Complutense University of Madrid

July 12th, 2024

5:30 p.m.

Professor of Anthropology of the Americas at the Complutense University of Madrid; PhD in Anthropology from the State University of New York. Visiting professor at the universities of New York, California Berkeley, UNAM, CIESAS, Iberoamericana, EHESS, Museu Nacional de Rio de Janeiro. His main area of ethnographic work is the Mayan populations of Chiapas, where he has worked continuously since 1988. Her research focus is on questions of cosmology, personhood, and corporeality in Mesoamerican cultures. As part of this line, she has worked on indigenous discourse and ritual texts, the translation of concepts between Amerindian and European languages, the nature of utopias and virtual worlds, or the place of belief and truth in indigenous thought. He has also studied issues of ethnopolitics, cultural representation of human rights among indigenous populations, and the reciprocal influences between Amerindian cultures and Western modernity. Between 2002-2013 she was responsible for a long-term cooperative project with Tzotzil and Tzeltal indigenous children aimed at testing the literacy of these languages in schools in the Chiapas region, developed jointly with the Autonomous University of Chiapas. His books include: Ch’ulel: una etnografía de las almas tzeltales (1996, FCE), The Jaguar and the Priest (2010, Univ. of Texas Press), La cara oculta del pliegue (2013, Artes de México), La palabra fragante, Cantos chamánicos tzeltales (2013, Artes de México). Es coordinador de: Human Rights in the Maya Region (2012, Duke University Press), Modernidades indígenas (2014, Iberoamericana), The Culture of Invention in the Americas (2018, Kingston), y Mesoamérica. Ensayos de etnografía teórica (2020, Nola).

The trickster in anthropology

I propose here an analogy between anthropology as an academic discipline and the figure of the trickster. In the folklore of much of the world, but especially in Native American mythology, the trickster is characterised as a kind of counter-character. Unlike the serious, order-founding characters he sometimes confronts, he is a somewhat comical and grotesque figure, usually a small animal without strength, whose speciality is playing with equivocation, transformation, and generally destabilising the world. However, thanks to this condition, he is able to invent new things that are useful to humans. Similarly, in the social and human sciences, anthropology has functioned throughout its history as a ‘counter-discipline’ dedicated to countering ‘serious’ disciplines such as philosophy, political science, sociology, psychology and so on. In my opinion, the reasons for this are not so much a matter of method as of subject matter: culturally distinct, marginalised, disempowered populations. This makes anthropology, like the trickster, by its very nature, something difficult to define, in permanent transformation, dedicated to eroding conventional distinctions, inventing new ideas, and, with a humorous inflection.

Scroll to Top