Accepted paper:

Europe and the epistemological bias behind discourses of indigeneity


Dimitrios Theodossopoulos (University of Kent)

Paper short abstract:

This paper focuses on the neglect of the notion of indigeneity by the anthropology of Europe, a trend that is crypto-evolutionist in perspective, and reflects a deeply rooted ethnocentric attitude in Western academic thought. Anthropologists fall victims of this bias and distance themselves from other indigenous identities, and from their own un-deconstructed indigeneity.

Paper long abstract:

Most European nationalisms heavily depend upon claims of indigeneity and autochthony. Despite the fact that most specialists on nationalism would agree with this statement, European anthropology has not taken the notion of indigeneity seriously. This surprising neglect, I argue, represents a crypto-evolutionist paradigm, according to which 'indigenous' and 'aboriginal' people are found only in far away lands, characterised as 'the people without history'. In contrast, European societies are depicted as having history and 'civilisations' with a level of complexity extending beyond simple connections to land and territory. By using the case of Greek nationalism as an example I will attempt to expose this evolutionist fallacy. The historical connections claimed by Greek nationalist narratives naturalise the relationship between European cultures and academic scholarship and overlook the possibility that Greek and other European identities can be seen as indigenous. As this example can help us understand, the privileged treatment of classical Greece in Western academic discourse stops us from seeing the modern Greek (nationalist) claims to European civilisation. It is the very same bias, rooted in the assumed superiority of Western academic thought, that stops anthropologists from coming to terms with their own indigenous identity, while at the same time they distance themselves from the indigenous identities of other, non-western, cultures. Furthermore, the same bias has lead to an unproductive confusion of Western models of nationalism (within which the use of the notion of indigeneity remains undeconstructed) with the struggles of disenfranchised minorities in non-Western contexts.

panel W035
Indigenous, autochthonous and national identities? Strategic representations, political struggles and epistemological issues (atelier bilingue - anglais et fran├žais)