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.