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Scoping the Amazon: Image, Icon, and Ethnography - Book Review

Since the founding of anthropology as a social science in the late 19th century up through the end of the 20th century, the field has been one of the primary brokers of culture and the industry that surrounds it. Beginning with the founding “fathers” of the field and their desire to define culture and its subsequent particulars, up until recently with struggles over identity and who has the right to define that identity, anthropology has played a major role. This is particularly true in countries and among indigenous peoples that were at one point part of Western civilization’s colonial and imperial past. As distant lands and people became known to science and were brought under the fold of Western colonial and imperial discourse, the construction, definition, and identities of “culture(s)” largely became the privy of anthropologists.

This is no more so true then in the Amazon region of South America. As Stephen Nugent articulates in the recent book Scoping the Amazon “the geographical remoteness and marginality of most Brazilian indigenous peoples that survived through the 20th century has meant that anthropology as a field has been a key source and reference point for much public understanding of and knowledge about extant Amazonian indigenous peoples” (p. 221).

In this powerfully argued, and potentially deconstructive book, Nugent focuses on one product line within the anthropological culture industry – indigenous peoples of Amazonia – and its portrayal across three different, though linked, historical projections: the “green hell” of Victorian naturalism; the hunter-gatherer landscape of modern ethnography; and the Amazonia of Hollywood and popular media.

Read the entire review of Scoping the Amazon: Image, Icon, and Ethnography on Indigenous Peop....

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