South American Autobiography and Self Narrative Focus of New Book

November 18, 2014

In November, 2014, the University of Nebraska Press released "Fluent Selves: Autobiography, Person, and History in Lowland South America," a volume co-edited by Dr. Suzanne Oakdale and Dr. Magnus Course.

Oakdale is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico, and faculty affiliate with the Latin American & Iberian Institute. Her areas of interest include sociocultural anthropology, personhood and agency, ritual and religion, an autobiographical narrative, with a regional focus on Amazonia, Brazil. She is the author of "I Foresee My Life: The Ritual Performance of Autobiography in an Amazonian Community" (Nebraska, 2005). Her co-editor and colleague, Course, is a Senior Lecturer in social anthropology at the University of Edinburgh. He is the author of "Becoming Mapuche: Person and Ritual in Indigenous Chile."

According to the publisher, "'Fluent Selves' examines narrative practices throughout lowland South America focusing on indigenous communities in Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, and Peru, illuminating the social and cultural processes that make the past as important as the present for these peoples. This collection brings together leading scholars in the fields of anthropology and linguistics to examine the intersection of these narratives of the past with the construction of personhood. The volume's exploration of autobiographical and biographical accounts raises questions about fieldwork, ethical practices, and cultural boundaries in the study of anthropology. Rather than relying on a simple opposition between the "Western individual" and the non-Western rest, contributors to 'Fluent Selves' explore the complex interplay of both individualizing as well as relational personhood in these practices. Transcending classic debates over the categorization of "myth" and "history," the autobiographical and biographical narratives in 'Fluent Selves' illustrate the very medium in which several modes of engaging with the past meet, are reconciled, and reemerge."

Reviewers have called the book "an astonishingly well-written collection of firsthand accounts of particular Native persons' experiences with 'colonialism,' 'development,' and 'civilizing practices.' It is a major contribution to several fields: the comparative ethnographic and social historical study of lowland South America, postcolonial studies of self-structural interaction, and the psychological study of Native American trauma passed down through generations" (Kathleen Fine-Dare, coeditor of "Border Crossings: Transnational Americanist Anthropology").