Colonial ethnographers: writing, alterity and Eurocentrism in the conquest of America
Solodkow, David Mauricio
In my dissertation I analyze the discursive construction of cultural identities during the first century of European colonial occupation in the Americas. In order to do so, I explore a broad variety of colonial discourses using a conceptual reading tool I designate ethnographic writing. This concept describes representational devices such as stereotypes, tropes, and analogies whose primary function is the religious, political, and ideological creation of cultural differences. Given the variety of the written material covered in the study—travel logs, juridical documents, religious chronicles, literary texts—I use an interdisciplinary approach which combines the theoretical tools of historiography, anthropology, cultural and literary theory, and discourse analysis. It is my contention that ethnographic writing creates a discursive matrix that articulates: 1) knowledge about the “savage;” and 2) the invention of new social and racial subjectivities. I assert that ethnographic writing has political effects of power and knowledge that affected, in a direct way, the culture and lives of the American “Others.” Therefore, to read ethnographic writing is also to read the strategies of colonial domination and the violence embodied in Eurocentric representations. My dissertation, through the analysis and interpretation of conceptual procedures such as social classifications, erection of cultural similarities and differences, and the invention of moral and religious dichotomies, contributes to the existing theorization of racism, colonialism, and ethnocentrism in Latin American literature. It is through the deconstruction of these ethnographic discourses that I propose a cultural critique and a re-evaluation of colonialism.