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Dr Natalia Buitrón

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Natalia specialises in the study of institutionalisation, social learning and the political economy of knowledge, with particular reference to contemporary Lowland South America. The overarching objective of her research is to generate new insights on the cognitive-emotional abilities and sociocultural logics that underpin human institutions.  

Her doctoral thesis, ‘The attraction of unity: power, knowledge, and community among the Shuar of Ecuadorian Amazonia’ (2016), is based on long-term ethnographic fieldwork in south-eastern Ecuador within a network of forest sedentary communities. The thesis explores how a group of Amazonian indigenous people who have historically prioritised domestic self-sufficiency, social fluidity and confrontation act creatively to institute new forms of centralised political association. In this sense, the thesis is a contribution to the anthropology of sociocultural change, the anthropology of collective action and political values, as well as to the concrete topics of village formation, education, and moral dilemmas of hierarchy and equality.  Natalia’s research shows how in their search for autochthonous modes of progress, recently sedentary dwellers generate political categories and individual identities that enable them to manage cooperation challenges and benefit from local state resources while keeping the central state at bay. By elucidating how processes of institutionalisation can result in increased formalisation and stratification, but also in new forms of social fluidity and political improvisation, her research contributes to the broader anthropological understanding of state formation at the periphery and the political imagination. In seeking to understand why some Amazonian peoples aspire to political unification and new forms of entrepreneurship, Natalia’s research also reveals the articulations, ambiguities and erasures that occur through the interplay of native understandings of power and regeneration and the current political economy of the region. How, in other words, the everyday creation of persons and the pursuit of domestic wellbeing become entangled with the institutional life of schools, government offices and the market economy. 

Natalia gained a BA in Anthropology and Ethnology at the University of Siena (Italy) and trained in Anthropology of Learning and Cognition (MSc) at LSE, leading to the completion of her PhD in 2016. Since 2014, Natalia taught in courses on the Anthropology of Kinship, Sex and Gender, Anthropology and Media, and Childhood across Cultures. She has also participated in the development of collaborative university curricula for intercultural indigenous-led higher education and taught in various bilingual educational projects in Ecuador. She is developing a new research project to explore the forms of collective action as well as the radically different views of accountability, justice, and democracy that emerge from the alliance between Highland and Lowland leaders engaged in the Ecuadorian pan-indigenous political movement/party. The research will cast new light on the meanings that something like a ‘res publica’ assume in egalitarian and conflict-driven indigenous politics.  


2016. Paths to the Unfamiliar: Journeying with Children in Ecuadorian Amazonia. In Children: Ethnographic Encounters (ed.) C. Allerton, 45-58. London: Bloomsbury Press. 

(In preparation). Multiplying Wealth: the Politics of Productivity in Ecuadorian Amazonia. 

2014. ‘La pedagogía del Arutam’ o notas etnográficas sobre la producción Shuar en torno a la cultura. In En torno al documento (ed.) Burneo Salazar, Cristina, 181-194. Quito: Universidad San Francisco de Quito.

2013. Review of ‘Tradición, Escritura y Patrimonialización’ (with Grégory Deshoullière), by Anne-Gaël Bilhaut and Silvia Macedo (eds) Tipití: Journal of the Society for the Anthropology of Lowland South America: Vol. 11: Iss. 1, Article 8, 107-109.


 The vibe of Shuar political assembliesThe vibe of Shuar political assemblies

Everyday forms of cooperation Everyday forms of cooperation