Dr Harry Walker

Dr Harry Walker

Associate Professor

Department of Anthropology

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Key Expertise
Amazonia, Latin America

About me

Harry Walker specialises in the anthropology of Latin America, with a focus on the indigenous peoples of Amazonia. He has carried out long-term fieldwork with the Urarina, a hunting and horticultural people of lowland Peru, exploring a broad range of issues including selfhood, shamanism, law, materiality, sport, bureaucracy, egalitarianism, happiness, and the commons. His most recent research concerns everyday experiences of justice and injustice. 

Harry’s monograph, Under a Watchful Eye, examines the pervasive tension in many 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 developing a theory of the inherently shared or ‘accompanied’ nature of human experience, it brought 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. 

An interest in the construction of personal identity through interpersonal and political processes also informs recent research on the construction and dissolution of subjectivity in shamanic ritual; the cultivation and recognition of individuality as an ethical project and component of the good life; and the relationship between formal and informal processes of moral learning in childhood. At the same time, the rapid transformations currently taking place throughout Amazonia, drawing indigenous peoples ever further into the ambit of the state and the market economy, highlight the need for new analytical approaches that are especially sensitive to the temporal dimensions of social phenomena such as these, and open up important questions concerning the anthropological interpretation of social change. Harry has thus sought to show how debt peonage and manufactured goods are understood in relation to shamanic forms of agency and gender ideologies; how engagements with 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’ interests in 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. 

Harry has recently begun a new project that seeks to explore ideas and practices of justice in Amazonia and beyond, paying particular attention to role of moral emotions such as love, anger, and guilt, as well as to the comparative analysis of concepts of equality, fairness, responsibility, and entitlement. 

Expertise Details

Amazonia; Latin America; subjectivity; shamanism; political morality; individualism; justice; happiness; the commons

Selected publications

2023. Cognitive Science. (with Natalia Buitron). In Laidlaw, J. (ed.) The Cambridge Handbook of the Anthropology of Ethics, pp.107-204Abingdon: Routledge.

2023. In Defence of the Heart: An Amazonian Politics of Respect. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 12(3) 

2023. How People Compare. (with Mathijs Pelkmans). Abingdon: Routledge.

2023. All alike anyway: An Amazonian ethics of incommensurability. In M. Pelkmans and H. Walker (eds.) How People Compare. Abingdon: Routledge.

2021. Three Questions about the Social Life of ValuesAnthropological Forum 31(1): 94-105.

2020. Equality Without Equivalence: An Anthropology of the Common. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 26(1): 146-166.

2019. Fragile Time: The Redemptive Force of the Urarina Apocalypse. In R. Bold (ed.) Indigenous Perceptions of the End of the World: Creating a Cosmopolitics of Change. Palgrave Macmillan.

2018. On Logophagy and Truth: Interpretation Through Incorporation Among Peruvian Urarina. Language & Communication 63: 15-22.

2016. Paper, Power, and Procedure: Reflections on Amazonian Appropriations of Bureaucracy and Documents. (with Olivier Allard). The Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology. 21(3): 402-413.

2016. Documents as displaced voice: writing among Amazonian UrarinaThe Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology 21(3): 414-433.

2015. Values of Happiness. (With Iza Kavedžija). HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory5(3).

2015. Joy Within Tranquility: Amazonian Urarina Styles of HappinessHAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 5(3). 

2015. Justice and the Dark Arts: Law and Shamanism in AmazoniaAmerican Anthropologist 117(1): 47-58.

2013. State of Play: The Political Ontology of Sport in Amazonian PeruAmerican Ethnologist 40(2):382-398.

2013. Wild Things: Manufacturing Desire in the Urarina Moral EconomyJournal 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 AmazoniaJournal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 18(1):140-159

2011. A Problem With WordsAnthropology Of This Century, Issue 1

2010. Soulful Voices: Birds, Language and Prophecy in AmazoniaTipití: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.

My research