intersecting ways of being in Indigenous and postcolonial societies. He notes the increasing prevalence of land titles being granted to Mapuche communities in southern Chile as part of a government program to restore indigenous ownership over land from which they were forcibly removed at various points throughout Chilean history. In order for Mapuche communities to receive title and ownership of the land, they must petition the state and engage in a lengthy legal process that involves negotiating with the current winka (non-Mapuche) owners of the proposed territory. This process involves transforming the plot of land to be purchased from an ancestral territory to a legal property subject to modern property theory. The transformation of ancestral territory into land with a market value has created a paradox in which land restitution is actually leading to more displacement.
The theoretical frame of the book is both broad and in-depth. He parses social theoretical approaches to land connection based on economic, phenomenological, and ontological perspectives. The economic model aligns closely with narratives of Western modernity likely familiar to many readers. Land as property represents contested and [End Page 276] contingent forms of legitimacy for certain categories of people while displacing others. Under the economic framework, land is an empty receptacle that is made valuable through labor and extraction of materials legible to the market. In a more expansive but related vein, the phenomenological portion of the theory of land connection emphasizes the necessarily embodied aspect of interaction with land. Embodied experience within material landscapes reflect and are shaped by cultural meaning and collective representation. Instead of land as an empty object of ownership, it is an active vessel of human culture that mutually defines people and landscapes.
The ontological frame represents the main contribution of this book. Understanding different ontological orientations stands at the center of understanding nature, and land, as sentient. This combines what Di Giminiani sees as the two major strands of literatures investigating ways of being and non-human agency. The combination of these two strands of ontological pluralism—which emphasize enacting entities as an ontological project and the coherence of non-dominant ontologies—set the stage for the thrust of Di Giminiani's argument. A multiplicity of ontologies simultaneously exist and constitute Mapuche culture in southern Chile. Though the coexistence of multiple ways of being is not...