The making of “heritages”:
memory, knowledge and politics in Amerindian Societies nowadays


Patrimonialization and the reconstruction of knowledge regimes

In Latin America, where multiculturalism and the management of indigenous identities constitute a major political issue, to the point of reorienting modes of governance at the local level, Amerindian populations find themselves compelled to highlight ethnic or cultural characteristics in order to position themselves on the national scene.
While Amerindian populations must thus call upon their defining cultural traits in order to participate in civic life, this interaction confronts them with an inaccurate, even contradictory external understanding of their cultures and people. On the one hand, the institutionally propagated relationship with the past that involves inventorying, recollecting and reproducing is different from native conceptions of what should be preserved or forgotten, of ways of transmitting understanding and knowledge, and of modes of historicity. On the other hand, forms of memory transmission within Amerindian groups are also, for many of them, now invested in a globalized world as resources that can be mobilized to obtain rights or reinforce a collective identity, even new forms of Amerindianness.
The project sought to understand the expression and articulation of the subjective ways in which the studied Amerindian societies conceive their relationship with history and time, in and below the interface with the hegemonic society that imposes upon them the terms of their cultures.

An approach through the ethnography of native experiences

The researchers assembled in this project have been working for a long time on the studied field sites, and most of them have been watching the subject “heritage” emerge in the course of their investigations. This enabled them to place heritage constructions into temporal perspective and undertake an analysis of the contexts of these processes, beforehand and afterwards. Some thirty case studies were conducted using a processual and comparative approach that explores patrimonialization through questions of memory and knowledge transmission connected with historical processes. This research showed the ways and the contexts in which various identity processes as well as local political, relational, intracultural and extracultural processes are implemented to respond (or not respond) to heritage policies.


These analyses showed the reflexive ability of the studied societies, whose newly recognized culture is becoming a political and/or economic issue. In a simultaneous but often differentiated way, local ideas about what one is are supplemented by ideas about what one has in terms of heritage. Neither angelic culturalism nor strategic essentialism, the study of patrimonialization in Amerindian environments made it possible to understand local reinvestment in the cultural sphere as a major social and political issue rooted in the modern world.
The territory of patrimonialization proved to be an arena that reveals, in an asymmetrical power relation, distinct ideological visions of how cultural differences should be asserted and recognized, and of what ultimately constitutes difference.

Scientific production

The results of this research were presented and discussed all along the projet in a first 3-days starting workshop, 6 study days, 20 symposia declining the project axis, and a 3-days final internal workshop. These meetings have finally produced 40 international publications and 23 in France (books, special thematic journal’s issue, articles, book’s chapters), 49 international presentations and 173 in France, three international symposia, four films (some still in preparation) and five scientific conferences for a general public.


Funded by the French National Research Agency (ANR), FABRIQ’AM project brings together thirty or so anthropologists on the theme of « patrimonialization » in Indian America.


Location of case studies FABRIQ’AM

Patrimonialization (the various means by which cultural features –either material or immaterial– are turned into a people’s heritage) has recently become, for Amerindian groups, a major means to gain visibility and recognition in the new Latin American social and political landscapes where multiculturalism plays an increasingly important role in the definition of governance.

Different forms of cultural patrimonialization have largely been studied elsewhere, particularly in North America. However, they are far less known in Meso- and South America, especially among Amerindian peoples. Among them, the notions of what ought to be preserved or forgotten, the ways knowledge and assets are transmitted, and the modes of historicity often seem to go against the very grain of patrimonialization as defined according to Western views.

Besides this issue, due to outside mediation, teachings and influence, Amerindian peoples are now transforming some of their daily activities into items of identifiable, transmissible and retainable cultural heritage. Such schemes are usually associated with narratives working through the objectification, essencialization and ethnicization of native cultures.

The specific forms of remembrance among Amerindian minorities, therefore, display a twofold dimension. On the one hand, they are fostered within their very own localized cultural and social mould. On the other hand, they are now also, quite often, used within a globalized world as a means of reinforceing collective identities, or even new forms of indigenousness. Analyzing the patrimonial patterns that can be found during fieldwork, therefore, requires solving how all this is forced upon and adopted by people, but also understanding how indigenous actors managed, in response, to reclaim the right to handle their own cultural narratives and establish them as a source for the statement of their very own identity.

In order to understand the different forms of this patrimonialization process in the thirty or so Amerindian societies investigated in this project, three complementary research lines will be followed:

– temporality/ time-scale issues, historicity and knowledge.

– the “making” of heritage, its social construction and political uses.

– heritage logics and international or national heritage devices.

The twenty-odd anthropologists taking part in this project have longstanding fieldwork experience. They can therefore cover a vast sample of local situations and will be able to address the global process and varied responses associated with cultural patrimonialization. This definitely comparative project is not about establishing a typology of similarities and differences between the various ways of placing emphasis on heritage. Its main ambition is rather to compare categorical representations, settings, relationships, and processes of constructing meaning and narratives through the study of cultural patrimonialization, which reveals individual options, strategies of self-definition and political agendas. On the one hand, we hope to decipher how Native Latin American peoples strive to fit into modern society and how they negotiate with different patterns of knowledge and historicity, stemming from patrimonialization. On the other hand, this study aims at highlighting the genesis and contemporary developments of the multicultural patterns, which define the Meso- and South American political arena.



What is at stake when heritage is “produced” or when one’s own culture is put on display in museums, shows, in written or pictorial form, or via “places of memory” and “monuments” of all sorts? Not only are such processes the locus of cultural construction; they also involve interaction between selves and others, forms of objectification or dramatization of culture. How do native actors conceive given cultural features as part of their cultural “heritage” in certain situations? How do they produce an image of themselves invested in their relations with others, either native or non-Indians? We here analyze the effects of these processes on the culture of groups that are both agents and objects, and the way they play a part in reorganizing social relations on both an internal and an external level, the latter implying the native communities themselves and their various representatives; the institutions validating this patrimonial status which, in one way or another, depend on the State or on new global spaces; and the various mediators (including the researchers on the field).


The research strand “Heritage logics and international or national heritage devices” explores heritage governance through an investigation of institutional practices. We will consider, in particular, the relationship between global norms, especially those established by UNESCO, and bureaucratic structures, institutional practices and experts’ role in French Guiana, in Amazonian Brazil and in Mexico. What is the impact of global programs on the national heritage policies? While the emergence of heritage policies is historically linked to the establishment of nation states, heritage has now exceeded the national dimension to become a global issue: heritage policies are at present re-defined on a world scale and organized by supranational entities. What are the effects of an institution like UNESCO, for example, on national heritage policies? Does the globalization of cultural heritage strengthen a “Unescoization” of theories and practices related to heritage or, on the contrary, are states developing strategies to resist a supposed homogenization of the criteria and procedures of heritage enhancement?


Contemporary forms of heritage construction as processes both emergent and inscribed within cultural logics can only be grasped using fine-grained understanding of local conceptions of time-scale, historicity, transmission and what is passed on in any given culture or society. How do these conceptions configure (and how are they reconfigured by) the new processes of patrimonialization (heritage enhancement)? These questions are to be analyzed from a vast range of practices, from those concerning objects and their destiny to those linked to the use of daily spaces or places of memory, from the discursive practices, either narrative, ritual, or political…, to those stemming from the adoption of new forms of expression, either written, cinematic, or other. This research strand of the project will be largely devoted to the study of native speeches in all their interactional and temporal dimensions, from the perspective of linguistic anthropology. Simultaneously, it also aims at grasping the variety of strategies, responses, resistances and resiliencies of Amerindian societies faced with cultural changes. This axis also aspires to a larger comparative reflection on the models of the making of history and of conceptualization of actions and events, together with their context-dependent outward signs and their variations . Five approaches will be developed: a) Models and modalities of memory construction, b) Local conceptions of change and events, c) Historical agency, d) Systems of enunciation/speech and transmission of knowledge, e) Spatial and material anchoring of memory.

 FABRIQ’AM on the website of the ANR : agence-nationale-recherche