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Legal Typologies and Topologies: The Construction of Indigenous Alterity and Its Spatialization Within the Colombian Constitutional Court


  • Diana Bocarejo

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    • Diana Bocarejo is a Professor of Anthropology, Universidad del Rosario. She may be contacted at or She gratefully acknowledges the three anonymous reviewers of the article for their generous comments and suggestions, Esteban Hoyos for his comments and help, and Emily Levitt for her work in editing and proofreading this article. This research was in part funded by the Wenner Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research.


This article examines the different legal articulations between indigenous typologies and topologies, that is, the relationship between someone classified as an indigenous subject, a grantee of minority rights, and the spatial arrangements such as reservations or ancestral territories considered necessary for indigenous “cultural survival.” I analyze how the jurisprudence of the Colombian Constitutional Court manifests and rests on the diverse combinations of these two factors. The typology/topology binary characterizes the manner in which these legal discourses portray indigeneity and culture. This binary also offers insight into a broad range of issues, including the access that indigenous peoples have to minority rights, the use of customary law, and the spatial delimitations that frame indigenous legal jurisdictions. Some of the complexities that arise from this binary are: the conceptualization of indigenous places as habitats, the idea of culture as a list of traits, and the concept of “degrees” of indigeneity that determine these peoples' access to minority rights.