Harry Walker conducts research in the anthropology of lowland South America. He has carried out long-term fieldwork with the Urarina, a hunting and horticultural people of Amazonian Peru. His recent book Under a Watchful Eye explores the pervasive tension in Amazonian societies between a cultural prioritisation of individual autonomy and uniqueness, and an equally strong sense that satisfaction and self-realisation only come through relations with others. In seeking to understand the inherently shared or ‘accompanied’ nature of human experience, it brings together considerations of child care and socialisation, relations with non-humans, and concepts of power, in order to show how agency and a sense of self emerge through everyday practices involving the cultivation of intimate but asymmetrical relationships of nurturance and dependency.
Building on this interest in the nature of the self and its relationship to interpersonal and political processes, he has recently begun to explore the new ways in which forms of autonomy and self-reliance are cultivated in the school classroom, as well as the construction of subjectivity through shamanism and healing rituals, including the use of music to create a sense of presence and influence the experiences of healers and patients.
A parallel research interest concerns the transformations taking place in the region as native Amazonian peoples are drawn further into the ambit of the state and the market economy. For example, he has sought to show how debt peonage and manufactured goods are understood in relation to shamanic forms of agency and gender ideologies; how writing and official documents build on implicit ideas about speech and the authoritative voice; how formal law penetrates everyday social life by tapping into peoples’ concerns with ritualised violent revenge; and how popular team sports such as football introduce new political concepts, such as formal equality and the social role, while paradoxically paving the way for increased competition and ultimately new forms of hierarchy.
2015. Justice and the Dark Arts: Law and Shamanism in Amazonia. American Anthropologist 117(1): 47-58.
2013. State of Play: The Political Ontology of Sport in Amazonian Peru. American Ethnologist 40(2):382-398.
2013. Wild Things: Manufacturing Desire in the Urarina Moral Economy. Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology 18(1):51-66.
2013. Under a Watchful Eye: Self, Power, and Intimacy in Amazonia. Berkeley:University of California Press.
2012. On Anarchist Anthropology. Anthropology of This Century, Issue 3.
2012. Demonic Trade: Debt, Materiality and Agency in Amazonia. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 18(1):140-159
2011. A Problem With Words. Anthropology Of This Century, Issue 1
2010. Soulful Voices: Birds, Language and Prophecy in Amazonia. Tipití:Journal of the Society for the Anthropology of Lowland South America 8(1)
2009. Transformations of Urarina Kinship. Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford-online 1(1):52-69
2009. Baby Hammocks and Stone Bowls: Urarina Technologies of Companionship and Subjection. In F. Santos Granero (ed.) The Occult Life of Things: Native Amazonian Theories of Materiality and Personhood, pp.81-102. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.